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Camden’s Clean Air Action Plan

Author: Adam Harrison, Cabinet Member for Improving Camden’s Environment, London Borough of Camden

 

Last week I was pleased to launch Camden’s new Clean Air Action Plan, which will run from 2019 to 2022 and is our most ambitious to date.

 

When I took on the environment role two years ago and began to grapple with the issue of air quality, it became clear that we should turn the longstanding advice about Particulate Matter — that there is no ‘safe’ level of it for our air — into policy. This would require pledging to aim for the more stringent World Health Organization levels, which mandate lower levels of PM than current standards do.

 

This is no easy goal anywhere, least not in Camden’s highly urban London setting in north-central London. As if to underscore the challenge, our choice of location for launching our new Plan was Friends House on the Euston Road — effectively a six-law motorway cutting right through the city. But the public deserve nothing less. How to get to these tougher levels though? It made simple sense to do the following: identify the sources of pollution, what impact current and future actions would make on them, and find out if these actions are enough to get us there.

 

It also made sense to make a special call out to the community in Camden — if we were to sit on our own devising actions as a council alone, no doubt we would make some impact. But air pollution is by nature a shared problem. For that reason, we set up the Camden Clean Air Partnership, drawing on the citizens’ assembly model to ensure Camden residents have their say, alongside a combination of those who produce air pollution and those who have to put up with it: and, really, we all fall into both categories. Chaired by Professor Muki Haklay, residents were joined by businesses such as logistics firm UPS, institutions like UCL and Great Ormond Street Hospital, and community groups like the Older People’s Advisory Group and dedicated environment groups like Camden Air Action. Together they devised and agreed the actions that now form part of the new Camden Clean Air Action Plan.

 

Meanwhile, King’s College London analysed the ‘input actions’ and found that we could get close to WHO levels by our target date of 2030 — but not quite. While the study is likely fairly conservative in its assessment — we could well end up doing better, especially once the effect of measures like Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ are fully known — we now know what we always suspected: that we need a partnership approach like in Camden but extended nationally and internationally.

 

As a first step, we need stronger action from the government. Defra’s recently published Air Quality Strategy has committed to halving the population living in areas with concentrations of fine PM above the WHO guideline levels, but fails to formally adopt the WHO values. This is something that it should commit to within the new environment bill where stricter pollutant levels can be set. (Camden asked government to do this within our response to Defra on their Air Quality Strategy.) And should the government do this, it ought to follow a similar approach by analysing pollution sources and creating a plan that identifies what needs to be done to meet the WHO values. This is especially important at government level, as the Camden-King’s analysis identified that a large source of particulates were coming from outside of London and some even from continental Europe. This approach would also help to create targeted measures which would achieve the greatest reductions — rather than just having a spread-bet approach that fails to guarantee results.

 

Meanwhile, the actions the Camden Clean Air Partners have committed to are wide-ranging and exciting. UPS is electrifying its fleet operating out of Kentish Town. Great Ormond Street has released its Clean Air Hospital Framework and is looking into consolidating patient transport. John Lewis Partnership has pledged to run Waitrose lorries entirely on biomethane gas generated from food waste. And Camden Council itself is taking new steps to reduce air pollution from building sites, including construction vehicles. Our new Transport Strategy also aims to cut motor traffic on the borough’s roads up by to 25 percent and to help people transition to walking and cycling for short journeys.

 

Our new plan runs for the next three years — but we have a 2030 goal for WHO limits. How can we check up on our own progress, and how can others see what we’re doing? To ensure we have a standard to work to throughout the coming decade, Camden has set specific pollutant interim targets between 2022, 2026, and 2030. These targets have been set to align with our future action plans so that if we are short of meeting a target, there will be justification for implementing more stringent actions. We are also looking forward to continuing to work with our Camden Clean Air Partnership members to support the delivery of the actions they have committed to, and to agreeing additional actions and welcoming new members to the Partnership.

 

Public opinion has lately — rightly — begun to refocus on climate change. That too is a colossal challenge, and in Camden we will be drawing on the lessons of our partnership approach to instate a citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency this summer to advise us on a new carbon plan for the 2020s. Averting climate catastrophe is even harder than bringing the air we breathe up to acceptable levels. The latter is hard and also relies greatly on the actions of others. But it is achievable, if we all set out our roadmaps to get there.

How to accelerate local progress towards carbon neutrality

How to accelerate local progress towards carbon neutrality

From passing a climate emergency motion to a meaningful programme of action

Simon Roberts OBE, Centre for Sustainable Energy, 18 March 2019

The roll-call of local authorities which have passed motions declaring a climate emergency grows day by day. What started in Bristol in November last year has been spreading like a benign virus through council chambers across the land and encouraging councillors of all parties to commit to taking urgent action to cut carbon emissions rapidly to virtually zero.

So what needs to be done locally to turn this fresh political commitment into meaningful programmes of action and participation which genuinely accelerate local progress in cutting emissions?

Beyond a typical response

A typical response would be for a council to commission a swathe of analytical work detailing how the new emissions target embedded in the motion (typically carbon neutral by 2030) might be achieved locally – if at all. The analysts and consultants are called in and everyone waits to find out what the plan is.

This is not a useless exercise; it will tend to produce a list of technological choices (from building retrofit to EV take-up) which details the quantities in which they have to be adopted from now until 2030 to meet the target. But such an exercise misses the point.

The problem is not that we are unfamiliar with the actions which need to be taken to cut emissions such that we must have them spelled out to us (though perhaps some do still want this).

The problem is that the individuals, communities, businesses and organisations that together make up a local area are not yet doing these actions in sufficient quantities to cut emissions fast enough. There are reasons why this is currently the case and it is those ‘reasons’ which must be tackled to accelerate progress.  

So another approach is required if these motions are to generate the meaningful and above all effective programmes of local action which they seek.

Stimulating the great acceleration

This approach involves treating the climate emergency motion as principally a call to accelerate the pace at which we’re collectively making all the changes we already know are required to cut emissions: to scale up, speed up and start up the things we know need to happen and know how to do. And to give up doing things which are incompatible with the local area becoming carbon neutral.

Immediately the focus becomes how to recruit the initiative-takers, enrol the key institutions and businesses, and reach beyond the council to build a partnership of the willing to contribute to the great acceleration in action to cut emissions sought by the motion.

Local authorities differ in the extent to which such wide-ranging and inclusive partnerships are already in place or emerging in their localities. But nurturing one is undoubtedly a necessary condition for success for the society-wide transformation inherent in achieving carbon neutrality.

Within such partnerships and more widely, individual and organisational commitments to contribute need to be concentrated quite specifically on what each individual or organisation is going to do next. Their ‘first next steps’ start from where they find themselves and seek to change something so more can be achieved. The steps must be possible without someone else taking action first (typically ‘national government’). Of course, there’s a need to look at what others with power need to do to make action by everyone easier, cheaper, quicker, better, more inclusive – and lobbying for these changes could be one of the first next steps.

We can’t outsource change

But to leave it there – a list of recommendations for ‘someone else’ to deliver – would be to outsource change. It would be to ignore the role we each have through our own direct actions in our lives and in our work and through the influence we can bring to bear on others. And it would be to underestimate how that role played well can lead to more systemic changes which would re-shape everyone’s actions.

Achieving carbon neutrality needs people and organisations to make huge changes in their own practices and choices and in how they seek to influence others. By doing so they can set new norms of behaviour, drive new initiatives, and secure wider participation. And they help to create the conditions in which others will find it easier to take action themselves and join in – including national politicians and regulators who design market rules and set funding priorities.

That’s why at a recent Bristol Green Capital Partnership event on ‘accelerating progress towards a carbon neutral Bristol’, one of the asks of the 180 attendees from across the city was to make and share their own commitments to ‘next step’ actions ‘at home’, ‘at work’ and ‘in our communities’.

We were putting into action the aphorism ‘If not us then whom? If not now, then when?’, much quoted by proposers of the climate emergency motions in different councils as they closed their debates and moved to a vote. Aside from a resonant rhetorical flourish, the aphorism provides a useful starting point for building the meaningful programme of action and participation required in response to the climate emergency: start with the willing and focus first on what they will commit to do next to accelerate progress.

 

Simon Roberts OBE is Chief Executive of the charity the Centre for Sustainable Energy and a non-executive director of Bristol Green Capital Partnership CIC.

Tom Hayes: Plans for Zero Emission Zone in Oxford race ahead in bid to cut emissions

We all have the right to clean air, yet millions of people across the UK are breathing toxic air on a daily basis. A recent report found that outdoor air pollution is linked to 40,000 deaths in the UK each year, and health experts warn that there is no safe level for pollutants. Toxic air affects every one of us, from the time that we are in the womb and through to old age, though some are more vulnerable, including those on the lowest incomes.

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Waseem Zaffar: Cleaning up our air for future generations

Councillor Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment at Birmingham City Council, reflects on the work the authority is doing to tackle a national public health crisis on a local level

 

 

Turn on the tap at home or in your workplace and you can be sure that what comes out will be safe to drink. We take clean drinking water for granted – though so many others around the world can’t -because we view it as a basic human right rather than a privilege.

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A message from Oxford City Council Cabinet Member Tom Hayes

Local power drives change – why councils hold the keys to the electric car revolution

Illegal and toxic air pollution is hurting people’s health, damaging their quality of life, and cutting lives short, and as a result it’s rocketing up the political agenda. As a medieval city with 21st century transport problems, Oxford has a problem with traffic-related air pollution that’s leading my council to take radical steps. Our determination to protect the health of our neighbourhoods can never succeed unless we truly clean up transport. Together with other councils, Oxford is campaigning for new money and powers from Government but also refusing to wait indefinitely for national change. Oxford’s ambition is simple—to introduce the world’s first Zero Emission Zone into our city centre.

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A Message from Camden Council Cabinet Member Adam Harrison

It has been a long hot summer so far, with record temperatures, devastating wildfires in Portugal, Greece and the United States, and life-threatening flash floods in southern France. Scientists have long warned that global warming will bring with it extreme weather events, and inevitably questions are being asked as to whether this summer is the new norm. I suspect we’ve still got some chilly, wet English summers to come, but I have no doubt that the climate is changing in significant and dangerous ways. As the Cabinet member for Improving Camden’s Environment at Camden Council I want us to be at the forefront of local action to tackle the issue.

In 2010, we became one of the first local authorities nationally to commit to a 40% boroughwide carbon reduction by 2020. With a population of over 220,000 and a significant commercial and institutional sector generating around 65% of Camden’s carbon emissions, we knew from the start that we could not bring down borough emissions on our own. So we established a supportive policy and programme framework that would enable businesses and residents to play their part in reducing the emissions driving climate change.

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