The war against London’s killer pollution can be won

MAY. 02, 2017

"I never trust air I can’t see." One of my predecessors as mayor of New York regularly uttered that line to draw laughs. But that was 50 years ago, and the dangers of air pollution weren’t as well known back then.

Today, few city dwellers around the world consider air pollution a laughing matter, and they are rightly demanding that their governments take action to reduce it. The UK, where nitrogen oxide and soot-like particulate matter have reached emergency levels, has a chance to become a global leader on the issue.

Pollution kills 40,000 British people every year before their time, about a quarter of them in London. That is a veritable public-health crisis — and as Londoners know, it has been getting worse. Earlier this year, London’s air quality fell below Beijing’s. The environmental activists who placed the masks on statues around London created an unnecessary public nuisance, but it was impossible to argue with their point.

Heavy pollution also saddles taxpayers with several billion pounds a year in healthcare costs. And it reduces London’s attractiveness to foreign companies at a time when,as a result of Brexit, its competitiveness is being challenged by other financial capitals.

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U.N. Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and President of the Board of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.


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