London air pollution at dangerously high levels: Will the new mayor fix it?

On 5th May, London will vote for a new mayor. The pressure is on for Boris Johnson’s successor to deliver a greener future for the capital; only 16% of Londoners think politicians are doing enough to protect the environment.

Boris Johnson’s legacy

Boris Johnson promised when he was elected that he would make London ‘the cleanest, greenest city on earth.’ Sadly, two four-year terms later, it is one of the least green cities in the UK. Although ‘Boris bikes’  have been a success to some extent, encouraging people to cycle rather than using public transport, several of his flagship environmental policies have failed. There was controversy when it was alleged that his new much-hyped hybrid Routemaster buses produce worse emissions than their predecessors. The Garden Bridge project, to which he has allocated tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’  money, has been billed by many as an expensive gimmick. Most of his ‘green’ actions have seemed a bit like empty gestures.

What changes should be made in London?

London needs to modernise and move away from its dependence on fossil fuels. Aside from the obvious issue that they are non-renewable, their use has knock-on effects on human health and wildlife. They cause global warming and acid rain.

London generates the lowest percentage of solar power of any region in Britain. Only 1% of the capital’s energy comes from solar power and this is a statistic that could be bettered with not much difficulty. However, in investing in solar, the Mayor would be directly opposing the government, which has cut solar subsidies and feed-in tariffs.

Greenpeace and the Green Alliance have made suggestions of other key changes that should be made in the capital. Improving public transport and promoting road safety to make cycling more appealing are two major suggestions. However, perhaps the biggest issue to tackle is air pollution.

What is the London air pollution crisis?

Air pollution has reached illegal levels in London and at least 10,000 Londoners die prematurely each year as a result. Within the first week of 2016, several streets in London had already breached annual limits for nitrogen dioxide exposure.

Dirty air is having a direct effect on Londoners’ quality of life and air pollution can cause asthma, respiratory infections and even lung cancer. Children and the elderly are particularly at danger from airborne toxicants.

Solutions for improving air quality include greater emphasis on tree planting and – most importantly – slashing vehicle emissions.

What will the new mayor do about London air pollution?

This has been a key subject of debate in hustings. Nearly all of the candidates have put forward action points for tackling air pollution in the city, and other environmental concerns. Read more about their policies here.

Whoever is voted in, one thing is clear; they will be under close scrutiny on environmental issues. These are no longer points on which the public are willing to be pushed aside – after all, it’s a matter of life or death!


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