London’s air quality has returned to the days of the smogs, and is causing the premature deaths of over 4,000 citizens per year, according to this campaign film released by the London Green Party:

The six-minute documentary was produced by the Greens’ candidate for the City and East seat on the London Assembly, Chris Smith, and features contributions from the Campaign for Clean Air In London’s Simon Birkett and Professor Frank Kelly and Dr David Green, both of King’s College London’s Environmental Research Group.

It concludes with comments from Mayoral candidate Jenny Jones AM, who has released an eight-point manifesto to tackle air pollution in the capital:

1. We will make sure that air pollution is monitored in the right places, and publicise bad results widely, particularly to vulnerable people such as children and the elderly as part of a campaign to improve the public’s understanding of the problem.

2. We will require all schools, retirement homes and care homes to develop air quality action plans that lower pollution in their local area and protect children and residents during bad air episodes.

3. We will tighten up the Low Emission Zone standards and make sure they are properly enforced through vehicle checks, with a new ban on idling for parked vehicles. Introduce a Very Low Emission Zone in central London to exclude all but the cleanest vehicles.

4. We will retrofit all buses immediately if the technology is shown to work, and make sure that all new buses are low emission hybrid, hydrogen or electric models within one year of being elected, and that the entire fleet runs on this technology by 2016.

5. We will introduce a pay-as-you-drive scheme, to encourage people out of their cars, and provide the necessary investment in London’s public transport infrastructure.

6. We will buy a fleet of low emission taxis for drivers to rent if they can’t afford to buy one, and set-up a clean vehicle fund with low cost loans for small and medium sized businesses to replace dirty vehicles with electric equivalents, offering them a discount on pay-as- you-go driving charges so it is cost neutral.

7. We will work with the Government and Network Rail to reduce emissions from trains and planes. Push for the closure of City Airport, and convert it into the first Community Enterprise Zone. We will lobby to ban night flights over London.

8. We will ensure all planning applications are air quality neutral, and require new developments to reduce air pollution in the most heavily polluted areas.

Air quality, for the most part, is seen by politics as an entirely fringe issue of interest only to environmentalists, but in London it is a topic of the political mainstream, with Londoners all to aware of the years that are shorn off their lives by inhaling poisons daily.

It’s a comfort zone for Greens in London – people already care about it so they can skip straight to the part they’re good at: the solutions. The challenge for Greens elsewhere is to get people to take notice.

Air pollution should be seen as a classic environmental justice issue. In this comment from Green For All CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, you can see the link being drawn clearly from environmental degradation to race – the link that started the environmental justice concept. The UK is by no means immune from that same discrimination, but for us environmental injustice is less race-related, though just as outrageously exploitative.

We need more campaigns like Friends of the Earth Falkirk/Carbon Trade Watch‘s Carbon Connection, in which working class people in Grangemouth were given a voice (and a camera) to examine and communicate the harm being done to them for the profit of the petrochemical giants – and additionally built solidarity with Brazilian fellow victims. (You can watch that project’s film here)

Otherwise, air quality won’t start to climb the political agenda until it’s as bad everywhere as it is in Boris Johnson’s London.

Gary Dunion

About Gary Dunion

Gary Dunion is Parliamentary Officer for Friends of the Earth Scotland. He has prevously worked for Green and Independent MSPs, and campaign organisations including Global Justice Now and WWF Scotland. He was a founding editor of Bright Green.