Britain’s Climate Change Future Is Happening … in Bristol

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2019/07/15: A young Extinction Rebellion climate change activist holds a cardboard boat outside the Royal Courts during the protest. Hundreds of Extinction Rebellion climate change activists protests outside the Royal Courts of Justice demanding the legal system to take responsibility in the climate change crisis, and ensure the safety of future generations by making ecocide law. The environmental group is staging similar protests in Leeds, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bristol, Norwich and other cities around the country. (Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Why you should care

This U.K. city is taking drastic climate change measures.

The backlash against diesel engines has spread across Europe — in the form, oftentimes, of diesel bans. Seen as an efficient way to achieve emissions targets, many cities have hopped on the diesel ban bandwagon: Paris and Madrid will bar such cars as of 2024.

But smaller cities are also getting in on the action. In fact:

Bristol has become the first British city to approve a total ban on diesel cars.

The ban, which is due to take effect in March 2021 and is part of an effort to drastically improve air quality, would see all privately owned diesel cars banned from the center of the city between 7am and 3pm.

A larger “clean air zone” would also operate across much of the city and impose a daily levy on all commercial diesel vehicles — including buses, vans and heavy goods vehicles — that do not meet the latest emissions standards. Commercial vehicles that have paid the levy or are compliant are not affected by the ban in the central zone.

City mayor Marvin Rees says the council had a “moral, ecological and legal duty to clean up the air we breathe.” Diesel vehicles are the U.K.’s single biggest source of nitrogen oxide pollution, which is linked to respiratory illnesses and causes global warming.

Bristol City Council approved the plans on Monday evening, though implementation remains contingent on approval by the central government.

The city is one of 24 local authorities the government ordered in 2017 to draw up plans for improving air quality, amid growing concerns about the impact of the gases. Nitrogen oxide emissions in Bristol breach legal limits, but Rees says the new diesel regime would allow the city to become compliant by 2025.

An Extinction Rebellion climate change activist seen on a

A climate change activist on a blue boat outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

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Darren Shirley, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, says the plans were “overdue,” and he expects they will lead to a “dramatic improvement in air quality” in the city. But he warns that Bristol will have to ensure there is enough public transport to cater to residents and tourists.

Since the introduction of the ultra-low emissions zone in London earlier this year, the number of diesel vehicles has already fallen “significantly,” he adds.

Edinburgh and Birmingham are among a number of cities looking at implementing similar low-emissions zones to that in London, although none are expected to meet the government’s 2021 deadline to comply with legal limits on emissions.

Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, says the different rules for diesel drivers across U.K. cities are confusing and called for “consistency.” “We can see why Bristol [is] doing what they’re doing, but we’d prefer a joined-up national approach,” he says.

Jenny Bates, clean air campaigner at Friends of the Earth, says the plans do not go far enough. “The current plans will leave the people of Bristol breathing illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide until 2025 — 15 years later than the original deadline for bringing air pollution within legal limits,” she says.

The council will also roll out a scrappage scheme for diesel cars of up to $2,500 for some residents of the area. The council will consult on exemptions and other details until it submits the full clean air plan to the government in February.

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By Camilla Hodgson

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