London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone: Setting a new benchmark for air quality and climate action in cities

By Mark Watts Executive Director, C40 Cities 

The Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which comes into effect next week in Central London has set a new global benchmark for ambitious climate and air quality policies. One of the world’s largest and most iconic cities has decisively ruled that fossil-fuel-powered vehicles are no longer free to travel through the city centre, poisoning the air with their toxic emissions. 

Operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the ULEZ will see drivers of cars, vans, taxis and motorbikes which don’t meet the very highest emissions standards, charged £12.50 per day for the privilege of bringing their polluting vehicle into central London. 

The evidence of the harmful effects of air pollution on human health is absolutely clear. Thousands of Londoners die prematurely each year as a direct consequence of air pollution. Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of pollution released from petrol and diesel cars, contributing to childhood asthma, stunted growth, reduced lung capacity and even mental health problems amongst young Londoners. 

The same emissions which poison the air, also contribute to climate change, threatening all of our futures. The recent IPCC on Global Warming of 1.5C, clearly laid out the threat posed to the world’s great cities by uncontrolled climate change. 

Mayors are rightly taking bold and urgent action to protect their citizens. 27 cities have committed to make large areas of their city centre fossil fuel free by 2030.  Shenzhen has already successfully replaced its entire 16,000 vehicle fleet with electric buses and many other Chinese cities are well on the way to following suit within just a few years. Those cities which embrace the shift to zero emission transport most quickly, will enjoy cleaner air, healthier and more prosperous communities, lower health care costs and greater resilience to the effects of climate change.

The era of the internal combustion engine dominating the world’s great cities is coming to an end. It will not be missed.