London should lead in showing electric cars will not tackle air pollution

4th August 2017 | Commercial Energy

With more and more of the world’s population living in cities, we need to get urban transport right. That means making sure that people and goods can move around easily and cheaply. It also means ensuring that city transport systems don’t damage people’s health, as diesel and to a lesser extent petrol are currently doing in London and other cities around the UK.

Air pollution in our cities regularly contravenes EU limits. London breached its annual air pollution limit for 2017 in just five days. Decreasing vehicle emissions while maintaining or improving commuter journeys is a complex challenge and decisions made today about our transport systems will influence generations to come.

The government set out its plans to tackle the problem last week. The main plank of its strategy is a commitment to ban the sale of new diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040. The ambition to switch to electric vehicles is a signal for real change and is the direction we need to go, despite the associated upheaval and challenges in the form of extending battery range and life, ensuring adequate and conveniently positioned charging stations, generating enough clean electricity and overcoming the general lack of knowledge about the cost and convenience of owning an electric vehicle.

The government’s plan, however, does not go nearly far enough. Our cities need fewer cars, not just cleaner cars. One issue is that electric vehicles will not sufficiently reduce particulate matter (PM), the other toxic pollutant emitted by road transport. This is because PM components include not only engine emissions, bus also a contribution from brake and tyre wear and road surface abrasion. Governments don’t currently pay much attention to PM, but it is in fact highly polluting, with strong links to cardiopulmonary toxicity.

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