Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, says it is critical that a clean air law be enacted and blasts “vested interests” who oppose his plans to expand a clean air zone to outer London in 2023.

clean air Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, wants to expand London’s low-emission zone. Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/Stockholm

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, 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 lashed out at “vested interests” opposing his separate plans to expand London’s clean air zone.

The Ella’s Law legislation, named after Ella Kissi-Debrah, a 9-year-old London girl whose death in 2013 was linked to air pollution, is supported by Green Party peer Jenny Jones. The so-called private member’s bill for the law received its second reading in parliament on July 8 and is scheduled to be thoroughly scrutinized by MPs on October 21. Such bills can be stymied by MPs “talking out” the time allotted to consider them, preventing them from moving forward.

“It’s critical that this gets through the House of Lords and the House of Commons,” Khan tells New Scientist of Ella’s Law. “What the government should not do is try to negotiate this.” What it should do is consider the merits of Jenny Jones’ bill and make it into an act.”

Khan, a Labour Party politician, says he is relieved that Tory leadership candidate Kemi Badenoch was knocked out of the race to be the next Prime Minister due to her ambiguous commitment to the country’s 2050 net-zero target. He claims that the two remaining candidates, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, “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.”

Khan says he hopes Truss uses her experience as environment secretary to see that climate change and air pollution are “now issues, not tomorrow issues” when the new Conservative party leader is announced on September 5th. He adds that he hopes it also dawns on her that green levies on energy bills, which she has promised to suspend, help pay for energy-efficient home improvements.

In response to a quick analysis that shows London is expected to be a hotspot among the nearly 1000 estimated deaths across England and Wales during the recent 40°C heatwaves, Khan says it was unavoidable that the event would result in an increase in deaths in the capital. “What’s heartbreaking is that all of these things are preventable in terms of addressing climate change and air pollution,” he says.

Last year, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) expanded from the city’s core to the surrounding boroughs. It prevents the most polluting cars, motorcycles, and vans from entering the zone, and Khan now proposes extending it to the city’s outskirts in 2023. Given the current cost of living crisis, some motoring lobby groups have criticized this plan. Khan claims he was acutely aware of people struggling with inflationary costs and had already redesigned how charging in outer London would work to reflect this.

He goes on to say that the city’s poorest residents are the least likely to own a car and that drivers of polluting vehicles would benefit from a larger zone because they were “breathing in poison.” “I recognize there are vested interests, groups organizing anti-ULEZ campaigns,” Khan says. “I’d tell ordinary Londoners, families, charities, small businesses, and others that this affects us all.” The right to breathe clean air, like the right to drink clean water, is a human righ*d

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