Ridding inner London of virtually all diesel vehicles would solve the capital’s air pollution crisis, according to research published as the high court is due to rule on the government’s air quality plan.
Illegal levels of air pollution cause about 9,500 early deaths a year in London and a new report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) sets out a series of measures to solve the problem.
Imposing charges on all diesel cars and banning diesel taxis, plus stricter limits for trucks and buses, are central to the plan, which modelling by scientists at King’s College London show would deliver clean air. Boosting public transport, cycling and walking are also vital, according to the report, as is a national scrappage scheme for old diesel vehicles.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has proposed strong new measures to tackle air pollution but the IPPR proposals go further. Khan has joined a legal action against the government by NGO ClientEarth, which says the national plan does not cut illegal levels of air pollution in the “shortest possible time”, as required by law.
ClientEarth defeated the government in the supreme court in 2015 but argues that even the new plan prompted by the defeat is still illegal. The judgment from the new challenge is expected in the high court on Wednesday morning.
In October, it was revealed that George Osborne, then chancellor, had blocked moves to charge diesel cars for entering cities due to worries over cost and alienating drivers. In April, a cross-party committee of MPs said air pollution in the UK was a “public health emergency”.
Traffic is the major cause of air pollution in cities, with diesel vehicles especially dirty. Paris is already taking steps to phase out diesels, as are cities across Germany.
“Air pollution in London is at lethal levels,” said Laurie Laybourn-Langton, one of the IPPR report authors. “Bringing these levels down will save lives and make the capital more pleasant and prosperous for all Londoners. This won’t be easy and so our plan includes a number of measures that reduce the cost to Londoners of cleaning up transport.”
“The fact that air pollution is an invisible and odourless killer has meant that we have been sleepwalking into a health crisis that has already claimed thousands of lives,” said a trio of medical professors, Jonathan Grigg, Chris Griffiths and Stephen Holgate, in a foreword for the report.
“The benefits of moving away from diesel and fossil-fuel vehicles to health, to the economy, and to the climate will be significant. All we need is the political courage to do so.”