Boris Johnson, mayor of London, surprised clean air campaigners on Tuesday night by winning a prestigious international award for his efforts to improve the city’s air quality.
The city faces stiff fines from Brussels over its repeated breaches of European Union air quality standards, with air quality likely to continue to fall below standards for years to come. Johnson was recently sharply criticised by a committee of MPs for failing to tackle air quality. Earlier this year, London suffered serious smog problems that led to warnings for vulnerable people, including children, the elderly and those with respiratory illnesses, to stay indoors for days.
The C40 award judges cities around the world on their efforts to tackle air quality and climate change. London won the air quality award for its work on low-emissions taxis, and separately received another award for a new carbon accounting standard, described as an international best practice benchmark.
Matthew Pencharz, the mayor’s senior adviser on environmental and energy issues, told the Guardian: “This is very good for us. This is going to stimulate the low-carbon economy, and taxi drivers will benefit from energy efficiency savings. London is showing practical delivery solutions to these problems [of air pollution and climate change].”
He said: “We are the first to accept that air quality is a challenge. People accuse of us not doing anything, but I think anyone reasonable would say that Boris Johnson is doing everything he can to improve air quality in the capital.”
The new zero-emission capable taxis are expected to reduce emissions by more than 75% compared to the average London taxi. In central London, where they will mainly operate in zero emission mode, emissions per taxi will be reduced by almost 100%. At present, London’s iconic black cabs account for around 15% of nitrogen oxide emissions in central London, and around 35% of PM10 emissions of large particles, which the mayor said would rise to 45% without intervention.
But campaigners were critical of the award, saying that Johnson has not done enough to tackle London’s growing air pollution problem and it was “laughable” for him to receive such an accolade.
Darren Johnson, London assembly member for the Green Party, said: “We are running out of time to avert a climate catastrophe and the mayor of London should be at the forefront, advocating and delivering carbon reduction programmes on the scale needed, as well as zero carbon energy generating technologies like solar energy. Instead, Boris Johnson criticises wind farms, ignores the scientific consensus on global warming and promotes climate sceptic views. His backing of aviation expansion and fracking can only lead to one thing and that is the acceleration of global warming.”
Johnson has made moves to tackle the air pollution problem, for instance by announcing this summer a rise in the congestion charge on the most polluting diesel-fuelled vehicles, but these plans will not come into effect until 2020. He has also introduced the city’s first age limits on taxis, which has resulted in the retirement of more than 3,000 of the oldest vehicles.
The air quality award was made for a measure that would see “low-emissions capable” taxis on London’s streets from 2018. These taxis would cut down on emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxides, which cause breathing difficulties in vulnerable people and can cause permanent harm to children’s lung development.
However, the rules would only apply to new taxis licensed from 2018, which make up a small proportion of the total number of cabs, and they would only be required to use their low-emission capabilities in the central London low emissions zone, which does not cover the whole capital.
Simon Birkett, founder and director of the Clean Air in London pressure group, said: “Boris is killing the taxi industry not saving it. He should be using his Twitter account to issue smog warnings not begging people to vote for him to win this prestigious international award.”
He said: “The reality of Boris’s taxi strategy is that drivers are forced to buy one of two large, relatively expensive diesel vehicles because they are the only ones meeting the anachronistic 25 foot turning circle requirement. At the stroke of a pen he should remove the turning circle requirement and allow drivers to buy mass market petrol and other low emission vehicles at a fraction of the current cost of a taxi.”
London’s iconic black cabs have long been required to have a tight turning circle, because of historic concerns over their manoeuvrability on London’s narrow streets.
Birkett questioned whether the new rules would make a real difference, and asked: “Will Boris deliver a successful new taxi when he says he will, with funding complying with state aid rules and at a cost that allows taxi drivers to compete with private hire vehicles?”
He also suggested it could take 15 years from 2018 to replace London’s existing 23,000 strong taxi fleet.
via Boris Johnson wins international award for London’s air quality efforts | Environment | theguardian.com.