According to the RSA, we are living in The Age of the City, where urban areas “are increasingly powerful in national and global politics and are driving economic growth”. In the UK, urban political power has historically been limited, but the rise of directly elected mayors has given strategic powers over wide areas to local politicians, not least in the realm of the environment.
In London, which has had a mayor since 2000, the local environmental challenges are numerous: air pollution contributes to the premature death of over 9,000 people every year; a tenth of the population lives in fuel poverty; green space is being lost, taking biodiversity with it; and population growth will put significant strain on local green spaces, water, electricity and resources.
Ahead of the mayoral election in 2016, nine leading environmental organisations, including Green Alliance, published Greener London, identifying the big ideas and practical means the next mayor could use to make the capital a greener, fairer and better place to live and work.
Just over a year into his tenure, the man who won that election, Sadiq Khan, has now published a draft London environment strategy for consultation that covers many of the areas of our concern. So, how has he done?
- Air pollution
What Greener London asked for: We asked for the mayor to ensure the capital’s air is safe to breath by making all central buses zero emission capable by 2018, spreading to all buses by 2025, by expanding the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), introducing a T-charge for polluting vehicles, and by ending the licensing of all diesel taxis and private hire vehicles by 2020.
What the mayor is proposing: The environment strategy includes a clear transport roadmap that aligns with many of our suggestions, including making all buses zero emission by 2030 (not 2025, unfortunately), expanding the ULEZ, and ending licensing of diesel taxis by 2030 (again, not 2020).
Our verdict: Not perfect, but overall a big thumbs up.
- Green spaces
What Greener London asked for: Recognising the need for more, higher quality and new natural spaces, we asked for a Green Infrastructure Commissioner to be appointed to develop a clear vision and strategic plan, for better funding for parks and green spaces and for a ‘green rooftop’ requirement for all new commercial developments.
What the mayor is proposing: A London Green Spaces Commission is on the cards, which will aim to find new ways to fund, manage and value green spaces, and there’s an aspiration for the capital to be the first National Park City, with a fund to help communities plant trees and improve green spaces. And, while there’s no firm commitment on green rooftops, a new Urban Greening Factor will aim to make sure new developments are greener.
Our verdict: Too soon to say. Much depends on how effective the Green Spaces Commission and Urban Greening Factor would be, though both are welcome initiatives: for example, Paris and San Francisco require new developments to have either solar or green roofs. Will the Urban Greening Factor deliver the same or better outcomes? The mayor and the Green Space Commission would also have to work hard to leverage private finance to support tree planting.
- Energy and carbon emissions
What Greener London asked for: We called for London to demonstrate how a global capital can power itself from clean sources through measures including: energy saving retrofit programmes for the private rented sector; a strategy to bring about a tenfold increase in solar power by 2025; and an interest free energy efficiency loan scheme for businesses.
What the mayor is proposing: The strategy proposes that, by 2018, minimum energy efficiency performance standards will be in place for all rented properties (the focus is more on enforcing regulations than retrofit programmes). The mayor will install 100 megawatts more solar power by 2030, with an ambition of seeing 1GW by then. While there is, unfortunately, no energy efficiency loan scheme, the mayor has promised businesses technical assistance to connect to heat networks and has backed a scrappage scheme for polluting commercial boilers.
Our verdict: Clean energy shows the limits of localism. A tenfold increase in solar is 750 megawatts, which means putting panels on existing roofs. This requires national, not just local, policy. Conversely, the 2018 energy performance standards are national policy, which raises the question of why local landlord regulation schemes could not have been used to go further. After all, London’s adoption of Zero Carbon Home (ZCH) requirements is a genuinely local policy and, even if they are not as strong as the original ZCH standard, London is still ahead of the rest of the country.
What Greener London asked for: Highlighting the inefficiencies that result from myriad recycling systems operating across the city, we called for collections to be harmonised. We also called for the GLA to use its considerable purchasing power to stimulate demand for long lasting recyclable goods.
What the mayor is proposing: The plan makes some positive steps here, not least setting a relatively ambitious 65 per cent recycling target for 2030 and recognising the importance of minimisation (including investigating a deposit return scheme) and setting minimum recycling and food waste standards for London’s authorities to meet by 2020. But, it makes no mention of green public procurement.
Our verdict: Green shoots. While it should not be, it is genuinely difficult to negotiate harmonised recycling and food waste collections across London’s 32 local authority boundaries. The same is true of deposit return schemes. If the mayor can pull these off, it will be a real success.
Overall, the plan contains plenty of promises for actions we are keen to see Sadiq Khan put into action during his term in office. And, while the strategy is not perfect, it clearly sets a high bar for other, newer city regions to follow. With devolution deals having set up six more directly elected metro mayors earlier this year, these new political leaders would do well to follow the green trail that the mayor of London is blazing in the Age of the City.