On Jan. 8, London reportedly exceeded its own pollution limit for the entire year of 2016.
By 7 a.m. that day, levels of nitrogen dioxide gas had exceeded 200 micrograms per cubic meter of air -- the maximum safe concentration, as set by European Union environmental regulations -- over 18 times since Jan. 1, breaching the limit the city had set for itself last year, The Guardian reports.
In April 2015, the U.K. Supreme Court ordered the government to set pollution limits after the country had exceeded E.U. limits for five years in a row, risking fines from the European authority and a lawsuit from NGO ClientEarth. According to studies by Public Health England and the World Health Organization, air pollution causes 29,000 premature deaths every year in the U.K., as well as $1.6 trillion in associated costs for all of Europe, the Guardian notes.
Monitoring stations reported that Putney High Street in West London breached the city’s pollution limits for the 19th time in 2016; Knightsbridge and Oxford Street, London’s most polluted street, had contributed to the high levels of nitrogen dioxide previously.
On Jan. 11, U.K. think tank Policy Exchange published a report claiming that the high levels of nitrogen dioxide persisted despite any attempts at regulation because of the high number of diesel-fueled vehicles in the U.K., which increased from 7 percent of UK vehicles in 1994 to 36 percent today, The Atlantic notes. However, the country had been successful in reducing other forms of pollution, including particulate-matter (PM) pollution and sulfur dioxide.
Other causes may include the London’s large population; drivers are crammed into several large streets in its central business district despite growing demands from citizens to pedestrianize many of these areas. Mayor Boris Johnson said he plans to create an “ultra low emission zone” in central London, but the plan won’t be released in full until 2020, according to The Independent.
In 2015, London exceeded its legal pollution limit in just four days. Other cities experiencing high levels of pollution, such as Paris, have acted to drastically reduce the number of cars on the road or otherwise cap emissions.