Air Pollution and Cars

air pollution

Air pollution is killing about 29,000 people a year in the UK. The situation is better than it was, but Britain has been too slow to improve air quality and as a result the European Commission has been forced to take legal action against the UK government. What should the UK government do?

Paris is suffering from air pollution too, and the particulates from diesel engines are the number one culprit. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, says diesel cars should be banned completely from Paris by 2020. Presumably she’d also want to ban petrol cars which are somewhat better from the point of view of local air quality, but worse in terms of carbon emissions. She has stated she only wants ultra low emission vehicles on the city’s main thoroughfares.

There is much evidence that many cities have passed Peak Traffic. As Hidalgo pointed out “Today 60% of Parisians already do not have cars, compared with 40% in 2001. Things are changing quickly.” Car ownership and use is falling in many cities around the World, including London and Paris. Anne Hidalgo wants to see a doubling in the number of cycle lanes, a big increase in pedestrianisation and investment in public transport.

In London Boris Johnson wants to spend £330 million by 2020 on rolling out the Ultra Low Emission Zone, investing in 2,400 hybrid buses and 300 electric buses, and assisting improvements in the taxi fleet. All this is welcome, of course, but more could be done, particularly encouraging people to get rid of their private cars and switch primarily to walking, cycling and using public transport, with perhaps car clubs for those times when a car really is the best option.

In London enormous numbers of cars are privately owned but not used a great deal. Community car clubs would help people save money, further cut their car usage, and also help generate greater social cohesion. Leasehold electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars will, hopefully, gradually replace privately owned petrol and diesel, with the manufacturers being responsible for maintenance, so overcoming built-in obsolescence.

Meanwhile, this week, as the climate talks are underway in Lima, Peru, George Osborne is pumping billions of pounds of British taxpayer’s money into oil and gas exploration and into building more roads and airports. Cameron’s claim to be “the greenest government ever” always was pretty risible: words fail me to say how it looks now. If we want to reduce deaths due to local air pollution, or to start to take a leadership role on climate change, it is imperative that we get rid of this ghastly government and get more Green voices into Parliament. Paradoxically the Tory Boris Johnson, and the Socialist Anne Hidalgo might welcome such a move as a help to their efforts in improving the air quality in the cities they govern.


London and UK health effects of air pollution and Boris’ buses


Peak car

George Osborne’s priorities