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The Mayor of London's public consultation on measures to resolve the capital's air quality crisis finishes on Friday 29th July.  Recently published reports question the adequacy of Sadiq Khan's proposals and suggest much tougher controls, especially in relation to diesel cars.

See this earlier article for information about the consultation.

Call to completely remove diesel cars

A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, drawing on analysis by Kings College London, calls London's air "lethal and illegal" and identifies road transport as the chief source of pollution, suggesting that it may be necessary to completely remove diesel cars from the capital's roads over the next decade. 

We reproduce the report's summary lower down the page.

"Mathematically impossible"

The Clean Air in London campaign has published its submission to the public consultation.  It assesses Sadiq Khan's statements and proposals and awards him a "generous 6 out 10".  One of its principal concerns is that the Mayor is not proposing to ban the most polluting vehicles from the ultra-low emission zone, just to charge their drivers - the campaign fears that this will be a continuation of Boris Johnson's approach, turning the zone into "little more than a 'money maker'".

According to CAL, "The simple fact is that it is mathematically impossible for London to comply with WHO guidelines for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) until 2025 or beyond unless all diesel vehicles are banned from the most-polluted places."

The full submission is on the Clean Air in London website.

London’s air quality survey: three good reasons to take part

Finally, the Campaign for Better Transport lists reasons for urging the Mayor to take action.

lethal and illegalLethal and Illegal - press release

Air pollution is a huge and growing public health problem for the UK, and for London in particular. Presenting innovative new modelling that illustrates the scale of both the problem and the policy changes required to remedy it at the European, national and local levels, this report presents detailed analysis of the promise and limitations of current clean air measures, and the decisive steps that must be taken next.

Air pollution has significant impacts on public health. Across the UK as many as 40,000 deaths a year are attributed to outdoor air pollution, mainly from nitrogen oxides (NOX), including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulates (PM10 and PM2.5). The problem is particularly acute in London, where the mortality impact of PM2.5 and NO2 pollution in 2010 was estimated at 141,000 life years lost, or the equivalent of up to 9,400 premature deaths. Air pollution is therefore the second most significant factor impacting on public health in London, after smoking.

Key findings

  • London is breaking legal and WHO limits for NO2 and WHO limits for particulate matter. Under the existing policy regime the capital is not set to reach compliance with the legal limits on NO2 until 2025 or beyond.
  • Most air pollution in London is caused by road transport, of which diesel vehicles are the most polluting. Efforts must be made to reduce the number of diesel vehicles on the road, both by increasing the proportion of cleaner and greener vehicles and by a continued shift towards alternative forms of transport, including public transport, walking and cycling.
  • It is likely that diesel cars will have to be completely phased out on London’s roads over the next decade in order to reach compliance with safe and legal levels of air pollution. Such a shift would not be easy to achieve in such a short space of time, but it would not be impossible.


New modelling undertaken by King’s College London for this project shows the scale of the changes required. Policy will be required at European, national and local levels.


At the European level tighter emissions standards will be required, as well as bringing forward the ‘real world’ emissions testing regime (with conformity factor 1.5 or less) which is not currently being planned until 2021.


At the national level, the UK government will need to progressively reform vehicle excise duty (VED) to disincentivise diesel vehicles. If it is unwilling to go far enough at the national level to drive compliance in places with acute air pollution problems like London, the government could devolve VED rates to those cities that wish to go further. Finally, to increase the pace of transition towards a diesel-free car fleet, the government could introduce a scrappage scheme for older diesel cars across the UK or in areas of non-compliance with air pollution laws.


At the local level the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has already indicated a willingness to take much more radical action than his predecessor. Policy measures that are likely to be needed in order to achieve compliance with legal air pollution limits include:

  • the expansion of the new ultra low emissions zone (ULEZ) across the whole of inner London; this could be progressively tightened to eventually include all diesel cars, including Euro 6
  • the progressive tightening of emissions standards within the low emissions zone (covering the whole of London) for lorries, vans, buses and taxis, with the aim of progressively phasing out diesel buses and taxis altogether
  • the introduction of new policies to promote alternative forms of sustainable transport.


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Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #2212 27 Jul 2016 17:41
The report is a good summary of the position. And as we all continue to suffer the serious health effects since too many politicians have sat on their hands for too long we can at least follow the simple rule to assist all Londoners: “more walking and cycling, and if vehicle transport is absolutely necessary then make sure it’s as clean as possible”.
Maybe Enfield could press to be captured within the proposed Ultra Low Emissions Zone, currently expected to stop at the North Circular. Polluted air doesn’t respect such boundaries..
David Hughes's Avatar
David Hughes posted a reply #4215 21 Nov 2018 22:00
I found it hard to place this contribution to the facts and debate about air quality because, although there are several possibilities, none seemed entirely appropriated. However, the word CRISIS in the heading of this thread seemed to make it reasonably appropriate.

My newspaper today carried the following heading: "Air pollution is (the) single biggest threat to human health, scientists warn". And the first sentence began: "Air quality reduces the average lifetime by almost two years............making it the single greatest threat to human health." Then, later in the piece: "The World Health Organization says the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming millions......"

Further down the article it became clear that the averages were weighted by the inclusion of figures from countries like India, but even in some parts of the US the average reduction in lifespan is about a year, in London about 4 months. Four months may not seem much of an average penalty over a lifetime, but of course there will be a period of ill health prior to death

People have different responses to this sort of information - as is demonstrated by the fact that British drivers are still buying new diesel cars (though in somewhat reduced numbers) - and we do have to get about, but it does puzzle me that people buy monster-cars largely used for driver-only journeys in London where a small petrol car would do, or, better still, use of public transport. After all their lives are as much at stake from poor air quality as mine, and if a large, powerful car is need for a long journey it can be hired, which would still be cheaper overall than buying one.

Perhaps someone will contribute an explanation, not least because there has been considerable discussion about reducing diesel emissions, but to my knowledge no one has written to explain their choice of diesel.
Basil Clarke's Avatar
Basil Clarke posted a reply #4216 21 Nov 2018 23:24
By coincidence(?), the London Air Quality reading changed to Unhealthy shortly after David posted his comment.

Recently air quality has been untypically good for a lot of the time - but this has been because we've been having a lot of windy weather.

When they say "Unhealthy for sensitive groups", they mean people in those categories are in immediate danger, eg of stroke or heart attack, if they exert themselves. It's actually unhealthy for everyone because chronic lower level exposure damages health too. This particular episode is mainly pm2.5, the particles that enter the brain!.

Here's the wider picture - some suburban locations are affected too

Karl Brown's Avatar
Karl Brown posted a reply #4217 22 Nov 2018 10:40
Imagine if our tap water was killing thousands of us every year. Would we carry on as if nothing was happening? Would business stay silent? Would the government remain in power? What would happen to tourist numbers? Would Brexit be pushed off its headline slot?

And here we are. But instead of our tap water read our air.

Blame government, blame car manufacturers (Volkswagen’s deceit and abuse was a total disgrace), blame big-oil, and blame ourselves. We can change it.

Then we can build memorials to all the thousands who died and all the others who have lives impacted by it. That’s all of us by the way.