Please note – this blog post was first published in September 2019
We are into desperate territory when it comes to our climate. As time goes by without us taking radical action to halt, let alone reverse, climate change we continue to create a legacy of environmental chaos for future generations and a crisis that will decimate communities around the world, cause irreversible damage to our environment and irrevocably change how we live.
Lambeth was the first borough in London – and one of the first local authorities in the UK – to declare a climate emergency. Tackling climate change and ending our contribution to the UK’s carbon footprint is not only the right and essential thing to do for our planet, but it is also about reducing inequality right here in our borough.
We know that our more disadvantaged communities are hit disproportionately harder by climate change through fuel poverty because of rising utility prices, increasing food prices as crops fail, or from prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures, for example.
When it comes to Lambeth taking effective action, the financial burdens heaped on us all by previous Lib Dem and Tory government policies of austerity make that challenge even greater. I do not say that to shirk responsibility, but to be open about the resources that we have as a borough effectively to ramp up our action on becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
We simply don’t have the money just to throw at this, however much we wish we did, and so it will mean difficult choices for us all. It is also vital that we ensure that the inequalities that exist in our borough are not made even worse by green policies done badly, however well intentioned.
And it is vital that together we demand of government and big business that they wake up to this crisis, invest in our environment and in our communities rather than continue to destroy them. We are committed to work together here in Lambeth to create a Green New Deal for Lambeth.
To work with our partners to create a just transition, meaningful employment for our young people and long term unemployed that supports and sustains our environment and explores smarter, greener ways of working and living, whilst also creating a cleaner, greener environment. But we need national (and international) action on an urgent and radical scale too.
The prospect of a hard right Johnson No-Deal Brexit raises the stakes even higher. The EU has held our government’s feet to the fire to drive up the standards we have managed to secure, but there is little evidence of Tory commitment to tackling climate change and with no EU partners holding us to account, it will fall to us to fill that crucial gap.
We are determined to do all that we can as a council to make good our climate change commitment. We have already made significant carbon savings by reducing the council’s office buildings from 14 to two. We continue to scale up the infrastructure to enable people in Lambeth to live low-carbon lives. We have installed over 120 electric vehicle charging points since May last year. We continue to work with community energy partners such as Repowering London to install solar on our estates and schools. We are re-shaping our streets so that it is easier and more attractive to walk and cycle to encourage healthier lives and reduce emissions. And we are also taking huge steps in divesting our pension fund away from the world’s biggest emitters to low-carbon alternatives.
But the council’s operations contribute only 1% of the borough’s carbon footprint. So whilst Lambeth has put together its Corporate Carbon Reduction Plan which will make its own operations carbon neutral by 2030, I am clear that we need to have a much wider discussion in the borough.
To do this right in Lambeth, we need to speak to schools, charities, residents of all ages and businesses to hear what the priorities and ideas are from across our communities. We need to collaborate, forge a consensus and create clear proposals for what each of us can do, in our homes and in our neighbourhoods and to articulate our demands of national government and global corporations. Genuine and radical change in Lambeth will require everyone – council, residents, hospitals, businesses, local organisations – to get involved, have their say and take action.
Because as our politics fractures and our climate crisis worsens, it is clear that the old way of doing things just won’t cut it. That’s why we are holding a Lambeth Citizen’s Assembly in the New Year, comprised of individuals truly representative of our diverse borough to ensure everyone’s voice is fairly reflected in this debate.
A citizen’s assembly will bring together people from all walks of life, helping them to bridge divides and find common ground to develop recommendations that can command public support.
Whilst our challenge is enormous, so is the capacity of Lambeth residents to deliver real and lasting change if we work together. We need to recognise the enormity of the challenge since it is only by doing so, and only by involving all sections of our community that we can truly, collectively own this mission and accomplish it together.