london traffic

London needs to charge drivers by the mile to cut emissions, says mayor

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London needs to charge motorists by the mile in order to hit 2030's net zero climate change targets, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has said.

A new 'net zero by 2030' report, published today by consultancy Element Energy and commissioned by the Mayor of London, sets out the scale of the action required to move London towards a greener future and net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.

The report specifies the key actions urgently required in order to reduce air pollution, tackle the climate emergency and cut congestion in the capital city to create a healthier city fit for the future.

According to the report's findings, between 2000 and 2018, London achieved a 57 per cent reduction in workplace greenhouse gas emissions, a 40 per cent reduction in emissions from homes, but just a 7 per cent reduction in emissions from transport.

The research commissioned by the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, found that at least a 27 per cent reduction in London’s car traffic is required by 2030 to meet net zero ambitions.

Khan wants road pricing to be implemented to encourage people who drive petrol or diesel cars in the capital to switch to public transport, walking, cycling or electric vehicles “where necessary”. At the moment, just two per cent of vehicles on the roads in London are electric. The Labour Mayor said he is “not willing to put off action”.

The capital has seen a shift to driving during the pandemic, as people increasingly spurned public transport, with the cost of congestion rising to over £5bn last year, leading to gridlocked roads and toxic air pollution.

Road user charging would be a “simple and fair scheme” that could replace existing fees such as the Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), according to the report. However, making people pay based on how far they drive has often been viewed as a politically toxic approach.

Consideration of such a scheme has not been government policy since the then-Labour administration abandoned similar proposals in 2007 after an online petition attracted 1.8 million signatures.

The City Hall document noted that the technology to charge drivers per mile is “still years away from being ready”, so Khan is considering several policies which “could be ready within the next few years”.

One approach is for the ULEZ to be extended beyond the North and South Circular Roads to cover the whole of London. Existing charge levels and emissions standards could be maintained or a “small” fee could be charged for “all but the cleanest vehicles”, with different rates depending on how polluting vehicles are, the level of congestion in the area and access to public transport. Subject to consultation, it is likely there would be exemptions and discounts for those on low incomes and with disabilities, as well as consideration around support for charities and small businesses.

Khan is also considering charging drivers of vehicles registered outside London for entering the capital. The Mayor and Transport for London will now conduct a public consultation on the proposals, with the Mayor saying he wants “an earnest conversation with Londoners”. The chosen measure could be implemented by May 2024.

The most ambitious scenario, thought to be Khan’s preferred option, could require £75bn investment between now and 2030 in infrastructure, from public and private sources. Hitting the net zero target will require 2.2 million heat pumps in operation by the end of the decade, more solar panels on roofs, and bringing in heat networks for heating homes.

There will also need to be a nearly 40 per cent reduction in the total heat demand of buildings, meaning that over 200,000 homes a year need to be retrofitted with measures such as insulation to stop heat leaking out of them.

Khan has warned he does not have the funding or powers to deliver everything required and wants the government to provide greater support. He said he is “not willing to stand by and wait when there’s more we can do in London that could make a big difference”.

Khan continued: “We have too often seen measures to tackle air pollution and the climate emergency delayed around the world because it’s viewed as being too hard or politically inconvenient, but I’m not willing to put off action we have the ability to implement here in London.

“I’m determined that we continue to be doers, not delayers – not only to protect Londoners’ health right now, but for the sake of future generations to come.

“This is also a matter of social justice – with air pollution hitting the poorest communities the hardest. Londoners on lower incomes are more likely to live in areas of the city most badly affected by air pollution and least likely to own a car. Nearly half of Londoners don’t own a car, but they are disproportionally feeling the damaging consequences polluting vehicles are causing.

“It’s clear the cost of inaction – to our economy, to livelihoods, to the environment and to the health of Londoners - would be far greater than the cost of transitioning to net-zero and reducing toxic air pollution. That’s why I’m today beginning a conversation with Londoners, local government and businesses about the best way forward to create the green, sustainable city we all want to see.”

Responding to the proposals around driving in London, AA president Edmund King said simply “charging vehicles off the road” is not the solution to cutting pollution. “We need to encourage the uptake of cleaner, greener vehicles,” he added.

2021 brought home the impact of the climate emergency in London, with soaring temperatures and flash floods experienced in the capital. City Hall analysis suggests that if extreme temperatures and flooding get worse, a quarter of London’s rail stations, one in five schools, nearly half of London’s hospitals, and hundreds of thousands of homes and workplaces will be at risk of flooding in the future.

Commenting on the report, Oliver Lord, UK head of the Clean Cities Campaign said: “This is one of the most significant announcements from any European city right now. No leader should declare a climate emergency and air pollution crisis and then skip the details, so I congratulate the Mayor and his team on this report. With these plans, the Mayor commits London to a growing momentum to phase out polluting cars. We now need all actors to play their part – the London boroughs and this government included – so that climate talk becomes the climate walk.”

The report - 'Pathways to Net Zero Carbon by 2030' - from Element Energy is available online.

The report's publication follows the news last week that Londoners could be at greater risk of air pollution-related health problems due to pandemic-led changes to the way in which people are travelling around the capital, with air pollution already estimated to contribute to to 4,000 premature deaths each year.

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