Insights

Friday, 6th May 2016
  • Alaric Lester (Technical Director)
  • Richard Lane (Senior Consultant )

Why has air quality become a major issue in the race for Mayor?

In office, Livingstone and Johnson had air quality policies that went beyond the status quo, but air quality was a marginal issue, rather than a central one. Why the change?

The start of infraction proceedings against the UK government in 2014, for failing to deliver an adequate plan to achieve mandatory air quality limits, provided impetus for action. The UK Supreme court then ruled in April 2015 that government must produce a new plan for improving air quality. ClientEarth continues to challenge UK government on air quality through the courts. While these are national issues, the capital’s air quality problems are the most challenging in the UK, and government needs the new London Mayor to have strong air quality policies.

Publicity also helps to change public policy. Simon Birkett, founder of Clean Air in London, has campaigned tirelessly for some years for the government to achieve full air quality compliance and has been instrumental in raising the profile of air quality over the past decade. The Evening Standard has focused a series of articles on air quality, providing an almost daily feed of information to many of London’s commuters. Several articles have focused on surveys showing that air quality is a major concern for many Londoners. The Volkswagen emissions scandal received massive media coverage and the recent protest action by Greenpeace provided a strong visual message.

Finally, the numbers speak for themselves: the evidence base for health effects from air pollution is more and more compelling. Latest estimates are that outdoor air pollution is contributing to 40,000 early deaths a year in the UK, with almost 10,000 in the capital alone. No prospective Mayor could afford to ignore the evidence base and fail to deal with what is a major public health issue.

Photograph: David Holt