Londoners were urged today to “embrace not fear” green technology, amid spiralling concerns over the death toll from toxic air on the capital’s streets.
Lord Deben, chairman of Britain’s Committee on Climate Change, made the plea to dramatically speed up action to tackle killer air pollution. Dozens of blackspots are in London, with filthy air smothering some of its busiest and most famous roads, including Oxford Street, and blighting both affluent and poorer neighbourhoods.
Today the Evening Standard launches a series of reports highlighting the problem and encouraging Londoners, businesses, the Mayor, town halls and the Government to swiftly adopt, develop and promote green technology, which experts say could significantly clean up our city.
With the World Health Assembly due to hold talks in Geneva today on combating air pollution, Boris Johnson has announced £8 million for pioneering schemes to improve London’s environment, such as pollution-absorbing walls and car clubs for zero-emission electric vehicles.
It comes as the motor industry and European Commission face damaging claims over the level of pollution allegedly being belched out by the latest generation of diesel cars — which were supposed to be so clean that they would not be a threat to public health.
Lord Deben — better known as John Gummer, environment secretary under John Major — called on Londoners to make the most of green technology.
He said: “Don’t be frightened, embrace it. There are a whole lot of things that we can do which mean that we can live exactly the same lifestyle at half the impact on the environment.
“If you are going to deal with London’s air pollution, then electric cars and the use of modern technology on traditional cars are the very first step.”
Householders could upgrade their heating system so it could be switched on by smartphone, to avoid having it on a timer and warming up an empty property, he added, and could also keep electricity bills down by buying the greenest washing machines, fridges and dishwashers. Commuters could ditch their cars — which can contain dirtier air than outside — and walk or cycle more, with the help of apps that find the least polluted route.
After planting a tree at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park today for London Tree Week, Mr Johnson unveiled the £8 million second round of his £20 million Air Quality Fund, which offers boroughs up to £400,000 for individual projects. Pioneering schemes in the first round included:
Pollution-capturing walls in Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, and Kensington and Chelsea, to protect pupils in playgrounds and pedestrians in roads plagued by toxic air;
Upgrading 25 electric car club vehicles and installing new chargers;
Developing a freight consolidation centre for Camden, Islington and Enfield that has nearly halved deliveries from participating suppliers to council buildings — with the remaining journeys made by electric van.
The Mayor said: “Embracing this technology as part of our everyday lives is vital. It’s clear that these measures, and the more of us that can adopt them, are helping make London the greenest, most sustainable megacity on earth.”
London’s green economy had reached almost £30 billion a year, he added, with over 160,000 jobs in this sector.
City Hall has backed other innovative schemes including recycling household items into fuel, apps that advise on low congestion routes, and a “green Tardis” project to turn underused phone boxes into solar-powered mobile phone recharging stations.
Mr Johnson also announced £1 million of funding for boroughs to transform urban landscapes and improve air quality, under a Low Emission Neighbourhood scheme.
Projects which could get cash include road redesigns, measures to encourage more walking and cycling, further reduction of the impact of freight and servicing, and smarter charging systems for parking. But the Mayor and ministers are under pressure from the European Commission to take more decisive action to tackle pollution — with the threat of massive fines if they are seen to be dragging their feet, having already missed key deadlines.
Less than a month ago, the Supreme Court ordered ministers to draw up fresh plans to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide, which are in breach of EU limits at numerous locations in London.
Scientists say thousands of Londoners are dying prematurely each year due to pollution. Millions in other cities, including Paris and Beijing, also suffer from dirty air. Their plight and global warming are being thrust back into the spotlight this year ahead of a global climate change summit in Paris.
The Committee on Climate Change is an independent body set up under the Climate Change Act 2008, to advise ministers on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions and improve the environment. Lord Deben said: “We can do everything we do today using half the energy if we just used the energy efficient technology that is available.”
He said London had “some of the brightest and cleverest people who are changing technology faster than one can think”.@nicholascecil
Worst blackspots are in London
- The number of diesel cars on Britain’s roads has grown from 1.6 million to more than 11 million over the past decade.
- The air in Oxford Street has the world’s highest recorded concentrations of harmful nitrogen dioxide.
- More than 4,000 deaths a year in London are linked to dangerous sooty airborne particulates. This is forecast to rose to more than 5,000 by 2020.
- Air pollution is now ranked Britain’s second biggest public health threat after smoking.
- All 50 of Britain’s worst blackspots for dirty air are in London.