The past year has been characterised by uncertainty, not just in London but across the country, as we entered and lived through lockdown three times to stop transmission of the Covid-19 virus. In London, this fundamentally altered how citizens lived in, moved in and valued their city. This lead to reductions in road congestion and air pollution almost overnight alongside more walking and cycling and greater amounts of time spent in parks and green spaces.
While the pandemic has led to tragic loss of life, huge uncertainty and significant damage to our economy, which remain London boroughs’ immediate priorities, it has also opened the eyes of many Londoners to what sustainable living in their city could look like. It's also demonstrated the sheer scale of the climate emergency that we will all need to respond to over the next decade. We also cannot ignore the accentuation of existing health disparity revealed during the pandemic. It has exposed the vulnerabilities of our city and our communities, and the dangers climate inequalities could increasingly present.
London Councils’ recent public polling, conducted in October last year, found that Londoners are strongly motivated to take action to tackle climate change, with 71% of respondents across all groups saying addressing climate change must be a priority for London. 57% said their concern about climate change had grown in the last 12 months.
It is imperative that we respond to what this polling tells us and ensure we do not emerge from the coronavirus public health crisis only to face a deepening climate crisis. In London, boroughs are taking action: 28 have already declared a climate emergency and 75% of London’s boroughs have set a target of Net Zero by 2030 for council emissions. We are supporting this ambition and are also working with the business community, who are themselves setting ambitious Net Zero targets, and linking this work to existing priorities such as air quality. Sadly, London’s air quality continues to be a major public health issue, contributing to the deaths of thousands of people each year.
Boroughs are also acutely aware that the impacts of climate change often disproportionately impact marginalised and low income Londoners, including older people and those from diverse ethnic communities. Addressing inequalities must therefore be at the heart of how we design and deliver our work to reduce our carbon emissions, leading a just transition for both citizens and business. The results of our climate change polling will influence how boroughs harness this concern and focus, helping us to move forward and collaborate on this agenda.
Interestingly, UK100’s research with Climate Outreach on rural attitudes to climate change highlights that climate change is a topic of high concern to rural citizens too, with 87% of respondents stating a high concern regarding air pollution. Along with this, 60% of rural citizens believe we are already feeling the effects of climate change.
With the climate emergency recognised by both urban and rural communities, it is vital that government and business see that local councils across the country are an indispensable partner in reducing emissions. We want to work with them and active citizens to craft ambitious climate solutions that work for our communities. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated how effective local authorities can be and how community knowledge and true partnership is invaluable when it comes to making impactful and sustainable change.
London boroughs are already innovating to make it easier for residents to choose greener, cleaner options. Just this month, we reached the milestone of more than 3,000 on-street charge points delivered in residential areas through the Go Ultra Low City Scheme (GULCS), a nationwide programme funded by the Office for Zero Emissions Vehicles (OZEV), established to increase electric vehicle uptake and tackle the dangers of air pollution. These charge points, and the prospect of more to come, will help even more people make the transition to a less polluting, electric vehicle. We are also excited to begin the London e-scooter trial later this spring, providing safe, green alternative transport options to reduce car usage and harmful tailpipe emissions. This sits alongside all the investment boroughs and the Greater London Authority (GLA) are making into sustainable and active travel to support walking, scooting, wheeling, cycling and public transport.
Part of our continued response to Londoners’ level of concern is ensuring a united approach to achieve shared climate goals. In November 2019, boroughs agreed a Joint Statement on Climate Change which recognises the significant threat of climate change to London and its residents. The Joint Statement outlines seven major programmes of collective work, from retrofitting to energy, the green economy to a more resilient city. We are also working together with GLA and TfL, private and third sectors on the Green New Deal recovery mission, which aims to double the size of the green economy in London by 2030. This work must ensure we have green training, skills, apprenticeships and jobs created and available to all Londoners.
By listening to our citizens and taking action to tackle the climate emergency by working together across industries, sectors and geographical areas, we can champion development of the best Net Zero solutions, ‘justice proof’ our policies and demonstrate that sustainable choices and sustainable living is not just better for the climate, but for our people too.
Mayor Philip Glanville is London Councils’ Chair of Transport and Environment and Mayor of Hackney.