All but the cleanest cars and vans are being charged £12.50 a day to drive into the area.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said the move was the “boldest and most ambitious” plan to tackle air pollution taken by any major city. It is expected to cut transport emissions by about 45 per cent.
The charge will be applied inside London’s existing congestion charge zone. The same motorists will have to pay both, at a cost of £24 a day.
The new emissions charge will be extended in October 2021 to encompass a much larger part of London, taking in the whole area inside the North and South Circular roads.
Campaigners hailed the charge as a major step in the right direction – although they cautioned that more needed to be done.
“The ultra-low emissions zone has a crucial role to play in cleaning up the capital’s filthy air – but a strengthened scheme and additional measures are needed to protect the health of all Londoners,” said Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates.
She is calling for cheaper and more extensive public transport, safer cycling routes and a national scrappage scheme to help people switch their polluting vehicles for cleaner ones.
Residents in the congestion charge zone will be exempt from the new charge until October 2021. Until then they will continue paying heavily discounted rates of congestion and toxicity (T) charge. For everybody else the new ultra low emissions charge is replacing the T charge.
Birmingham and Leeds are planning to launch clean air zones in 2020 and Manchester is also looking to introduce one further down the line.
Only vehicles with the cleanest engines will be permitted in Glasgow city centre from 2022. The city became Scotland’s first low-emission zone (LEZ) this year. Initially, one in five bus journeys in the zone will have to be on vehicles with the cleanest diesel engines. All buses must meet the standard by December 2022.
Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee are also due to launch LEZs by 2020.