EU Judges also found that the country failed to see through its legal obligation to put in place sufficient plans to tackle the problem of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution.
London has reported illegal levels of air pollution since 2010 and it contributed to around 6,000 excess deaths in the capital in 2019, according to new research.
NO2, which is emitted by gas heating boilers and cars, in the UK exceeded the legal annual average limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air (µg/m³) in 33 out of 43 air quality assessment zones in 2019.
Meanwhile in Beijing, the average annual levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was around 12 µg/m³, and having fallen by 53.6 per cent between 2013 to 2021.
In the last 15 years, China has been steadily improving its air quality. It reduced levels of PM2.5 by 47% between 2005 and 2015. Beijing recorded its lowest ever monthly reading for air pollution in August 2019, with a low of 23 µg/m³. The main reasons for the reduction of air pollution in China are the shift from coal to natural gas in the power stations, the large number of electric vehicles used by the people and the effort from the Chinese government to halt deforestation in the country.
This is not to suggest that China has beaten its air pollution problems. It is simply to point out that unlike many cities, it is making huge inroads towards ensuring major improvements.
A study published in The Lancet Planetary Health in January 2022 suggested that air pollution in urban areas across the globe contributed to 1.8 million excess deaths in 2019, making it a bigger killer than tobacco smoking. Of those, 5,950 were in London, 1,330 in Birmingham, 730 in Leeds and 670 in Liverpool.
Another study by the same researchers showed that in 2019 one in 12 cases of asthma among children worldwide were attributed to nitrogen dioxide pollution at levels exceeding World Health Organisation guidelines. In the UK, London was again responsible for the most cases, at 10,770.
In many cases, air pollution exacerbates pre-existing inequalities. Nearly half of London’s most deprived neighbourhoods exceeded EU nitrogen dioxide limits in 2017, compared with just two per cent of its wealthiest areas, according to data from the European Environment Agency.
Between 31 and 35 per cent of areas with the highest proportion of black and mixed ethnicities are in areas with higher levels of air pollution. Southwark, Lambeth and Hackney are among the boroughs with an overlap of both a higher proportion of black residents and higher pollution levels.
On top of this, the people whose health is most affected by air pollution often contribute the least to the problem.
The (once) major industrialised countries (e.g. US, Germany, Japan) have systematically ‘out-sourced” huge portions of their heavy industry to China and ASEAN countries (and other developing countries) in the past 3 decades, they have also ‘exported’ their air pollution to Asia, allowing the West to simultaneously enjoy relatively clean air while maintaining excessive resource consumption and reducing domestic energy intensity.
As China Environment has often pointed out, US and Western over consumption is still the leading force for environmental destruction of the global ecosystem.
- Evening Standard, 05 March 2021. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/uk-guilty-pollution-eu-court-b922314.html
- Evening Standard, 25 January 2022. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/why-air-pollution-bad-london-sadiq-khan-levy-ulez-b977547.html
- IQAir, Updated 25 January 2022. https://www.iqair.com/china/beijing
- China Environment, 20 January 2022. https://china-environment-news.com/2022/01/20/beijings-air-quality-has-dramatically-improved/
- New Statesman, 19 January 2022. https://www.newstatesman.com/environment/2022/01/how-beijing-took-control-of-air-pollution