Tackling air pollution in London

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

Are policies to tackle particulate pollution in London sufficiently robust?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I have made London’s environment the top priority and as a result our city now leads the world on tackling air pollution and climate change. However, there is no room for complacency. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is the pollutant most harmful to human health. Air pollution remains the biggest environmental health issue in London. In my Environment Strategy, I set out a target to achieve the now interim World Health Organization (WHO) recommended target of 10 micrograms per metre cubed for PM2.5 by 2030. Analysis by King’s College London published in October 2019 showed that, through my policies, and with additional powers and funding, it is possible for London to meet my target, which is well above the Government’s own targets nationally.

We have already made good progress. Since 2016, my policies have led to a 15% reduction in PM2.5 London-wide. Road transport is the largest individual source of local PM2.5 emissions, and the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) contributed to a 27% drop in PM2.5 concentrations in the zone in just two years. Over the same period, PM2.5 concentrations remained flat nationally. The recent expansion of the ULEZ to the North and South Circular Roads, which was opposed by many in this Assembly, is expected to help reduce road transport exhaust emissions across London, but this is not a foregone conclusion. We are working hard to make this expansion a success.

I am continuing to invest in cleaning up the bus and taxi fleets and making it easier and safer for people to walk and cycle. I have used the limited powers I have to tackle non-transport emissions, including through the London-wide Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) Low Emission Zone, and new air quality guidelines in the London Plan. I do not have the powers I need to tackle all non-transport sources of PM2.5, which account for around 70% of local emissions, including wood burning and commercial cooking. Much of the PM2.5 measured in London actually comes from sources outside the city, meaning national and European action is needed.

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

Thank you, Mayor, and thank you for mentioning the wood burning issue. One major form of particulate pollution is from wood burning stoves, and it is not visible to the naked eye and quite dangerous. Both short and long-term exposure to PM2.5 increase the risk of early death from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as well as increased hospital admissions. What plans do you have for raising awareness of this particular issue amongst Londoners, and are you committed to a proper awareness campaign with a real budget for communication?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

We have been working with local boroughs on what we can do in relation to this issue. We have lobbied the Government unsuccessfully for more powers around this issue, including tighter emission standards, stronger reinforcement powers and minimum emission standards for new wood burning stoves, without success. What we have done instead, as the Member alludes to, is do what we can to raise awareness. We are working with Impact on Urban Health and Kantar on research around this area of wood burning. We have also worked with Kantar, which has developed several platform options to test what works in terms of messaging, and this will be tested with focus groups before developing, as has been suggested, a toolkit for communications around wood burning. We have also supported a multi-borough application to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Air Quality Grants Programme, which is focused on quantifying the emissions from different types of wood burning and raising awareness of the impact of wood burning. If successful, the research element of the project would start in April [2022], with the dedicated campaign in 15 boroughs starting the following year and that will be informed by the findings of the Kantar work.

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

That is great news about the lobbying, but we need some money now. You did invest £20,000 back in 2018 with an industry information campaign, encouraging people who currently use an open fire to switch to a cleaner Ecodesign Ready Wood Burning Stove. That was welcome, but that was over three years ago and we do need some more money now. That was nothing compared to what we really have in front of us, a massive task. Will you write to me with some serious initiatives that you plan to take up and tackle this growing issue, particularly when it comes to that budget?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The reason why the industry work was so important is that they make the kit that is leading to the particulate matter coming out and if they have cleaner kit with the right wood burning material that will obviously lead to less particulate matter, so that was really important. As I said in my answer, we have applied to Defra for grant money to do more work going forward, but I am more than happy to write to the Member in relation to this work that we are doing. If she has got any idea of more monies we can be applying for or receiving, I am more than happy to listen to ideas that she may have.

Photo of Hina Bokhari Hina Bokhari Liberal Democrat

Thank you. You are now the Chair of C40 Cities [Climate Leadership Group], a global network of 100 cities, working to address climate change, which is a powerful role and a significant responsibility during the climate emergency. Given that, and the fact that eco wood burning stoves on average emit 750 times more particulate matter than a modern truck exhaust, will you be willing to raise this issue, not just here in London, but on a global stage?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

With respect, in the Global South wood burning is about a necessity and we have got to work with them in relation to giving them the finances they need around resilience, adaptation and support. When you think of the challenges, particularly those that the cities in the Global South face, we have got particular issues and I think Zack [Polanski AM] raised the issue about how COP26 had let down some of those countries with the lack of the nationally determined targets they have got. We are doing lots of work on the C40, and air pollution is part of this. One of the works, which I announced two weeks ago, was around Breathe Global, using some of the lessons from Breathe London to try to improve air quality around the world. That includes particulate matter, and wood burning is one of the causes of particulate matter, but there are a whole host of issues, which we are going to deal with on the C40 network. Air quality is clearly one of them.