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How Paris and London are leading the way on cleaning up toxic air

Wednesday, 29 March 2017 08:12 GMT

The sun rises above the financial district of the City of London April 23, 2011. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

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City air is silently killing us - but mayors are now stepping up

The air in our cities is silently killing us. As Mayors of Paris and London we know that there is no greater priority than the health and security of our citizens. That includes an urgent responsibility to clean the air that we breathe. We need a revolution in air quality.

Air pollution kills more than 3 million people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization, and the majority of these deaths occur in cities. The scientific evidence is growing every day - the links that exist between exposure to air pollution from vehicles and increased rates of asthma and dementia.

From heart disease to strokes, day after day air pollution is damaging the health of our citizens. It is the most vulnerable in our cities, older people and children, who are worst affected. Research commissioned by the Greater London Authority recently found that more than 800 schools, nurseries and colleges are in areas where levels of nitrogen dioxide breach EU legal limits. According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution exceeds safe standards in 80 percent of cities worldwide.

Vehicle emissions are also a key contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions from cities, with the transport sector the fastest growing source of emissions, accounting for almost a quarter of all CO2 emissions globally.

Paris and London are taking bold measures to tackle air pollution. In Paris, we have restricted the oldest, most polluting vehicles from entering the city thanks to the creation of a low emission zone and the implementation of the Crit’Air stickers, combined with the development of clean public transportation.  By removing cars from the right bank of the Seine, we have created a unique new space for pedestrians and cyclists.

Later this year vehicles in central London will need to meet minimum exhaust emission standards, or pay a daily Emissions Surcharge, the T-Charge. And we are consulting on introducing the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone in 2019. Both cities are investing heavily in cleaner public transport, including electric and hybrid buses. Yet, to transform the air in our cities this must just be the beginning.

Today, we will announce schemes in Paris and London to score new cars based on their real-world emissions and their impact on air quality. These are the first of their kind in the world.

Research has also shown that current testing schemes conceal the true levels of toxic emissions. Some diesel cars that pass the EU’s highest environmental standards in laboratory test conditions, once on the road release more nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide than a modern heavy duty truck. The schemes will help our citizens make better informed choices about the environmental impact of the cars they drive and prevent car manufacturers from exploiting loopholes in laboratory testing methods.

By taking this leadership position, Paris and London are hoping to inspire many more cities to take similar measures on air quality. Several other major cities, including Seoul, Moscow, Mexico City, Milan, Oslo and Tokyo have already committed to develop a global scoring system that would be accessible to all citizens. Working through the C40 network that brings together 90 of the world’s great cities to tackle climate change, they will use the more accurate data to create sustainable transport policies on the streets of cities worldwide.

Today, as the process of Britain’s exit from the European Union begins, we will stand side by side in Paris, to show that the vital work of improving the lives of our citizens is our absolute and urgent priority. By cleaning the air that we breathe, we will transform our cities, making them fundamentally better places to live, to raise children and to grow old. We commit to lead a revolution in air quality for our citizens. Nothing will get in the way of that promise.

Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris & Chair of C40 

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London & Vice-Chair of C40