Cities are places where diverse millions of people and communities come together, generating energy, creativity, connection and productivity. Unfortunately, due to their status as thriving population hotspots, cities also produce significant levels of carbon emissions.
London and the UK’s 11 Core Cities are well aware that two thirds of the planet’s carbon emissions come from urban areas. London alone is responsible for eight per cent of the UK’s total territorial emissions. If we are to have a fighting chance of reaching our national and global net zero targets, cities and indeed London’s boroughs must be in the vanguard of carbon reduction.
We also need to make sure the transition to net zero is place-based and has social justice at its heart. This is especially important in London, given our many unique and varied communities. There can be no one-size-fits-all approach.
Local leaders know this, as we are there on the ground, immersed in our boroughs every day. We know the different challenges individual areas face as well as their distinctive strengths. This understanding must be at the heart of our efforts, and we welcome the government’s newly-established Local Net Zero Forum, especially if local government can help to shape it.
Another crucial ingredient is finance. City leaders in London and across the country are bringing a lot to the table, as are our increasingly local green businesses. But we can’t deliver fundamental change without significant new investment.
With that in mind, London Councils, Core Cities and government-backed agency Connect Places Catapult have come together to create the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission (UKCCIC). This has developed a radical, place-based offer to private financial investors, as set out in its latest report.
The offer will help attract the large-scale capital investment needed to make the transition to net zero, and London Councils has showcased it at COP26, with OEDC Secretary-General Matthias Corrman, UK Treasury minister Helen Whately, City Corporation chief Catherine McGuinness, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken also endorsing it.
One of the key recommendations of the report is to fund “place-based demonstrators” or neighbourhood pilots where green investment opportunities are clustered. These could not only substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they could also support the levelling up agenda, create local jobs, deliver clean and inclusive places to live and prompt greater collaboration between local stakeholders.
This model could deliver investment for local electricity production, heating provision, more efficient buildings, increased green infrastructure, access to lower carbon travel options and lower carbon waste management services.
The UKCCIC report estimates that the cost of getting London and the Core Cities to net zero could reach over £200 billion – an eye-watering sum. But by attracting private finance to accelerate our efforts, we can show collective commitment at no detriment to vital local and national services.
London and other cities may be among the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, but it means we can make the most impact when we do things differently. Together we can be the solution to tackling climate change, embed truly sustainable urban green living, and create the skills and jobs our residents so desperately need.
With bold plans ready for investment, along with our commitment to inclusivity and social justice, London boroughs and cities across the UK stand ready to lead the way in establishing effective and trusted climate change solutions.
Governments across the world coming out of COP26 must start treating cities as serious net zero delivery partners. As London boroughs, we must remain ambitious and work hard to bring everyone with us if we are to achieve our net zero ambitions by 2030 and safeguard London’s future for generations to come.
Philip Glanville is Mayor of Hackney but writing here in his capacity as the cross-party London Councils executive member for transport and environment.
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