Jasmine Whitbread & Rachel Skinner: London’s businesses and mayoral candidates must work together to combat climate change

Jasmine Whitbread & Rachel Skinner: London’s businesses and mayoral candidates must work together to combat climate change

This week, world leaders would have gathered in Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) to coordinate action on tackling the climate emergency and make headway on decarbonising the global economy. While the global pandemic and lockdowns across much of the UK made postponing the conference inevitable, it risks hampering much-needed momentum on climate action.

We’ve had a small glimpse of what radical reduction in carbon emissions looks and feels like, with temporary improvements in air quality and nearly 68 days coal-free during the summer, but memories will soon fade unless we take urgent action and invest in sustainable solutions on a greater and more systematic scale, both internationally and locally.

Covid-19 has brought pre-existing societal challenges to the fore, with a disproportionate impact on our most disadvantaged communities. Climate change is no great equaliser either, exacerbating inequalities and disproportionately affecting low-income rural and urban communities across the globe. How we recover from Covid-19 represents a once in a generation opportunity to implement the solutions we need to create a greener and fairer economy that benefits all.

Governments, businesses and individuals all have a role to play. The UK is now at a critical juncture – for years it has punched above its weight in science and innovation. Last week, the government went further and announced it would make climate risk reports mandatory for large companies and set out plans for Britain’s first green gilt, with the money raised paying for investment in carbon reduction solutions and the creation of green collar jobs across the country.

The business community supports the UK’s net zero carbon target and is ready to play its part in delivering the new technologies and services that will make this a reality. But the clock is ticking and the reality of meeting net zero emissions makes the coming decade crucial if we are to deliver for future generations.

London has a unique opportunity to lead the way. The Mayor has already set out an ambitious pledge to reach net zero by 2030 if re-elected next year, but London’s worsening employment and skills gap risks undermining the capital’s green recovery.

With mayoral election just six months away, London First, the voice of London’s business community, and WSP, a leading engineering and professional services firm, have written to all London Mayor candidates on behalf of over 50 of the capital’s leading employers, urging them to make climate action a central plank of their campaigns. This means setting out a clear pathway to achieve London’s net zero goals by convening all parts of government, creating the right regulatory environment to promote investment in net zero, and supporting Londoners to make better, greener choices.

Business also needs to step up, from putting in place their own climate action plans to helping other businesses, customers and suppliers make green choices. The recommendations form part of a London business manifesto, which sets out the blueprint for a net zero carbon capital.

The government needs to fulfil its side of the bargain, upgrading electric vehicle charging infrastructure, driving forward low carbon programmes that deliver short term economic and social benefits, and laying the foundation for a resilient low carbon future. As part of the much-touted “build back better” agenda it must ensure that recovery packages combine to pivot the UK towards a net zero carbon economy. Business has long been promised an energy White Paper and national infrastructure strategy. These should be published as soon as possible, alongside clear roadmaps for the decarbonisation of transport, heat, and buildings that will allow companies to build their own net zero investment plans with confidence.

As the UK gears up to host COP26 next year we can and must show leadership. The pandemic, which rightly dominates everyone’s attention, should be a catalyst for an ambitious climate agenda rather than a blocker. Government and business must work together. Future generations will not look kindly on inaction.

Jasmine Whitbread is Chief Executive of London First and Rachel Skinner is Executive Director of WSP. Photograph by Omar Jan.

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