Today at the launch of Client Earth outside City Hall, I expressed concern that London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics may have been undermined by Boris Johnson’s regressive environmental decisions.

The International Olympic Committee’s evaluation of London’s bid (pdf here) expressed concern about London’s “increasing levels of ozone pollution” but said that “legislation and actions now in place, such as the ‘low emission zone’ and ‘congestion charge’, are aimed at correcting that trend and ensuring all air pollutants are within World Health Organisation and EU target levels by 2010”.

Since this evaluation was made, Boris Johnson has been elected Mayor, and London’s measures to tackle its poor air quality and ozone pollution have been rolled back. The Congestion Charge Zone will be halved in size and the third phase of the Low Emission Zone, which was due to prevent the most polluting vehicles from entering Greater London, has been indefinitely suspended.

A recent London Assembly report into the city’s air quality, Every Breath You Take (pdf here), found that it could be responsible for up to 3,500 premature deaths and 12,000 children being hospitalised for respiratory failure. It has been reported that the Government is considering countermanding the Mayor because his actions may have undermined their fight against a possible fine of £300 million for failure to meet EU standards on air quality.

It’s bad enough that over three thousand Londoners have their lives cut short each year because of the state of our air. The last thing we want is for this still to be an issue when the world comes here in three years time – as it was in Beijing and Athens. If the Mayor continues down this road, that sadly could well be the case. At the least, the Mayor should now reverse his short-sighted decision to cancel the next phase of the Low Emission Zone.

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