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Climate Action – essential steps to a zero carbon London

Neil Sinden
By Neil Sinden
18th November 2020

In London Climate Action week, as the Prime Minister announces a 10-point plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ and the Mayor his initial Green New Deal commitments, here are our thoughts on the urgent steps we need to take in the capital to tackle climate change.

We summarise below the actions needed in response to climate change for London to become a zero carbon city by 2050, and ideally before.  Much of our own campaigning is focused on helping to achieve this ambitious but essential target.  It requires decisive and robust action by Government, as well as strong leadership and practical action bthe Mayor and London Boroughs. While this will be challenging and will mean significant changes to lifestyles, with the right framework in place, climate action can deliver better lives for all Londoners.   

New building

The right decisions on future development are central to successful action on climate change.  We need to focus new construction on existing built-up areas so that we are making much better use of suitable brownfield land.    Incentivising the reuse of existing buildings and previously developed land should be accompanied by stronger policies to prevent building on Green Beltour Climate Safety Belt  Metropolitan Open Land and other precious areas of green space which are more important now than ever before.  A big challenge will be to deliver the major programme to retrofit existing poorly insulated homes and other buildings needed to achieve substantial reduction in carbon emissions. 

Active travel

As well as reducing pressure on green space, concentrating development can help make more essential services easy to access locally and minimise the need to travel.  This will help make active travel by bicycle or on foot the mode of choice for the vast majority of urban journeys, reducing car dependency, so that private car ownership becomes a thing of the past, and delivering more healthy streetsLow carbon public transport and electric car share will help with the longer journeys.   We need sensitive densification of suburban centres in outer London, focused around public transport hubs, with a higher proportion of car-free developmentstronger parking restrictions and better walking routes.  There should be no airport expansion and low density, car dependant urban sprawl must be avoided. 

Natural capital

More and better green spaces are vital to make London more resilient to the impacts of a changing climate.  Increasing temperatures and extreme weather events mean we should harness the power of nature to improve our environment to deliver A More Natural Capital.  Nature-based solutions are key to effective action on climate change.  We need to enhance existing green spaces, with more trees, through planting, nurturing and natural regeneration, more hedges to help reduce noise and air pollution, and wildlife-friendly management.    More of our rivers and watercourses need to be ‘daylighted’ and naturalised to aid flood management along with new water bodies, such as ponds and urban wetlands.    And we need to create more parks and green spaces where they are lacking by greening our streets, with pocket parksstreet trees and planters, and ensuring major development includes substantial areas of new green and blue space.  

Energy supply

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is to accelerate the decarbonisation of energy supply.  This depends on a combination of actions including the expansion of wind power, an increase in decentralised heat networksgreater use of heat pumps, electrification of all vehicles, and the widespread installation of solar photo-voltaic panelsThe Prime Minister’s 10 point plan is a good start, as is the Mayor’s commitment to a Green New Deal, but all this will require stronger Government and Mayoral leadership, regulations and incentives. 

The time is now!

Although we are still in the middle of a serious health crisis, we cannot afford any longer to put off effective action to tackle the climate crisis.  Many of the solutions to the former – more active travel, more and better green space – can also help ensure that London becomes a more liveable, more natural, climate resilient city.   Let’s all take action now!