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London sets out plan to become world’s greenest city

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, says he wants London to be the world’s greenest global city by 2050. He has set out his aims – including zero waste, zero carbon buildings and 100 per cent renewable energy – in a draft London Environment Strategy.

Sadiq Khan, London

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Published on 11 August for three months’ consultation, the document proposes measures to tackle London’s toxic air, make London the world’s first National Park City – with more than 50 per cent of the city being green space – and reduce waste to zero by 2050.

A new Energy for Londoners program will help Londoners and businesses generate more renewable energy, cleanly power buildings, make the entire transport system zero emissions, and ultimately help London become a zero carbon city by 2050.

Greening London

The document says action will be taken now to plant more trees, make green spaces more accessible, and ensure more green roofs and green features are designed into new developments. More than half of London’s area will be green, and tree canopy cover will increase by 10 per cent by 2050.

As a way to kickstart the process, Khan launched plans to help make the capital the world’s first National Park City with a new £9 million (AU$14.8m) Greener City Fund for London to create and improve green spaces. Thousands more trees will be planted and improvements made to community green spaces with local groups invited to apply for the first £1m of grants.

The number of people adversely affected by noise will be reduced, and more quiet and tranquil spaces will be promoted.

Planning regulations will be reinforced to protect the green belt and incorporate into new developments more green roofs, green walls, rain gardens, and habitats for wildlife.

Better air quality

In support of cleaner air, to begin with a “T-charge” will be introduced from October this year. This will mean that cars, vans, minibuses, buses, coaches and heavy goods vehicles in central London will need to meet minimum exhaust emission standards, or pay a daily £10 (AU$16.50) emissions surcharge (also known as the toxicity charge, or T-Charge). This will be in addition to the congestion charge.

There are also plans to introduce an ultra-low emission zone in 2019, and clean up the bus fleet.

London will have the best air quality of any major world city, Khan says, going beyond the legal requirements to protect human health and minimise inequalities. Currently, every year, over 9000 Londoners’ lives end sooner than they should because of air pollution, and around a quarter of primary schools are located in parts of London that breach legal air pollution limits.

A rollout of sustainable drainage systems and improvements to the sewerage network will help keep the city’s rivers clean, and plans are to be drawn up for new flood defences and a new water resource for London, as well as to help transport, water and other infrastructure providers better prepare for the changing climate.

New smart meters will be rolled out to help Londoners use less energy and water, higher recycling standards will cut waste, and Londoners will be helped to use less packaging. This will help London send zero waste to landfill by 2026 and recycle 65 per cent of its waste by 2030.

Products, energy and other resources will need to be designed and recycled to keep them in use for as long as possible – moving towards a low carbon, circular economy.

Many of the environmental challenges facing the city are interconnected, Khan says, and a solution in one area may provide valuable benefits in many others.

“By tackling them all and making connections between them, going beyond business as usual to enhance our environment, Londoners’ health and the city as a whole will be improved dramatically, helping to create a future London that is fairer and works better for everyone.”

Energy efficient buildings

London’s homes and workplaces are eventually to be made zero carbon through better designed, more energy efficient buildings. The Mayor’s Energy for Londoners program will take this work forward and help ensure that fuel poverty is tackled while the city’s reliance on fossil fuels is reduced. The transport system must become zero emissions through reduced car dependency and the use of new, clean technologies.

At the same time, London needs to develop a clean, smart, integrated energy system that makes use of local and renewable energy resources and is fully integrated with the national energy system.

The plan is to help Londoners cut energy use by supporting efforts to improve the energy efficiency of homes and public buildings and helping to roll out smart meters, especially in low-income homes. City Hall with work with boroughs to enforce regulations for private landlords to improve the energy performance of their properties.

Technical assistance will be made available to help increase the number of homes and businesses connected to communal heat networks that use local energy sources, including energy created from waste.

John Alker, campaign and policy director at the UK Green Building Council welcomed the proposals.

“This draft plan outlines a number of important and ambitious policies, including proposals for all new buildings to be zero carbon from 2019, and for new large-scale schemes to be air quality positive,” he said. “The draft also proposes a new ‘Urban Greening Factor’ for new developments.

“These aspirations highlight the growing trend: it is our cities that are leading the way in the absence of policy ambition and clarity from central government.”

Julian Bell, chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, welcomed the ambition for the capital to become a zero carbon city by 2050.

“I am particularly pleased with the strategy’s approach to improving London’s green infrastructure,” he said.

“A greener London will not only be more pleasant to live in but will address the huge air quality problem London faces, support healthier lifestyles and help the city adapt to climate change.”

Criticism

But others condemned the strategy for failing to announce the establishment of a publicly owned energy company for Londoners, one of Khan’s manifesto promises.

Caroline Russell, a Green party member of the London Assembly, said, “Despite the mayor telling me it was ‘the idea’ for Energy for Londoners to be fully licensed, this doesn’t seem to be the case. A publicly-owned Energy for Londoners would provide a massive opportunity to reinvest profits from the sales revenues in generating more renewable energy and addressing fuel poverty with energy efficiency measures.

Instead, the strategy says the mayor will tender for the delivery of an energy supply company. Russell says the aim was to model the company on similar firms set up in Bristol and Nottingham, where the city council set up its own not-for-profit company Robin Hood energy.

A spokesperson for the mayor said: “The mayor believes fuel poverty is a serious issue that needs addressing immediately, which is why he is keen to introduce a scheme using an energy supply company that can offer Londoners struggling with fuel poverty a better deal on their energy bills as soon as possible.

“He has allocated over £25m  [AU$41.2m] to deliver this program alongside energy efficiency, fuel poverty and clean energy schemes. The option to move to a fully licensed supply company will be kept under review in light of changes in the energy market. The mayor welcomes all views on his plans during the strategy consultation. Nothing is off the table.”

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment

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