On Wednesday, Enfield Council’s cabinet will consider the borough’s Climate Action Plan, committing us to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 at the latest. Our response to the climate emergency appears in the slipstream of the unfavourable recent report from the committee for climate change (CCC), which advises the government. It highlights a year with very little progress from a government meandering towards its 2050 net zero promise.
Public interest in this issue continues apace in London and as a local authority we are rightly being scrutinised as we seek to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change’s potentially devastating effects. Protests from Extinction Rebellion have occurred outside and inside the chamber – I still marvel at the simple effectiveness of whistles to halt a full council meeting. But I welcome this challenge and, alongside the groups that have sprung up around the borough, it is clear that our residents, and increasingly the children in our schools, demand to know about our actions when “our house is on fire!”
Our Climate Action Plan is innovative and ambitious: we promise to record and declare our Scope 3 emissions, we are pursuing an internal carbon pricing project, and we have been honest about our approach to offsetting, admitting that we cannot reduce all emissions to zero. We are prepared for multiple energy futures: Enfield has experience in heat pump technology and decentralised energy through our company Energetik, and we must aim for standards such as Passivhaus and BREEAM.
Some of goals will take many years to reach, but there are changes we can make now: purchasing green electricity and updating our staff travel policy to encourage low carbon transport while continuing to push for more home working, which has received a radical boost during the pandemic.
In other areas we are reliant on the “white heat of technology”. It is not yet possible to run our waste lorries for an eight hour shift on electric batteries, and worries exist about the weight of such heavy vehicles on London’s smaller Victorian bridges. However, as the 17-year-old Tesla becomes the most valuable car company in the world, battery technology can only become leaner and meaner, propelling us towards our 2030 goal.
And then there are the most challenging targets. The government is introducing higher standards for energy efficiency in new homes and buildings. Existing London homes will need to be retrofitted to bring them up to the same standard and the current estimated price tag is £10 billion. The Chancellor has announced a £50 million social housing retrofit pilot scheme, but now is the time for widespread action. Let’s not talk pilots, let’s talk doing – we know exactly what needs to be done!
The Chancellor’s scheme will cover work on 2,500 homes, but Enfield Council alone owns four times that number of council homes and is landlord to a further 5,000 leaseholders. We will work with residents to retrofit them to be safer, more comfortable and more energy efficient, but after a decade of cuts to our budget, government will have to dig much deeper to help make this retrofit dream a reality.
Our recycling rate is 34 per cent, with an aim to hit 49 per cent by 2022 while the CCC has called for the government to set a 70 per cent recycling target for 2030. We will continue to encourage our residents to recycle more, but government could easily help us to achieve our target with simple measures. The Green Dot scheme in Germany has seen manufacturers of products contribute to the cost of recovery and recycling – the ultimate deterrent to overpackaging. We also eagerly await the promised deposit return scheme for glass and plastic bottles (introduced by Germany 17 years ago). However the government website still contains the ominous words “if introduced”.
We also have the thorny problem of embodied carbon – the emissions released when manufacturing building materials. Enfield needs more homes, and our local plan identifies areas for thousands of them over the next decade. But new streets and buildings at our Meridian Water development come at a substantial carbon cost. Again, we hope science will play a vital role with the development of low carbon materials.
An unforeseen consequence of the terrible Coivd-19 pandemic is that Londoners have been given a golden glimpse of a greener future. Some commuter hotspots have seen a 50 per cent drop in air pollution during the lockdown. This is welcome news for an Outer London borough like Enfield, which must face a future with fewer private vehicles and more walking and cycling. Over the last three months more people than ever have taken advantage of Enfield’s ever-increasing 30 kilometres of segregated cycle lanes.
Space must be reallocated from the car to the walking (and cycling) family and lockdown has helped London understand how this might happen. And while Enfield has been slow to catch on with low traffic neighbourhoods, we now have three arriving at once – rather like (biofuel) buses – thanks to Transport for London and the Department for Transport.
As chair of Enfield’s climate task force, I am proud of our Climate Action Plan and when it is in place we can pick up the pace to make a difference. But without full government backing we are in danger of hitting a wall. In recent months we have seen how swiftly dramatic change can be implemented, so the government has no excuses for dragging its heels. Sadiq Khan has called for more policies and powers to tackle environmental emergencies with his Green New Deal for London. It may be that a new package of policies and increased government funding for devolved authorities is essential if Boris Johnson is not up to the task.
Ultimately, tackling the climate emergency is a responsibility we all share. Party political battle lines should fade into insignificance given the magnitude of the challenge ahead. Enfield’s Climate Action Plan is a local contribution to a global issue and the green revolution can only become a reality when every level of government and the communities who elect them join together.
Ian Barnes is deputy leader of Enfield Council. Follow him on Twitter. Image depicts Enfield’s Fox Lane area quieter neighbourhood scheme.
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