With the Prime Minister announcing the UK's Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution at the end of last year, and COP26 being hosted by the UK later this year, the topic of a green recovery is one that is expected to gain momentum in 2021 alongside the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Mayor of London has also announced plans for greening the capital. A Green New Deal aims to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies and eradicate air pollution whilst doubling the size of the green economy by 2030 and creating jobs and skills for all Londoners. In December, the Mayor allocated £10m in funding for projects across seven of the nine pillars in the first part of the Green New Deal.
Achieving a target of carbon net zero by 2030 is clearly ambitious and commendable. As the former Governor of the Bank of England, Dr Mark Carney, and now UN Special Envoy for Climate Action Finance, said in his 2020 BBC Reith Lecture on ‘From Climate Crisis to Real Prosperity’, net zero wasn’t a slogan but an imperative for us all.
It was therefore appropriate and timely that Resilience First held its first webinar of 2021 as an informal conversation between Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment, Greater London Authority (GLA), and Seth Schultz, Executive Director, The Resilience Shift.
The key messages from the conversation were:
- Tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and making London a zero-carbon city are compatible, concurrent objectives and the Mayor’s focus. The goal is for a cleaner, greener (already 50%), and more equitable city.
- Now is an opportunity to reset and not simply to return to the status quo ante. The challenge is to make a more resilient city whatever the future holds.
- The ambitious aim is to be a net-zero city by 2030. However, the challenges are immense with population of 9m. While pollution levels have declined overall, there are still pockets that are too high.
- Whilst London has peaked its carbon emissions and is on track to meet its first carbon budget, consumption emissions are three times those of cities in Africa/Asia.
- In addition, there is a housing stock that has poor insulation levels, with 1:10 living in fuel poverty. Covid-19 has exacerbated the inequalities over jobs, car use, housing, etc.
- A Recovery Board that brings together London boroughs, communities, statutory bodies, and businesses is designed to create a cleaner, fairer and more prosperous city as it emerges from the pandemic. It has developed nine missions to improving the city, with the environment being a key cross-cutting principle.
- The low carbon and environmental goods and services sector is already worth around £48bn in sales and employs 320,000 people in London and had a growth rate of around 10% pre-Covid. This is worth more to London that the construction and manufacturing sectors combined. The electrification of London’s bus network is an example of how the demand created by large ambitious programmes in London can lead to the creation of high-skilled jobs across the supply and value chain elsewhere in the UK.
- The Green New Deal has three pillars designed to address the socio-economic inequalities in London as well as the environmental challenges. One pillar concerns the built environment to get London’s buildings to net zero emissions. The second is about modernising the public transport, shifting the emphasis to electrification and away from car use and ensuring Londoners have access to good quality green space, and clean air. The third is about building the economic, industrial and green foundations so London’s economy can grow.
- For London to reach its net zero target will require around £60bn of investment. The plan is not starting from scratch as there currently exists a range of plans around the environment. Initiatives such as the Ultra-Low Emission Zone have already reduced NOX levels in central London by 44% and CO2 levels by 6%. The Energy for Londoners programme has helped over 32,000 homes with new energy-saving measures, and the Workplaces accelerator has so far saved 12,000t of carbon annually. London is the only city in the UK to have a zero-carbon home standard for new builds (in 2019 saving 40% on carbon emissions over existing standards) and this standard will be extended to non-domestic buildings once the new London Plan is published.
- It is recognised that the Green New Deal cannot be delivered without the active participation of many sectors and communities across London. Unlocking public- and private-sector finance, and creating new financing mechanisms and facilities, will be important. Instigating systemic changes to finance mechanisms to support a green recovery will also be necessary. It will extend, for instance, to the installation of rapid electric charging points - already London has around 300 rapid charge points, a quarter of the UK’s capacity, and over 2,000 standard charge points.
- Implementing the Green New Deal will require working closely with businesses and providing focussed support as much as possible. Understanding what businesses need from the GLA is an important first step. Accelerator programmes, scrappage funds, academies and tools exist to provide support to the private sector. However, the GLA only has legal powers to affect around half the emissions in London; the other half rests with government and requires them to fund strategies in areas such as retrofit, decarbonising electricity supply, supporting low carbon heating and electrification of transport. There are calls for more regulatory and fiscal powers to be devolved to the Mayor.
- With the UK Government announcing in December that it aims for at least 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade compared to 1990 levels, it means that London as a leading environmental light in the UK has a key role to play.