The London Environment Strategy: what can we expect for the future?

The London Environment Strategy predominantly focuses on how to reduce the effect of air pollution in London by firstly exploring which areas specifically causes our pollution and then by setting out aims that will reduce harmful emissions. The benefits of living in an overall cleaner environment are plenty and lead to significantly enhanced well-being.

What are the main concerns of the London Environmental Strategy? 

There are a number of Mayoral plans that the Strategy is concerned with, these include:

  • Culture
  • Economic development
  • Health inequalities
  • Housing
  • London Plan
  • Transport

What challenges does the London Environment Strategy plan to undertake?

The London Environment Strategy recognises challenges, such as the detrimental effects of climate change and the unacceptable levels of harmful pollutants that cause the toxicity of our air. The strategy communicates other risks. For example, both flooding and conversely water scarcity, devaluation of river water quality (only 2 out of 47 rivers in London are classed as ‘good’). There is also a heat risk of the centre of London increasing in temperature by up to 10°C, this is called the Urban Heat Island Effect, which increases emissions due to an intensified demand for cooling. London’s biodiversity is also under threat due to the paving over of green spaces and therefore the loss of habitats. Furthermore, it is of concern that by 2026 landfill capacity is expected to expire. Building infrastructure to cater for an increasing population of what is now 8.7 million, expected to increase to 11.1 million people in 2050, has the potential to push the impact on our environment further, not least by noise pollution, especially with the proposed expansion of Heathrow airport, exposing a further 200,000 people to the current 2.4 million people exposed to the ambient noise.

What causes air pollution? 

When biofuels, biomass and fossil fuels do not completely combust, black carbon remains in our air, it is comprised of fine particulate matter which is a composite of the non-gaseous material of mixed chemical composition. Black carbon heats the atmosphere by absorbing sunlight. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is another adverse air pollutant to be wary of. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) is mostly derived from heating systems and road transport. In the air nitrogen oxide can easily be converted to nitrogen dioxide, therefore it is vital to control NOx emissions in order to scale down the concentration of NO2. The London Environment Strategy states that 37% of NOx emissions is sourced from the built environment.

“More than 9000 Londoners die prematurely every  year as a direct consequence of our air”

Air pollution has a negative impact on our health, increasing our chances of having a stroke, developing heart disease, asthma, dementia and causing underdeveloped lungs in young people.

How can we strive towards cleaner air?

Vehicles are fundamental contributors to air pollution and therefore choosing to drive less and use public transport or walk/cycle instead will benefit our atmosphere. Infrastructure can improve our motivation to make this choice and if cycle routes were more accessible, we might feel more compelled to cycle. Plants naturally capture and store carbon and therefore green spaces should be expanded, 33% of London is built up of farmland, parks and woodland and 14% of London consists of private domestic green space. In 2017 this ranked London 10th out of 30 world cities in terms of its percentage of green space. Green spaces should be integrated and made more accessible in London’s urban landscape, green roofs, green walls and sustainable drainage can optimise our air and water quality.

The London Environmental Strategy aims for the following: 

  • London should aim to be a zero waste city. This means no non-biodegradable waste will be sent to landfill after 2026 and Londoners should recycle 65% of their municipal waste by 2030.
  • Londoners should develop resilience against extreme weather, such as drought, heat risk and flooding.
  • By 2050 London should be a zero carbon city.
  • By 2050 tree canopy cover should increase by 10% and more than 50% of London’s area should be green. 
  • There should be an improved quality of life for all Londoners, keeping noise pollution to a minimum and encouraging more quiet and peaceful spaces
  • London should aim to have the greatest air quality by 2050 amongst all major world cities.

How will making environmental improvements impact our lives?

At present London’s economy suffers a £3.7 billion loss due to air pollution. If the strategy is successful this money can be invested elsewhere; hopefully to solve other environmental issues. Our lives should be broadly benefited by the London Environment Strategy. Cleaner air and water will improve our mental and physical well-being, therefore improving our productivity levels and, most importantly, our health. The King’s Report (2015) addresses an inadmissible statistic of 20% of Primary schools being situated in areas that infringe the legal limit for NO. The London Environment Strategy seeks to rectify this by working in accordance with the framework composed by the London Local Air Quality Management (LLAQM) to prohibit future generations from suffering with under developed lungs. The sale of non-smokeless fuels in London may be banned in the future, however the changes we make in our lifestyles to accommodate this strategy will entice a healthier and more sustainable way of living for all.

Is it possible? 

The Clean Air Act was put into place over 60 years ago and since then we have seen a decrease in harmful levels of lead, benzene and sulphur dioxide pollution. London has overcome the great stink of the Victorian era and the great smog of 1952 – there is no reason to not be actively reducing the effects of air pollution in our present day. Together with current drivers, such as the Climate Change act’s NetZero targetthe Clean Growth Strategy and the planned Future Homes Standard, step by step it is clear that regional plans such as the London Environment Strategy have an important role to play.

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