Wednesday 27 May 2020 9:49 am

Crisis is a chance for us to reset our air quality for good

Air quality in London, the UK and indeed the whole world has improved significantly in a matter of weeks due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions being put in place.

New data now shows nitrogen dioxide levels have reduced by around 35% in the Square Mile since the beginning of lockdown, when compared to the average reading from January 1 – making the air cleaner by over a third in just a few weeks.

The City has been running at a fraction of its normal activity and traffic levels during this time, so this dramatic improvement in air quality is not unexpected.

Importantly though it gives us concrete proof that if we change our behaviour, even just slightly, we can really make a positive difference to the environment.


The City of London’s central location, along with a dense road network and high buildings, means that it faces a particular challenge when it comes to air quality. That is why we have been taking bold and practical action to tackle this problem for a number of years.

We launched our Air Quality Strategy in late 2019, and aside from outlining how the City Corporation will carry out its statutory duty to improve air quality, one of the main aims of the strategy is for 90% of the City to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for nitrogen dioxide by 2025.

As part of the strategy, the City Corporation will also collaborate with every school in the Square Mile to roll out Air Quality Action Plans.

We have also just published our transportation response to support the COVID-19 recovery and ensure the gradual safe return of people who work, live and visit the Square Mile.

The plan is aligned to the City Corporation’s radical Transport Strategy and will provide additional space to encourage travel on foot and by cycle, support businesses and manage demand on public transport.

Around half of London’s air pollution comes from road transport. Nearly half of car trips made by Londoners before the coronavirus lockdown could be cycled in around ten minutes, according to TfL research.

This shows why we need our recovery plans to be led by active travel as far as possible, given any significant increase in the use of cars or taxis would lead to congestion, increased air pollution and road danger. The number of cyclists on City streets has significantly risen across the last decade (up 292% since 1999), while the number of vehicles using the Square Mile’s streets has halved in the last 20 years, so we plan to continue building on this trend.

We’ve banned new diesel vehicles from our own fleet and are leading a London-wide crackdown on idling engines. Our CityAir app gives over 30,000 Londoners low pollution travel routes, advice and alerts. And we are leading on an Emissions Reduction Bill to give London’s local authorities tough new powers to tackle air pollution caused by boilers, construction machinery and diesel generators.

We call on all City workers, businesses, visitors and residents to think more about what they can do to help improve the air quality.

Nobody should have to breathe dirty air. Let’s make a permanent change, not just a temporary one.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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