16 UK cities are currently breaking EU limitsby Tom Follett / February 28, 2017 / Leave a comment
Churchill is said to have once quipped “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Policymakers faced with tackling Britain’s noxious air would do well to bear his maxim in mind. Air pollution is an issue currently at the forefront of public concern. Two common pollutants, NOx and PM2.5, cause the equivalent of 40,000 deaths per year. Alerts about London pollution levels regularly appear on the front pages of the newspapers, with the London Evening Standard recently reporting warnings that Londoners “should avoid doing strenuous exercise,” and the Daily Mail reporting that “One third of nursery pupils are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.”
ResPublica’s new report on pollution looks at how this crisis can be stemmed.
Pollution is not just a London issue. Cities from Southampton to Bristol are in breach of EU air quality limits. The government has proposed “Clean Air Zones” around the centres of the most polluted cities similar to the London Congestion Charge, which will levy a charge on older, more polluting vehicles. However, its last plan only suggested five such zones, while 16 UK cities are currently breaking European Union limits.
Brexit might relieve us of the obligation to comply with these EU standards, but not of the damage caused; studies show the pollution from living near major roads is strongly linked to dementia, and medical experts suggest there is no safe limit for nitrogen oxide emissions from cars.
Air pollution is a matter of such public concern not just because of its direct health costs, but because those costs are borne by everyone, not just the polluters. A recent study led by Prashant Kumar of the University of Surrey found that those worst exposed to air pollution were bus users, with car users benefitting from sealed, air-conditioned vehicles.
Yet still, the crisis persists. Governments of all stripes have been unacceptably sanguine on cleaning up our cities, wary of “war on the motorist” headlines. The main difficulty is a familiar one: who pays to tackle pollution? Transport policy measures can be divided up into three paradigms “Avoid,” “Shift,” and “Improve.” Most pressing is to “improve” car technology, making vehicles more efficient and lowering emissions. But a great many polluting cars, buses, taxis, and delivery vans are going to have to be used for a significantly shorter time period than their natural…