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How ClientEarth are reducing air pollution in the city

Author: Maudie Spurrier, Senior Public Affairs and Campaigns Officer, ClientEarth

We are used to hearing doom and gloom stories on climate change, but our grantee ClientEarth has shown that change is possible. Here, their Senior Public Affairs and Campaigns Officer Maudie Spurrier tells us about their latest work to clean up London's air.

"Air pollution in the UK causes a multitude of severe health problems, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma. It affects vulnerable groups disproportionately, including children, older people and those living in the most deprived areas.

Between 2015-2018, ClientEarth took the UK government to court three times over its record on clean air and three times we won.

Whilst our successes have led to significant improvements in the country’s air quality, more needs to be done to ensure the government and the Mayor of London act to reduce pollution to safer, legal levels and protect people’s health.

With support from Trust for London, we have been able to put pressure on national and local policymakers to take action. Taking a lead amongst our network of partners, we have campaigned heavily in London and since 2016, we have supported the Mayor in his efforts to reduce air pollution in the city. Our Clean Air Parents Network (CAPN) has been instrumental in influencing policy through increased public pressure while our Healthy Air Campaign has ensured that air pollution is recognised as a serious public health crisis.

In 2019, we supported CAPN members to organise the Chorus for Clean Air, a singing event in support of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) attended by over 100 parents, children and patients with lung conditions. We also coordinated a CAPN open letter to the Mayor, which received over 800 signatures from parents, medics and teachers. In a BBC News interview, the Mayor directly referenced the support he receives from parents as a key factor in his pushing ahead with ambitious air pollution policies.

Our legal and campaigning efforts ultimately resulted in the introduction of the ULEZ 18 months earlier than expected along with scrappage schemes for micro-businesses, charities and low income households. This reflects our call for people and businesses to be provided with support to move to cleaner forms of transport. The Mayor has further committed to tightening the standards of the existing Low Emission Zone in October 2020 and expanding the ULEZ in 2021.

Initial analysis has shown that NO2 levels in key areas in London decreased by 30% over a three-month period following the introduction of the ULEZ, while the Financial Times reported a slump in the sale of diesel vehicles. Data from the Greater London Authority revealed that there were 13,500 fewer polluting cars being driven into central London every day.

At a national level, we supported the Times’ Clean Air for All Campaign, which includes several of our policy asks in its manifesto and was backed by the Prime Minister in the run up to the General Election.

Polling we commissioned from YouGov revealed that the majority of the British public support Clean Air Zones, ambitious legally binding targets on air pollution and measures to help people and businesses move to cleaner forms of transport.

It is clear that there is increasing awareness and demand for action to clean up the air in our cities.

In the run up to the 2020 London mayoral election, ClientEarth’s work will focus on making air quality a top five election issue. We will push for ambitious air quality manifesto commitments, specifically measures that will achieve legal compliance in the shortest time possible. We will continue to engage the media and coordinate the Clean Air Parents Network and Healthy Air Campaign to increase pressure on candidates to adopt our policy asks: the expansion of the ULEZ and support for people on low incomes and small businesses to move to cleaner and more active forms of transport.

Ultimately, clean air is essential for a healthy life, and every Londoner has a right to breathe clean air. We will continue to push to make that right a reality."