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World Health Organization climate chief hails Sadiq Khan’s hated ULEZ expansion in London as ‘politically courageous’

  • London’s mayor sparked fury by extending the scheme to cover all 32 boroughs 
  • Maria Neira told the BMJ the reaction to ULEZ’s expansion was unsurprising 
  • READ MORE: ‘Blade Runner’ vows they won’t stop destroying ULEZ cameras 

Sadiq Khan was today branded ‘politically courageous’ by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) climate chief for pushing through with the ULEZ expansion.

London’s mayor sparked outrage with his decision to widen the scheme to cover all 32 boroughs, which kicked in at the end of August.

Protestors angered by the levy — £12.50 a day for cars that fall short of the emissions standard — have even taken to destroying cameras.

Maria Neira, the WHO’s environment, climate change and health director, said the backlash was expected.

London ‘s mayor sparked outrage with his decision to widen the scheme to cover all 32 boroughs, diabetes and prednisone which kicked in at the end of August. But Maria Neira (right), the WHO’s environment, climate change and health director, today said the backlash was expected. She compared it to the frustration surrounding the indoor smoking ban in 2007, which ended up making people ‘happier’. Pictured, Dr Neira with Spain’s Queen Letizia and Tedros Adhanom, the WHO’s director general

She compared it to the frustration surrounding the indoor smoking ban in 2007, which ended up making people ‘happier’.

Speaking to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), she said: ‘We are now looking at [Khan] with a lot of interest.

‘If he succeeds (with the ULEZ expansion having health benefits outweighing the downsides) we need to use this example for all mayors around the world.

‘It would be really very bad if we lost this battle in terms of public health.’

London pollution levels frequently break recommended limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5 — particles in the air invisible to the human eye but able to get into blood and penetrate deep into the lungs. 

The particles are mainly produced by burning fossil fuels, such as from traffic and power generation, and have been liked to everything dementia to heart disease. 

When Khan announced the expansion in November 2022, he said the purpose was to ‘clean up London’s toxic air and tackle the climate emergency’.

Sadiq Khan made a controversial decision to widen the scheme to cover all 32 boroughs. The expanded scheme, which began in late August, now sees motorists slapped with a £12.50 daily fee for using their vehicle within the Ultra Low Emission Zone, unless they meet the required emissions standards

This came after researchers from Imperial College London estimated that around 4000 deaths in London in 2019 could be attributed to air pollution. 

A 2022 a TfL-commissioned review also uncovered a plethora of benefits of expanding the scheme.

‘All socio-economic groups would benefit from reductions in average concentrations of NO2 and PM2.5, including approximately 1.5million people living in the bottom two deciles of deprivation in Greater London,’ it said. 

These included reduced admissions for respiratory admissions, asthma cases, stroke and coronary heart disease.   

But the scheme has faced severe opposition from politicians, while protestors aiming to sabotage the scheme have clashed with ULEZ wardens. 

Some 595 cameras have been damaged and 200 stolen over the past six months, the Met Police also confirmed this week.

‘Regarding ULEZ or other initiatives, they always come with controversy,’ Dr Neira told the BMJ. 

‘Anytime you touch a commercial interest, an economic interest, you will have a very strong reaction. And part of this reaction will come in the form of conspiracy theories.’ 

London pollution levels frequently break recommended limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and PM2.5 — particles in the air that are invisible to the human eye but can get into the blood and penetrate deep into the lungs. The particles are mainly produced by burning fossil fuels, such as from traffic and power generation, and have been liked to everything dementia to heart disease 

What are the London ULEZ required emissions standards?

To meet the ULEZ emissions standard in London, all vehicles must meet the required Euro emissions standard for their vehicle and emission type. 

The ULEZ standards are: 

• 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

But she also criticised politicians who speak about climate change, yet fail to act. 

She said: ‘Sometimes you see big politicians talking and using the language of an activist, which is great. 

‘But then don’t forget that they have the power. You are the prime minister, so don’t tell me, tell yourself and then make the right decisions.’

Air pollution is known to cause lung cancer. 

Although smoking remains the biggest risk factor for the disease — which accounts for 34,800 deaths in the UK annually — outdoor air pollution causes roughly one in 10 cases. 

An estimated 6,000 people who have never smoked die of lung cancer every year in the UK, some of which may be due to air pollution exposure. 

Medics and health charities have been hugely welcoming of any scheme to expand ULEZ.

In an editorial by the BMJ’s editor-in-chief Kamran Abbasi and colleagues today, they also warned ULEZ has been ‘presented as unpopular and harmful, despite surveys showing more support than opposition and evidence of their public health benefit’. 

Recent back pedalling on climate targets in the UK ‘illustrates how denialism and delay are too often chosen over political commitment and courage’, they also argued. 

The 2022 Tfl-commissioned review, however found the proposed ULEZ expansion would only result in ‘a minor reduction (-1.3 per cent) in the average exposure of the population of Greater London to NO2’.

It would also only see ‘negligible reductions (-0.1 per cent) in average exposure to PM2.5’, it said.

However, the report only factored in the effects widening the ULEZ would have on cancer using one type of pollutant — PM2.5.

The analysis did not include cancer incidence estimates for NO2, considered one of the most dangerous types of pollutant due to uncertainties on this data. 

But this was not the first time Mr Khan has been criticised over data used back up the controversial scheme.

Earlier this year in February, doubts were cast over a figure published by the Mayor to justify the scheme where he claimed toxic air led to the premature deaths of 4,000 Londoners.    

In an open letter to those opposing his plans, Mr Khan highlighted what that meant for certain boroughs in the capital. 

‘Research by Imperial College London shows Bromley has the highest premature deaths linked to air pollution with an estimated 204 lives lost in 2019,’ he wrote.

But Bromley Council leader Colin Smith hit back, saying said the study commissioned by City Hall ‘chose to ignore Bromley’s much older population profile’.

He said many elderly residents spent ‘their younger years in inner London experiencing the smogs and smoke-filled pubs of yesteryear’. 

He added: ‘It is complete nonsense.’


CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE A LOW IQ: Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found in May 2019 that children born to mothers who live in polluted areas have an IQ that is up to seven points lower than those living in places with cleaner air.

CAUSE CHILDREN TO HAVE POORER MEMORY: Researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health found boys exposed to greater levels of PM2.5 in the womb  performed worse on memory tests by the time they are 10.

DELAY THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHILDREN: Youngsters who live less than one-third of a mile away from busy roads are twice as likely to score lower on tests of communication skills in infancy, found researchers at Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health in April. They were also more likely to have poorer hand-eye coordination.

MAKE CHILDREN MORE ANXIOUS: University of Cincinnati scientists claimed pollution may alter the structure of children’s brains to make them more anxious. Their study of 14 youngsters found rates of anxiety was higher among those exposed to greater levels of pollution. 

CUT YOUR CHILD’S LIFE SHORT: Children born today will lose nearly two years of their lives because of air pollution, according to a report by the US-based Health Effects Institute and the University of British Columbia in April 2019. UNICEF called for action on the back of the study.

RAISE A CHILD’S RISK OF AUTISM: Researchers at Monash University in Australia discovered youngsters living in highly polluted parts of Shanghai have a 86 per cent greater chance of developing ASD. Lead author Dr Yuming Guo said: ‘The developing brains of young children are more vulnerable to toxic exposures in the environment.’

CAUSE ASTHMA IN CHILDREN: Four million children around the world develop asthma each year because of road traffic pollution, a major study by academics at George Washington University estimated. Experts are divided as to what causes asthma – but exposure to pollution in childhood increases the risk by damaging the lungs.

MAKE CHILDREN FAT: University of Southern California experts found last November that 10 year olds who lived in polluted areas when they were babies are, on average, 2.2lbs (1kg), heavier than those who grew up around cleaner air. Nitrogen dioxide pollution could disrupt how well children burn fat, the scientists said. 

LEAVE WOMEN INFERTILE EARLIER: Scientists at the University of Modena, Italy, claimed in May 2019 that they believe pollution speeds up ageing in women, just like smoking, meaning they run out of eggs faster. This was based on them finding almost two-thirds of women who have a low ‘reserve’ of eggs regularly inhaled toxic air.

RAISE THE RISK OF A MISCARRIAGE: University of Utah scientists found in January that pregnant women are 16 per cent more likely to suffer the heartbreak of a miscarriage if they live in areas of high pollution.  

RAISE THE RISK OF BREAST CANCER: Scientists at the University of Stirling found six women working at the same bridge next to a busy road in the US got breast cancer within three years of each other. There was a one in 10,000 chance the cases were a coincidence, the study said. It suggested chemicals in the traffic fumes caused the cancer by shutting down the BRCA genes, which try to stop tumours growing. 

DAMAGE A MAN’S SPERM: Brazilian scientists at the University of Sao Paulo found in March that mice exposed to toxic air had lower counts and worse quality sperm compared to those who had inhaled clean air since birth. 

MAKE MEN LESS LIKELY TO GET SEXUALLY AROUSED: Scientists at Guangzhou Medical University in China found rats exposed to air pollution struggled to get sexually aroused. Scientists believe it may also affect men, as inhaling poisonous particles may trigger inflammation in blood vessels and starve the genitals of oxygen – affecting men’s ability to become sexually aroused.

MAKE MEN MORE LIKELY TO HAVE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION:  Men who live on main roads are more likely to have difficulty getting an erection due to exposure to pollution, a Guangzhou University in China study suggested in February. Toxic fumes reduced blood flow to the genitals, tests on rats showed, putting them at risk of developing erectile dysfunction. 

RAISE THE RISK OF PSYCHOSIS: In March, King’s College London scientists linked toxic air to intense paranoia and hearing voices in young people for the first time. They said uncovering exactly how pollution may lead to psychosis should be an ‘urgent health priority’.

MAKE YOU DEPRESSED: Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers found in January that that the more polluted the air, the sadder we are. Their study was based on analysing social media users in China alongside the average daily PM2.5 concentration and weather data where they lived.

CAUSE DEMENTIA: Air pollution could be responsible for 60,000 cases of dementia in the UK, researchers from King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, calculated last September. Tiny pollutants breathed deep into the lungs and enter the blood stream, where they may travel into the brain and cause inflammation – a problem which may trigger dementia.

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