Mayor of London Sadiq Khan says it is important that a clean air law is enacted and hits out at “vested interests” pushing back against his plans to expand a clean air zone to outer London in 2023
29 July 2022
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has urged the UK government not to use time-wasting tactics in parliament to block a proposed law enshrining a right to clean air, as he hit out against “vested interests” pushing back on his separate plans to expand the UK capital’s clear air zone.
The right-to-clean-air legislation – known as Ella’s Law after Ella Kissi-Debrah, the 9-year-old London girl whose death in 2013 was linked to air pollution – is backed by the Green party peer Jenny Jones. The so-called private member’s bill for the law had its second reading in parliament on 8 July and is due to be scrutinised in detail by MPs on 21 October. Such bills can be obstructed by MPs “talking out” the time allocated to consider them, so they can’t proceed.
“It’s really important this gets through the House of Lords and gets through the House of Commons,” Khan says of Ella’s Law, speaking to New Scientist. “What the government shouldn’t do is try and talk this out. What it should do is look at the merits of Jenny Jones’s bill and turn this bill into an act.”
Khan, a Labour party politician, says he is glad that Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch was knocked out of the race to be the next prime minister, because of her ambivalent commitment to the country’s 2050 net-zero target. He says Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two remaining candidates, “have a big responsibility to use the awful crisis with the cost of living, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, our reliance on fossil fuels, to accelerate the sprint towards zero carbon”.
Anticipating that Truss will win when the new Conservative party leader is announced on 5 September, Khan says he hopes she draws on her experience as environment secretary to see that action on climate change and air pollution is “a now issue, not a tomorrow issue”. He adds that he hopes it also dawns on her that green levies on energy bills, which she has promised to suspend, pay for making homes more energy efficient.
Responding to a snap analysis showing that London is expected to have been a hotspot among the almost 1000 estimated deaths across England and Wales during the recent 40°C heatwave, Khan says it was inevitable the event led to an increase in deaths in the capital. “What’s heartbreaking is all these things are preventable in relation to tackling climate change, addressing air pollution,” he says.
London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expanded last year from the inner areas of the city to surrounding boroughs. It deters the most polluting cars, motorbikes and vans from entering the zone, and now Khan is proposing extending it to the outer areas of the city in 2023. Some motoring lobby groups have criticised this plan, given the cost of living crisis. Khan says he was acutely aware of people struggling with the costs of inflation and had already redesigned how charging in outer London would work to reflect that.
He adds that the poorest people in the city are the least likely to own a car and that the drivers of polluting vehicles would benefit from an expanded zone because they were “breathing in poison”. “I recognise there are vested interests, groups who are organising campaigns against the ULEZ,” says Khan. “What I’d say to ordinary Londoners, families, charities, small businesses and others is: this affects all of us. The right to breathe clean air is a human right, just like clean water.”
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