London’s air quality dramatically improved with reduction in traffic levels during COVID-19 lockdown
London’s air quality has ‘dramatically improved’ due to a cut in traffic caused by the coronavirus lockdown.
Figures published by the mayor’s office show average levels of nitrogen dioxide at some of the capital’s busiest roads are half what they were before the pandemic.
The findings match preliminary analysis by York University experts which shows levels have dropped by more than 40 per cent in many UK cities in recent weeks.
Professor James Lee said the reduction has come due to vehicles – particularly diesel ones which spew out the gas – being less frequently used since the lockdown.
Mayor Sadiq Khan claimed air quality in London had already been boosted by the pollution charge through the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) 12 months ago.
Before the lockdown began last month, hourly average levels of NO2 at monitoring sites in central London were 35 per cent lower compared to the same period in 2017.
Since March 16 there has been a further reduction of 27 per cent.
Mr Khan said: ‘London has one of the most advanced air quality monitoring networks in the world, which has recorded how the coronavirus lockdown has dramatically improved air quality in London.
‘But this cleaner air should not just be temporary, as Londoners deserve clean air at all times.
‘So once the current emergency has passed and we start to recover, our challenge will be to eradicate air pollution permanently and ensure the gains we’ve made through policies such as Ulez continue.’
He added it is ‘critical’ for the Government to bear in mind the improvements in air quality as part of the country’s recovery from the pandemic.
The separate data published by the University of York shows NO2 levels are down by as much as 48 per cent in Leeds compared with the five-year average for the time of year.
Meanwhile Newcastle and Cardiff have seen drops of around 45 per cent and Glasgow has seen levels fall 44 per cent.
Birmingham has seen a drop of around 42 per cent, Manchester 39 per cent, Bristol 31 per cent and Belfast 30 per cent, while York has seen a fall of 11 per cent.
Professor Lee, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at York University, said the falls began before the lockdown started, then decreased quite quickly before levelling out at the lower rate.
Looking at data from around 100 sites across the UK, mainly in cities, he said: ‘What we’ve seen since the lockdown is a reduction in nitrogen dioxide, which is mainly from vehicles, particularly diesel vehicles, quite uniformly in most places and certainly at sites near to roads.
‘The amount of traffic has reduced, so we’ve seen this reduction.’
He added: ‘It’s giving us a window into what the air in cities might be like in 10, 15, 20 years’ time, when the likelihood is the majority of our transport will not be fuelled by burning fossil fuels, it will be more electric.’