Environmental challenges

Leonie Cooper

The environmental challenges facing the new London mayor and Assembly probably need no rehearsal and top of the agenda is the issue of London’s toxic air, which the mayor has memorably described as making you ill and being illegal. But in the light of the decision of the UK as a whole to leave the EU the illegality may now vanish along with other “Brussels red tape”, as the leave winners from Ukip and the Tory party throw out a whole host of babies and their bathwater, as quickly as they can.

It’s likely to make a big challenge even worse – nationally, these are exactly the same people who deny that humanity has had any impact on the world’s climate, who are virulently against onshore and offshore wind farms but support fracking, and in the case of Boris Johnson, the previous London mayor, is someone who has taken no effective action since 2012, when the World Health Organisation officially declared diesel exhaust to be carcinogenic. London now faces a crisis in terms of its appalling air quality, as the growth in diesel vehicles on the capital’s roads has continued apace, increasing by a further 30 per cent since 2012 alone. More than 170,000 more diesel cars are now on London’s roads – something Johnson did nothing to halt 2012-16.

Effective action will require central government and London’s mayor to work closely together. Previously, we could have expected this might happen within the framework of European legislation, but the Brexit vote makes this much more unlikely. The Tories have a track record of previous inaction, and have shown their current lack of commitment by dismantling the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Central government needs to increase diesel taxes to make them far less attractive to purchase, oversee emissions monitoring to prevent manufacturers from fiddling their emission figures and urgently introduce a nationwide, comprehensive diesel scrappage scheme. This would sit well alongside the new mayor’s commitments to consult over a larger and more rapidly-introduced ultra low emission zone, to look to introduce a T-charge on the vehicles that emit the most toxic emissions and to look at clean air routes to school, to try and lessen the impact on children’s developing lungs. Any action to mitigate against emissions impacting on our climate and to move toward renewables will equally face opposition from central government – and it’s hard to see a May-led government wanting to take lessons from Germany or Denmark, on how to move forward.

The great worry now is that, despite all of the efforts of the London mayor and Assembly, central government and European support will no longer be there to back up our work, as we try to move forward to reduce the almost 10,000 deaths in London each year and clean up our toxic air, and try to improve renewable energy generation, which is currently far lower in London than anywhere else in the UK.

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