More than three quarters of car pollution in the south-east is produced by drivers living outside London, according to new research.
An Oxford University study found the reliance on cars in the areas beyond the M25 meant carbon emissions targets would not be met.
The report, published in Transport Policy journal, found that in 2012 the population of 12 million living in the south-east but outside the capital produced 77 per cent of the region’s car emissions, compared with just 23 per cent by the eight million people within London.
Researchers found that the average daily car mileage per person was 7.7 miles by Londoners, less than half the 15.6 miles driven by those neighbouring the capital.
The study’s author, Dr Caralampo Focas, said the “patchwork” of targets for reducing emissions outside London were unlikely to be met.
“London and New York have been studied as role models for other cities in terms of land use and transport policies. Yet this approach neglects to look at the bigger picture,” he said.
“Both capital cities are surrounded by sprawling developments that extend well beyond the main urban centres where residents are heavily reliant on their cars and often have to drive to their nearest shop or other facilities.
“Neither London nor New York has a regional planning or transport authority covering the entire region. These findings suggest that policymakers should view cities in their wider regional context given this is where the greatest use of energy and greenhouse gas emissions is now concentrated.”
A debate around air quality was sparked in September last year when VW Group admitted 482,000 of its diesel vehicles in the US were fitted with defeat device software that could cheat emissions tests.
The German-based manufacturer also announcing that some 11 million vehicles were affected worldwide – including almost 1.2 million in the UK.
The Oxford University study included Bedfordshire; Essex; Herfordshire; Buckinghamshire; East and West Sussex; Hampshire; Kent; Oxfordshire; and Surrey as being in the South East region, but outside London.
It also includes unitary authorities Luton; Southend-on-Sea; Thurrock; Bracknell Forest; Brighton and Hove; Isle of Wight; Medway; Milton Keynes; Portsmouth; Reading; Slough; Southampton; West Berkshire; Windsor and Maidenhead; and Wokingham.
The research was financed under the Marie Curie programme of the European Union.