Extinction Rebellion and the Youth Climate movement have alerted Londoners to the heart breaking truth that we are now in both a Climate and an Ecological emergency. On 11th December 2018, Sadiq Khan declared a Climate Emergency in London. However we have yet to see the policy, ambition or mobilisation commensurate with the scale of the crises.
Flooding, sea level rise, the heat island effect, fires, water pollution, air pollution, soil degradation, drought, food security, loss of green space and the political upheaval caused by climate change are major challenges for a dense city like London.
Nearly nine million citizens live within Greater London area, which encompasses a total area of 1,583 square kilometres (611 sq mi). 6.8 million car parking spaces (2001) take up 78.5 km sq of that space. Many front gardens that once provided havens for wildlife and flood mitigation have been paved over to accommodate even more cars.
Our air, water and soil has been allowed to become seriously polluted and stressed by the emissions and run off from motor vehicles, aeroplanes, gas boilers, leaf blowers, waste and unconstrained construction. The density of our city means particulates and other pollutants become concentrated. The cumulative effect is far more toxic and deadly.
Meanwhile our over-consumption of clean ground water is draining the life out of our invaluable, rare Chalk Streams. In Denmark the average per person daily water usage is 80 litres, in London it is 160 litres.
The density of London is both a blessing and a challenge in terms of addressing these fundamental environmental crises. Good leadership at a strategic level is crucial in harnessing the collective for the common good. And minimising harm. Public education on the environment will be critical to raising consciousness and behaviour change across the city.
The Mayor of London has multiple powers to effect the rapid change required. The Mayor can mobilise at speed and scale: Building an emergency extensive safe walking and cycling network throughout Greater London, as well as joining up with commuter belts and beyond. Electric cycles now offer opportunities for longer journeys; this needs to be harnessed for rapid mobilisation to net carbon zero.
The Transport for London led Mini-Holland schemes have shown how interlacing safe and inclusive dense walking and cycling infrastructure with Sustainable Urban Drainage (SUDS) can have multiple environmental benefits.
In Waltham Forest Mini-Holland alone, motor vehicles journeys have been cut by 10,000 per day; a significant reduction in pollutants and emissions. Multiply this by 32 Boroughs and London would be transformed. Unfortunately the current Mayor downgraded Mini Hollands to ‘Liveable Neighbourhoods’. The Liveable Neighbourhood schemes have received just 1-10 million funding in comparison to the ambitious 30 million per Borough originally envisioned. And the scale of ambition is more tinkering than transformative. A missed opportunity and one that needs rectifying.
Meanwhile the Mayor has allocated the equivalent one billion budget to a new urban motorway (Silvertown Tunnel) on a floodplain. These poor choices are completely incompatible with a Climate and Ecological emergency.
Removing tarmac opens up the earth from its dead concrete tomb, enabling soil restoration and soil sequestration. Installing rain gardens absorbs flash flooding, reclaiming parking spaces for regenerative food growing improves food security, tree planting minimises the heat island effect. All of these increases biodiversity and expand green space at a Borough level.
Transport for London could raise bonds to fund Solar on every viable London roof. This would both provide clean energy to Londoners helping decarbonise heat. Whilst the excess energy generated would then help de-carbonise London’s public transport system. The total CO2 emissions associated with TFL activities was 2.08 million tonnes in 2016/17. Consequently bus, overground train and underground are approximately 150g carbon per mile (Mike Berners-Lee) This would be unaffordable on the 1.5C net carbon zero lifestyle of 2.7Kg per day budget.
Transport for London could also set up a circular economy whereby embodied steel from redundant polluting fossil fuel cars are recycled into cargo bikes and cycles. TFL could invest in sail cargo to cargo bikes logistics. There were once 2.000 sail cargo barges operating on the Thames. Sadly now there are only 5. Raybel Charters has received lottery funding to restore one of these beautiful, strongly constructed barges, joining a growing fleet of ships able to deliver cargo by harnessing the great, unlimited power of the wind. Cleaning up our roads and riverways.
Reclaiming space from private cars is key for building a Circular economy and greening / wilding. Resident parking spaces become resident allotment permits. Parklets and imaginative use of residential streets start building resilient communities. Community composts replace damaging imported peat composts.
In 2016 I stumbled across a road that had been re-wilded in Tower Hamlets . This opened my mind up to the possibilities of re-greening London. A vision that London National Park City is also galvanising.
I will protect all green space, trees, copses and woods and expand them. I will not allow building on green space or green belt and have set out how we can use our current housing stock more efficiently I will protect clean water aquifers and not allow them to be destroyed by HS2. Water is a vital resource. It must be given true value. Daylighting our rivers, streams and tributaries will reconnect us at source.
Protecting, nurturing and enjoying nature must be at the heart of our city. Under my Mayorship, cycle lanes have been extended into the countryside and seaside towns. Nut and fruit tree lined walking networks have been created across Greater London: Blossom in the Spring; shade in the Summer; fruit and nut harvesting. In the Autumn, leaves are gathered by communities for composting over the winter. Fossil fuel cars, leaf blowers, chemical pesticides, glyphosate, toxic plastic waste and peat composts have been banned. Waterloo garden bridge has become a wonderful traffic- free space to view our city. A quiet contemplative space rather than a motor traffic dominated pollution highway. Flight free global citizens have made airports unsustainable.