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Environment

London Has a World-Leading New Emission Charge to Cut Out Air Pollution


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Air pollution is having a devastating effect on the health of people across the UK, and is linked to 36,000 premature deaths every year. The UN’s Global Goals call for action on achieving good health and well-being (Goal 3), and on creating cities and communities that are sustainable (Goal 11). Join the movement by taking action here to support the Global Goals, and end extreme poverty by 2030. 

London is now home to the world’s first 24-hour Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), after the air pollution-busting charge came into effect in the capital on Monday. 

It will see drivers of older, more polluting vehicles charged to get access to central London at any time, on any day of the week. 

“This is a landmark day for our city,” said Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, in a statement. “Our toxic air is an invisible killer responsible for one of the biggest national health emergencies of our generation.” 

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“I simply refuse to be yet another politician who ignores it,” he continued. “The ULEZ is the centrepiece of our plans to clean up London’s air — the boldest plans of any city on the planet, and the eyes of the world are on us.” 

Khan also said that the scheme is about social justice, too, adding that “people in the most deprived parts of London, who are least likely to own a car, suffer the worst effects of harmful air pollution.”

He said: “I will not stand by and watch children grow up with under-developed lungs in our city.”

The new ULEZ charge will replace the existing T-Charge, which was introduced in February 2017 as a stepping stone ahead of the ULEZ.

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For drivers of cars, vans, and motorbikes, the charge is £12.50 per day, added on top of the congestion charge. For lorries, buses, and coaches the charge is £100. 

And for those who don’t pay, they’ll face a fine of £160 — although for a first offence they may just get a warning letter, according to the BBC. 

Transport for London (TfL) reportedly estimates that about 40,000 vehicles will be impacted daily — and TfL believes that the first phase of the scheme will cut toxic emissions from road transport by about 45% in two years. 

Currently, some 2 million Londoners are still living in areas that exceed the legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — with 400,000 of these being children. Toxic air leads to thousands of premature deaths every year in Britain, and increases the risk of asthma, cancer, and dementia.

But it’s predicted by researchers at King's College London that the new air pollution measures being introduced will bring London’s air quality into within legal limits in six years. 

To compare, the university’s research estimated that it would take 193 years to reach the same goal without the mayor’s “hard-hitting measures.” 

Meanwhile, the number of schools exceeding the legal limit for NO2 is expected to fall from over 450 in 2016, according to the mayor's office, to five in 2020, to none in 2025.

Campaigners and health professionals spoke out on Monday to welcome the new initiative, and to encourage other cities to adopt it, too. 

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The British Heart Foundation, for example, said that the scheme will help reduce the 36,000 annual deaths in the UK linked to air pollution — the majority from heart attacks or stroke. 

“The ULEZ will help reduce the levels of dangerous pollutants in the air Londoners breathe and crucially, it will help to protect the health of the most vulnerable people across the capital,” BHF’s chief executive, Simon Gillespie, told the Guardian.

“We now need to see other cities across the UK following suit, and more ambitious plans put in place nationally and locally to ensure that everyone gets the right to breathe air the won’t harm them,” he added. 

Jemima Hartshorn, who founded the Mums for Lungs clean air campaign, described the ULEZ as “a fantastic first step forward to tackling London’s filthy air, and one that we hope will encourage a change in many people’s behaviour.” 

Claire Lemer, clinical director at Evelina London Children’s Hospital in Westminster, added: “Sadly, there’s not a day that goes by when we don’t see a child with asthma on our wards. This initiative will help to improve the lives of children in the city, reducing unnecessary visits to hospital and helping them to lead healthier lives.” 

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An awareness campaign ahead of the ULEZ launch has been underway for more than nine months, to help prepare drivers for the new charge — and the Mayor of London’s office has said that it’s helped kickstart the impact of the charge. 

“Thousands of motorists have already started to change their behaviour as they prepare for ULEZ by driving less polluting vehicles into the area, and using cleaner transport alternatives including walking or cycling, and pubic transport,” the office revealed on Monday in a statement

Since February 2017, when the T-Charge was announced, the mayor's office said there has been

  • A fall of around 11,000 vehicles per day in the Central London ULEZ zone 
  • A 38% rise in the total number of compliant vehicles in the zone.
  • An increase in the proportion of compliant vehicles in the UMEZ zone from 39% to 61%.

The plan now is to expand the ULEZ to cover the whole area between the North and South Circular roads by 2021. 

You can find out more about whether or not your vehicles meets the new standards at TfL’s online checker here