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Birmingham is officially Britain’s greenest city, according to a national mapping agency, with around 16% of the City comprising green spaces. Birmingham is additionally seeking to establish itself as a sustainable city, having recently launched its new Clean Air Zone programme. The programme, reports the Government, “is an area where targeted action is taken to improve air quality, in particular by discouraging the most polluting vehicles from entering the zone.” The aim is to reduce levels of NO2 in the air to a maximum average of 40μg/m3 speedily, and to set even higher goals once this is achieved. Vehicles that do not have clean engines will have to pay a daily charge when travelling with the Clean Air Zone, which covers all the roads around the A4540 Middleway Ring Road (but not the Middleway itself).

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games: Reaching For Higher Ground

Since Birmingham will be hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games, having cleaner air is a magnificent way to mark the city as a forward-looking one that is committed to the health and wellbeing of planet and its inhabitants. The Clean Air Zone will operate 24/7 all year round, and hopes to encourage purchasers of new vehicles to save costs over the lifetime of their vehicle by investing in an electric car. In addition to the Clean Air programme, the Government will also be subsidising purchases of specified electric vehicles, and offering grants for the installation of home charging units.

Sizeable Reductions In CO2 Planned

The Clean Air Zone programme is just one sign of the new, more sustainable direction Birmingham and nearby zones cities are headed in. The City Council has pledged to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by the year 2026 (with 1990 as the baseline). To achieve this goal, the City has created a Green Commission, comprising leaders form the private, public, and third party sector to develop a Carbon Roadmap. The Commission will be looking at what other European cities are doing to achieve a competitive lower carbon economy. Birmingham can take its inspiration from nearby cities such as Coventry, which will be launching the world’s first mobile airport for flying cars, and autonomous delivery drones will be launched later this year. Drones have their proponents and detractors, but they are definitely the future of green transport. The reasons that shipping companies are increasingly embracing this technology include labour shortages, a desire for more streamlined resource management, and of course, the wish to battle climate change. Challenges to wide scale drone adoption include strict regulations and the need for comprehensive airspace-sharing plans.

Hydrogen Buses 

In 2020, the Birmingham City Council announced that it would be adding 20 hydrogen double decker buses to its fleet in the spring as part of its Clean Air Hydrogen Bus Pilot. These buses are meant to be the pilots for the next generation of hydrogen buses, which consume four times less fuel than standard diesel buses. Councillor Waseem Zaffar of the Birmingham City Council told the press, “It has taken us two years to get to a point where we can ensure commercial viability for this type of fuel cell technology and is great news for our city and the rest of the region.” The buses represent the commencement of a new UK hydrogen economy that could attract big investment and tens of thousands of jobs.

Challenges Ahead

As is the case with most long-term aims, there are still many challenges ahead for Birmingham in terms of sustainability goals. Only 22% of citizens recycle their waste, for instance, in comparison with the 47% of Bristol residents who recycle or compost. This aim can be achieved by improving awareness about how different items (such as paper, batteries, glass bottles and jars) can be recycled and by suggesting the use of different coloured recycling boxes (black, green, blue, brown), wheelie bins, garden bins, and other receptacles that make items easier to separate for the purpose of recycling.

Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone programme is a big step ahead in terms of improving the City’s reputation for sustainability. Current research indicates that it still has a long way to go to compete with cities like Bristol, but many efforts have been made to bridge the gap. These include pledges to reduce CO2 emissions by adopting practices that have proven successful in other cities.