Cllr Johnson Situ writes about how Southwark is honouring the legacy of Ada Salter

This blog was originally published on 13th November 2020.

In Southwark, we are following in the footsteps of Ada Salter and placing social justice at the heart of our response to the Climate Emergency.

This year marks the centenary anniversary of Ada Salter’s election as Mayor of Bermondsey, the first woman mayor in London. A pioneering politician, community leader of Southwark and without doubt the mother of an approach to improving the environment that placed social justice at its heart.

At the turn of 20thcentury the old metropolitan borough of Bermondsey was home to an approximate 120,000 people living in slum dwellings. In this toxic environment Ada’s vision to transform the area was not just limited to planting 7,000 trees, but to also improve housing, health and environmental conditions of people living in Bermondsey.

Ahead of London Climate Action Week, Southwark will be seeking to follow in Ada’s approach. Tackling the climate emergency requires international co-operation, but it is also dependent on radical local action. Southwark Council has already acted to reduce our carbon footprint and air pollution, but we know we need to do more to address this challenge and following Southwark’s declaration of a Climate Emergency in March 2019 we started working on a Climate Strategy.  Together with our partnership steering group, Southwark’s Cabinet adopted the draft strategy in July 2020, so today we have started our consultation to hear from our communities before we publish the final strategy and action plan early next year.

Southwark’s strategy is broad and covers our approach to everything from protecting our ecology, to ending plastic use and enhancing our biodiversity.

Our actions will come under three key areas, the first, to support people and reduce inequalities. The impacts of climate change are not felt equally. It is our most vulnerable communities including the elderly, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community that disproportionately impacted by Climate Change. This strategy recognises that and in developing an approach, supports a just transition.

Public Health England suggest that 7% of adult deaths in Southwark may be attributable to particulate air pollution. This equates to around 90 deaths per year in the borough. Therefore, we will set ambitious commitments to support healthy active travel, jobs as part of our green renewal, as well as support our communities in fuel poverty through interventions, which support access to energy, which lowers the cost to our communities as well as our borough’s carbon emissions.

On place, we will shortly announce changes to our carbon-offset fund, a policy that requires major residential developments to achieve zero carbon with at least 40 per cent reduction achieved through on-site measure. We will be strengthening policy within both our local plan and using the carbon-offset tool to actively encourage developments to further decrease carbon emissions on site, as well as refurbishment where possible.

Finally, David Attenborough’s recent ‘Life on our planet’ documentary highlights the importance of taking action to support our biodiversity and ecology and as part of our action plan we will be setting bold commitments on the number trees we will plant, and the new green spaces created as part of new developments.

The climate emergency has been brought into sharper focus during the coronavirus pandemic. It has demonstrated the need for places and communities to become more resilient. It has also highlighted the major impact human activity has on the air quality and carbon emissions. There is now a window to ensure our recovery from this pandemic is rooted in addressing these immense environmental challenges, one that is matched by our commitment to reduce inequalities. In Southwark, we are committed to meeting this challenge head on.

One hundred years on, we plan to follow the vision laid out by Ada Salter. But the council cannot deliver on this alone. Like Ada Salter we plan to bring together our communities, anchor institutions and specialist advisors to work with us to reach our commitment of reaching net-zero by 2030. In so doing we will harness the energy of climate campaigners and the experience of our communities to tackle the Climate Emergency together.

Please note – this was written when Johnson Situ was an elected councillor.