I remember the fright I got last year, when, while driving through Edinburgh city centre, my satnav barked at me that I was going through a low emission zone. The panic was premature - and also unnecessary, because it turned out that my rustbucket of a petrol car was, remarkably, compliant, and the zone was not due for enforcement until 2024.

Edinburgh, the city in which I live, is just now hearing the distant rumblings of the approach of its LEZ. I doubt we would be paying very much attention to the existence of the zone, which exists as yet only in a limbo of grace period, were it not for what is going on down the M8 with the start of Glasgow's LEZ.

It’s a year to go util what has just hit Glasgow’s city centre is to come into force in Edinburgh, Dundee, and Aberdeen, and it can feel like we are younger siblings watching an elder going through the agony of some exam period or difficult life process which will inevitably come to us as well.

For that pain is coming to us too. Those £60 fines for non-compliant cars, doubling with repeat offences to a cap of £480, are coming our way, as no doubt will the anger from those whose vehicles are set to be barred, or whose businesses may struggle as a result.

How it goes in Edinburgh probably depends a lot on how the next 12 months unfold in Glasgow. Often people will take a tiny bit of pain if they know it’s for the good, or if they feel there’s a fairness associated.

But the problem with LEZs is that several arguments are building traction. The first is that it’s unfair. People on lower incomes with older cars, it's often said, are more affected. But it depends on what you classify as low.  It should be noted that those on the lowest incomes don’t tend to have cars and there is a £3,000 scrappage grant available to low-income households living within 12 miles of the LEZ.

READ MORE: Glasgow's low emission zone: Explained in five minutes

READ MORE: LEZ prompts calls for 'decent' Glasgow public transport

Nevertheless, concern for the struggling low-to-middle earner, and the unfairness to them, is not to be dismissed.

The second argument is that the zone is not even necessary. One of the points critics of Edinburgh’s LEZ make, echoing a gripe against the Glasgow zone, is that the capital is already within the legal targets for NO2. Whilst Glasgow’s Hope Street, the worst air quality site in Scotland, averages 39.24 µg/m3, skirting close to the limit set by the European Ambient Air Quality Directive of 40 µg/m3, Edinburgh’s worst site is St John’s Street in Costorphine  at 29.6 µg/m3 and lies outside the city’s LEZ, as does its second-worst street, Queensferry Road.

But let’s take a look at these limits. These are legal targets set 15 years ago which are starting to feel outdated. The World Health Organisation recommended air quality guideline is just 10 µg/m3, and it suggests the 40 µg/m3 as merely an interim target. Already the European Union is looking to drop its limits to 20 µg/m3. Surely this is where our aspiration should be? 

Many drivers stand to be affected by the Edinburgh ban. A recent analysis of vehicles traveling into Edinburgh found half of diesel cars and a third of light goods vehicles still did not meet the standards. I can understand why owners of those vehicles are railing now against what they see as a war against motorists, or why they say now is not the right time. But will it be so different next year when it arrives in Edinburgh? Is the time ever likely to be the right?

And whilst we are talking about time, it should be noted that we in Scotland have fallen behind. To see how far, it’s worth looking at a report published last year by Clean Cities and based on 2017-2019 data. It placed Edinburgh as second-worst, among 36 European cities for air quality progress. 

READ MORE: Scotland's low emission zones: Which cars will be banned?

The real story around Edinburgh’s LEZ was that it should have been bigger to reduce the pollution in the city’s worst sites, St John’s Road and Queensferry Road, both of which are far outside the zone. That was the original plan until it was revised following modeling which suggested that NO2 levels were decreasing in these roads anyway.

But those roads are still seeing pollutant levels over that 20µg/m3 the EU is likely to adopt. And, if an LEZ is not necessary for those streets, it’s worth asking whether it is necessary at all. 

I’m firmly backing the LEZ, but I'm open to those asking questions. Meanwhile, what concerns me is that in the scheme of what needs to happen, the LEZ is just the smallest of moves, and for public health. As we shift towards Net Zero there will be more such change asked of people, more encouragement to shift from cars to public transport and active travel. The big question is how to do this and not trigger a backlash. And while there may be a place for the stick of bans, more amenable to most is always a carrot.