The UK's air has been at illegally polluted levels since 2010, and the situation has been described as a health crisis by leading experts. Pollution from diesel cars is invisible, but its impact is clear. We now know toxic air is responsible for a whole host of health problems, from asthma in children to strokes and lung disease in older people.
The government has been slow to tackle the problem. Its response has been so poor it's been criticised by the High Court and told it must create a robust plan to reduce toxic air pollution 'in the soonest time possible'.
Air pollution on our roads is largely caused by harmful nitrogen oxides and toxic particulates - of which diesel engines are a major source. 90% of NOx emissions on the roads are from diesel engines, of which 41% is from diesel cars.
Current levels of emissions are out of control because diesel cars are being allowed to produce up to 18 times over the legal NOx limits on the road. It's almost two years since the news broke that car makers had been gaming tests so their cars produced a lot more emissions on the roads than they said they did. Yet nothing has changed. Even the newest diesel cars are producing a lot more toxic pollution than they're meant to.
It's clear you can't solve the air pollution crisis without tackling pollution coming from our roads, which are clogged up with polluting cars. The government is right to put an expiry date on dirty petrol and diesel engines, but 2040 is far too late.
We cannot wait until 2040 for real action to tackle the public health emergency caused by air pollution. Car manufacturers like Volvo have announced their intention to move away from petrol and diesel by the end of this decade. Germany, India, the Netherlands and Norway are all considering bans by 2030 or sooner.
By 2040, the industry will have already moved away from petrol and diesel. The government will be behind the times.
The UK has the potential to lead the world in clean transport revolution, but it is vital we stay ahead now through a more ambitious phase-out date to boost our domestic market, as other countries are catching up. Hiding behind the headlines is the real news of this plan. It appears the government will not encourage clean air zones to restrict dirty vehicles from entering some of our most polluted towns and cities. This ignores findings in the draft plan in May, which acknowledged that clean air zones for polluting diesel vehicles including cars are by far the most impactful way to bring air pollution into legal limits within the quickest possible timescale, as required by the law. It appears the government now simply wants local authorities to tackle 81 isolated roads where pollution levels are too high. This is likely simply to displace the problem to other areas, and raises major concerns about whether our government is serious about cleaning up the UK's toxic air and protecting people's health. As the Mayor of London put it, "a half-hearted commitment from Government simply isn't good enough."
Yet again the government is trying to hide behind a headline, and dodge its responsibility for tackling illegal air pollution in our towns and cities. Our toxic air is stunting our children's lung growth right now; it is sending vulnerable people to hospital and causing suffering up and down the country. We cannot wait nearly a quarter of a century for a solution. It needs strong government action to fix this crisis right now.