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Opinion

What would a climate-friendly mayor mean for London?

Friends of The Earth have set out their plan for a climate-friendly London. But what would this actually look like for London, and the millions of people who live and work there?

It’s safe to say that after the local elections on May 6 the Mayor of London will have some pretty big decisions to make, and fast.

Londoners (like the rest of the UK) have been facing down the Covid-19 pandemic for over a year now, with social problems like unemployment and lack of access to green space made even more dire. Couple this with the escalating climate crisis – extreme weather like heatwaves and flash floods have already had severe impacts in London – and you’ve got a city in need of a mayor who’s going to do the best they can for people and planet. 

The Covid-19 crisis has laid bare just how unequal our society is. And for years we’ve seen how the most marginalised people who have done the least to cause climate breakdown suffer the deep injustice of being the most vulnerable to its impacts. In London this means people on lower incomes, and particularly Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, are much more likely to live in the least green and most polluted neighbourhoods.

Young people’s futures are most at risk from climate breakdown and the decline of nature, and they’re also the group most likely to be left unemployed due to Covid-19.

This may all sound like an impossible list of crises and inequalities to fix, but at Friends of the Earth we’ve come up with a climate action plan that all candidates seeking to be the next Mayor of London should commit to. In communities across London, Friends of the Earth local groups are doing amazing work calling on the next mayor to do this.

But what would this actually look like for London, and the millions of people who live and work here?

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A climate-friendly mayor could help to deliver over 79,000 new jobs including e-bike makers, heat pump fitters, and solar energy planners. This would protect workers and communities from unemployment and help shift London’s economy towards one which is low-carbon, nature-rich and creates less waste.

They could also finally help Londoners to stop living in homes that are freezers in winter and ovens in the summer, by ensuring that existing homes are fitted with new insulation and new housing developments are built to exacting standards on energy efficiency. This would cut emissions and lead to lower bills – great news for the thousands of people in the city living in fuel poverty.

The Mayor of London could also make the city region greener in a more literal sense. Street trees would make our city more beautiful, give us more shade in the summer, and bring more birds and other animals into our lives. By focussing investment on green space in the most deprived areas the mayor could go some way to balancing out the inequality that sees rich Londoners awash with parks and woodland while poorer ones struggle to access anything green.

A London that’s more climate-friendly would also facilitate fairer decisions, by ensuring that those who are most impacted by climate breakdown, nature loss, and social crises including poverty are put front and centre and given a voice in decision making.

Making London a climate-friendly city would also make it healthier. Mayoral investment in travel options such as more cycleways, wider pavements, and public transport networks that work for everyone would cut emissions from transport, clean up the air we breathe, and help us get our exercise in. We can’t leave anyone out of this so any plans for transport and active travel must factor in access needs for disabled people, including dropped kerbs with tactile markers on the pavement at crossing points.

London is facing a future with huge new projects that would be disastrous for the planet including the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport, and potential expansion of London City Airport. These plans go completely against the UK’s promise to do its part in the international work against the climate crisis, and a Mayor of London who’s committed to a healthy planet would stand firmly against them. A climate-friendly mayor would also use their power to scrap the pending climate disaster that is the Silvertown road tunnel. The focus instead should stay firmly on projects that will cut down on road traffic levels and boost clean travel options like trains and buses. This would include extending the ULEZ to cover the whole of Greater London, further cutting carbon emissions from traffic and giving communities everywhere cleaner air.

Not only can the mayor take direct responsibility for reducing London’s climate impact from areas like transport and energy, they can also put the pressure on national government by showing where the priorities of the people are and how we expect these to be echoed nationally and internationally.

Ted Burke is London campaigns organiser at Friends of the Earth

Head to takeclimateaction.uk to read more about Friends of the Earth’s Climate Action Plan for the next Mayor of London, and for information on how to get involved in your community.

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