Please note – this blog post was originally published in October 2019.
Last week, a Clean Air Summit was held in London’s City Hall, where there was a focus on partnerships between business, government and councils to tackle air pollution. This is the approach Southampton has taken to help create a genuine movement and to collectively tackle one of the defining issues of our time.
A majority of councils believe that greening their operations is morally the right thing to do. But Southampton City Council, and your council, aren’t the biggest contributor of emissions in your area. Universities, as one example, could do a lot more. Southampton, Oxford and Cambridge Universities all have a carbon impact 4, 8 and 11 times higher than their respective city councils. Yet the focus and scrutiny local government receives is disproportionately high compared to other public and private institutions.
Labour has been running Southampton City Council since 2012 and has prioritised tackling air pollution and the climate crisis. So far, we’ve reduced the carbon footprint for our commercial buildings, street lighting and schools by 54%, equivalent to the weight of 4822 double-decker buses. This has been partly achieved by retrofitting our buildings, upgrading our streetlights and reducing the number of inefficient buildings we operate from. We’ve set ourselves the goal to be carbon neutral by 2030, so we’ve got much more to do.
We realised that without galvanising others, our efforts would only be a step forward, but far short of the leap needed to green our city. It would require wider civic leadership and to recognise that our influence stretched far beyond the control of the civic centre.
Earlier this year, we created a Green City Charter with 9 principles that offered a blueprint to the approaches required for high environmental standards, ethical procurement and a commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030. This wasn’t going to be another dry strategy to sit on a server, but an evolving document which businesses, schools, charities and residents could use and sign to pledge their commitment.
Devising a charter which had strong public support and organisational buy-in from a range of businesses was key to its success, but not necessarily easy to do. There needed to be inputs from a wide range of stakeholders, so we set up meetings with companies, charities, lobbying groups, schools and the public – so they could all have their say.
It’s difficult to reach consensus in polarised times and the climate debate has become increasingly emotional and puritanical. But to date, 76 organisations have signed the Charter, agreeing to its mission, aims and values. It’s encouraging that it wasn’t just the usual suspects, but many of the Southampton’s biggest players stepping up including Southampton Football Club, Bluestar Buses, University of Southampton, and port companies – ABP and DP World.
Our Charter isn’t perfect, and with a wish list of powers and more money, we could go further and at a faster pace. But the Charter allows that framework for collective action and for us to look our children in the eyes and tell them that in our city, we built them a better future.
Please note – this was written when Christopher Hammond was Leader of Southampton City Council between 2018-2021.