London is projected to fail European air quality limits until at least 2030, posing a risk to the health of its residents, and missing a compliance deadline by two decades.
The capital will still have 25 kilometers (16 miles) of roads breaching nitrogen dioxide limits in 2030, and compliance will come “after 2030,” according to a report this month posted on the website of the U.K. Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Urban areas of the West Midlands, which includes Birmingham, and West Yorkshire, which includes Leeds, will also exceed the limits until after 2030, it said.
Authorities in the capital have struggled to rein in emissions of the gas because of the rising use of diesel in passenger cars, and parts of London have NO2 levels twice the EU limit. The World Health Organization says NO2 can irritate the airways and worsen bronchitis in children.
Paris, Rome, Athens, Madrid, Brussels and Berlin are among other cities failing to meet the rules. London Mayor Boris Johnson is trying to tackle the problem through policies including retiring old buses, enforcing new standards for taxis and construction equipment, and better insulating old buildings.
“Failure to meet air pollution limits in three of our major cities for another sixteen years would have serious impacts on the health of thousands of people,” said Jenny Bates, an air pollution campaigner at the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “Government, councils and the London Mayor must make this issue an urgent priority, and end this national scandal.”
Defra had previously estimated compliance with the rules, in force since 2010, would come in 2025. The government didn’t apply to EU authorities for a five-year extension, because it couldn’t meet a requirement that it prove it could comply by then.
The breech has led to an EU threat of legal action. If the case goes to court, the U.K. could expect a large fine based on the size of its economy, the length of the infringement and its seriousness, Joe Hennon, a European Commission spokesman, said in May. Transport for London has said fines could run to 300 million pounds ($500 million) a year.
London had more than 1,000 kilometers of roads exceeding pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide in 2012, according to the Defra report. The West Midlands had 230 kilometers of roads in breach, and West Yorkshire had 107 kilometers. Cities including Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Cardiff and Glasgow aren’t predicted to be compliant until 2025.
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