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For a leading city, London has an abysmal record on air pollution, clean energy and waste. Can Boris Johnson’s successor turn them around?
Green issues are front and centre in the race to succeed London's colourful mayor, the Conservative heavyweight Boris Johnson, on 5 May.
Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, and his Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith, along with the Liberal Democrats’ Caroline Pidgeon and the Greens’ Sian Berry are all promising to cultivate a greener London. Both Khan and Goldsmith have made bold promises to become London’s “greenest mayor ever”, and to tackle sustainability issues across the board, from pollution and renewable energy to raising wages for Londoners.
Pollution is a key issue, with the city frequently ranked among the dirtiest in the developed world. London’s failure to cut toxic air pollution on its streets generated headlines earlier this year, and recent studies have shown that pollution is responsible for the premature deaths of nearly 9,500 Londoners each year.
Khan, who has said “the air on Oxford Street on some days is less clean than in New Delhi”, has pledged to bring it to legal levels. He says he will push the government to introduce a diesel vehicle scrappage scheme and encourage the roll-out of green vehicles, including more electric buses.
Goldsmith, former editor of the Ecologist magazine, promises tougher rules on HGVs, more green vehicles and safer cycling. However, these didn’t satisfy the campaigning group Clean Air in London, which in a scorecard of the main candidates’ stance on air pollution, gave Khan and Goldsmith scores of 6 and 4.5 out of 10, respectively.
London is also lagging in the deployment of renewable energy. Recent analysis by environmental thinktank Green Alliance found that London is the worst city in England and Wales, with the vast majority of the city’s 33 boroughs generating less than 1% of the energy they consume from renewable sources. All of the leading candidates have committed to at least a tenfold increase in solar capacity.
On waste and recycling, the main candidates both say they are committed to more ambitious policies. Research suggests an improved circular economy model could create 40,000 new jobs in the capital by 2030. At a hustings organised last month by the thinktank Green Alliance neither showed enthusiasm for the idea of the mayor’s office assuming responsibility for waste, currently a responsibility of individual boroughs. Green Alliance says the fractured and inefficient system is why London has some of the lowest recycling rates in the country.
Goldsmith, however, appears to have strengthened his commitment to such a move since then, proposing a “common set of collection standards to tackle the hassle of recycling” and pledging to use the procurement powers of City Hall to make London “the world’s first zero waste city”.
Both leading candidates have pledged to work with business to improve pay rates in the notoriously expensive city. Khan also says he will tackle the gender pay gap and a new team within the Mayor’s Office will work with businesses to “encourage sustainability and good corporate citizenship”.
Earlier this month most opinion polls gave Khan a comfortable lead over Goldsmith, although public trust in opinion polls is low following pollsters' spectacular failure to predict the result of last year’s general election. But the leading candidates' rhetoric would suggest sustainability will be a frontline issue for London over the next four years regardless of who ends up as mayor.
For green groups it will be whether these pledges are actually delivered that will be crucial. With an annual budget of £17bn, and with London’s global status, the decisions taken by the mayor matter. As Gregory Barker, chairman of the London Sustainable Development Commission, points out: “London has a disproportionate influence on its neighbours and the wider world.”
Joan Walley, chairperson of the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of sustainability leaders, said at a recent event that the next mayor must “create solutions that would ensure that London plays an increasingly integral role in the growing international low carbon economy.”EthicsWatch pollution renewable energy sustainability recycling gender pay carbon economy