The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced the implementation of a new tax which will affect the most polluting vehicles.

Cars in London. Image credits: David Holt / Flickr

The announcement comes after a disastrous couple of months for London in terms of air quality. London has reached its yearly NO2 pollution limit in just 8 days, air pollution alerts were issued several times, and a judge has officially ordered the city to solve its problem.

While some measures were taken, it was simply not enough to alleviate the worsening problem. Such a tax, Khan mentions, was a necessity.

“It’s staggering that we live in a city where the air is so toxic that many of our children are growing up with lung problems. If we don’t make drastic changes now we won’t be protecting the health of our families in the future.

“That is why today, on the 14th anniversary of the start of the congestion charge, I’ve confirmed we are pressing ahead with the toughest emission standard of any major city, coming to our streets from 23 October.”

The new tax only applies to the central parts of London, and it will address only the oldest, most polluting vehicles, around 10,000 of them. Particularly, it applies to motorists with cars without the Euro-4 standards — something which has already been in place for more than 10 years. When you add it up to the congestion tax, a pre-Euro 4 car owner will pay £21.50 a day to drive his car in central London.

The move has been generally praised. Dr Peter Steer, from the Great Ormond Street hospital for children where a consultation on the tax was held, said:

“The mayor’s drive to clean up the capital’s air is fantastic news for our patients and staff. Children living in highly polluted areas are four times more likely to have reduced lung function in adulthood, yet improving air quality has been shown to halt and reverse this effect.”

Many children in London go to school in areas with pollution levels way above what’s considered legal and healthy, and Khan has made it one of his priorities to clear the British capital’s polluted air. However, this is just a small step towards that goal. Ultimately, his plan is to extend the so-called ultra-low emission zone beyond central London to the North and South Circular roads. The big accomplishment would be implementing a diesel scrappage scheme, but that’s out of the mayor’s hands and in the hands of the Parliament.

The need for action is acute. According to The Guardian, air pollution is believed to cause almost 40,000 premature deaths every year in the UK and was in April labelled a “public health emergency” by a cross-party committee of MPs. The UK’s government has been sued several times and has even lost a couple of legal cases due to its lack of action. Unfortunately, not everyone in the UK is as motivated as mister Khan.