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London fights pollution with Ultra Low Emission Zone

The Greater London Authority charges a daily fee to any vehicle that doesn’t meet emission standards in the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone.

Air Quality

Greater London Authority, GB

United Kingdom

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London prepares for launch of ultra-low emissions zone | UK news | The Guardian

Almost 1,000 people a year in London are hospitalised with asthma caused by pollution

London prepares for launch of ultra-low emissions zone | UK news | The Guardian

ULEZ: The most radical plan you've never heard of - BBC News

London's ultra-low emission zone (uLEZ) will ban the most polluting cars from the centre of the capital.

ULEZ: The most radical plan you've never heard of - BBC News

The Mayor's Ultra Low Emission Zone for London | London City Hall

To help improve air quality, the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) launched in central London on 8 April 2019.

The Mayor's Ultra Low Emission Zone for London | London City Hall

  • London has introduced the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which establishes strict emission standards for all vehicles operating in a defined area

  • Vehicles that don’t meet the ULEZ standards must pay a £12.50 fee per day, or £100 for busses

  • The zone operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year except for Christmas

  • Residents can register their vehicles or pay the fees online

  • Within the first year of ULEZ implementation, pollutants were reduced by 44 percent


London’s fog is so well-known it has a nickname. Thick “pea soup” fog has long been a risk to residents, prompting the city to take substantial actions over the years to reduce emissions and improve its air quality.
One of newest tactics is the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, which imposes strict emissions restrictions on all vehicles at all times, and charges those that don’t comply. In its first year, the ULEZ has already improved the air and has the potential to save the government billions of dollars. Now, other cities are looking to London to see how they may introduce something similar. Let’s take a look at how the ULEZ works.

London’s air pollution problem

The UK has a history of innovative responses to air pollution. After the Great Smog smothered London for five days in 1952, the Parliament passed the Clean Air Act in 1956. The act established “smoke control areas” to limit emissions, and provided subsidies to encourage households to switch to cleaner fuels.
This marked a major milestone in the environmentalism movement. But it didn’t completely solve the country’s smog problem.
Fast forward to present day and, London’s mayor has called the city’s polluted air a public health crisis. According to the mayor’s office:

“Thousands of Londoners die prematurely each year because of long-term exposure to air pollution, while over 450 schools in the capital are in areas exceeding legal air quality levels.”
The city’s poor air quality has the potential to impact an estimated 2 million people — including more than 400,000 children — who live in areas where the pollution exceeds legal limits.
Roughly half of this air pollutant comes from cars and other vehicles. As Shirley Rodrigues, London’s deputy mayor for the environment, notes in the Guardian, the people affected aren’t often the ones causing the bulk of the pollution:
“The poorest are least likely to own a car but most likely to live in an area of high pollution.”
To counteract the air pollution, the City of London is taking extreme measures to reduce emissions, and improve the quality of the air.

Creating an Ultra Low Emission Zone

In April 2019, the city of London introduced an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in downtown London. All vehicles that enter the zone must meet emission levels based on the Euro standards:
--Euro 3 for motorcycles, mopeds, motorised tricycles and quadricycles (L category)
--Euro 4 (NOx) for petrol cars, vans, minibuses and other specialist vehicles
--Euro 6 (NOx and PM) for diesel cars, vans and minibuses and other specialist vehicles
--Euro VI (NOx and PM) for lorries, buses and coaches and other specialist heavy vehicles (NOx and PM)
Those that don’t will be charged a £12.50 fee per day, or £100 for busses, coaches, and lorries. (This fee is in addition to existing “congestion charge” and low emissions zone charges for heavy diesel vehicles that cover the same area.) The rules are in effect 24 hours a day, every day of the year except Christmas.
Residents can check their vehicle’s emissions status or register it and pay online at the Transport for London website. Motorists who don’t meet the standards will be subject to a £160 fine (though will likely receive a warning first).
The city plans to expand the ULEZ to a much wider footprint in October 2021. This larger zone would cover approximately 640,000 vehicles, of which roughly 135,000 will have the potential to be charged.

London’s quest to breathe better

Ultimately the goal is not to raise substantial funds from the fees, it’s to encourage residents to use more efficient modes of transportation.
The ULEZ is one of many efforts the city of London is undertaking to address its air quality. The city is introducing more sustainable measures throughout its bus system, including introducing low emission bus zones, and investing in new electric and hybrid busses across the fleet. The Mayor’s office also partnered with Environmental Defense Fund Europe and Google Earth Outreach to launch Breathe London, which it claims is the world’s largest network to monitor air quality. This programme involves tens of thousands of sensors and real-time maps to inform residents of pollution hotspots.
All these efforts appear to be working. According to a report produced 10 months after the launch of the ULEZ:
“Data indicates in the first ten months of the scheme it had a significant and immediate impact – although further analysis will be needed to fully assess the long-term impacts.”
Among other reductions, the report found that:
“Between February 2017 and February 2020, there has been a 39 micrograms per cubic metre reduction in roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the central zone, a reduction of 44 per cent.”
Another success has been the adoption rate of the new regulations — in under a year there were already fewer polluting cars being driven in the city:
“In January 2020 the average compliance rate with the ULEZ standards was around 79 per cent in a 24 hour period (and 77 per cent in congestion charging hours). This is much higher than 39 per cent in February 2017 and the 61 per cent in March 2019 (congestion charging hours).”
The resulting health benefits of this pollution reduction also has major financial benefits for the entire country. The mayor’s office estimates that the ULEZ and related measures will save the NHS approximately £5 billion by 2050, and lead to 1 million fewer hospitalisations in London.


London’s ambitious plans show that local governments have a lot of power when it comes to reducing emissions and tackling pollution. The actions of these cities and towns have demonstrably impactful results — and often the impact extends beyond the local borders.
London’s approach is the first of its kind, but we expect to see similar executions elsewhere. The ULEZ has already garnered interest from other local governments. Clean air zones are being explored in Leeds, Birmingham, and Manchester. Beijing and Los Angeles have also been undertaking efforts to control their smog.
As concentrated centres of population, cities are also major contributors to poor air quality. The more local governments take on the fight against pollution, the greater the benefits will be for the environment as a whole.


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Lindsay Pica-Alfano

Co-founder at Govlaunch



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