Friday, March 02, 2007

A real climate action plan for London

Some time soon, humanity will officially become a city-dwelling, not a rural, species. UN figures for urbanisation published in the State of the World 2007 report, show that more than 60 million people are added to the planet’s cities and suburbs each year. Most of them are moving into poor areas in developing countries. The report says that unplanned urbanisation is taking a huge toll on human health and the quality of the environment, contributing to social, ecological, and economic instability in many countries. The centrifugal pull of cities is a key feature of the development of global capitalism. But while the market economy pulls people into cities, it does not meet the social costs of having them there, or the environmental costs of reckless unplanned development. It is left to over-stretched urban governments, to work out how to develop and run cities that are not a blight on the planet’s ecology and a nightmare for their inhabitants.

The publication this week of the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone’s climate change action plan could have been a clarion call, offering a lead to the cities of the world, whose combined power could truly expose the inaction of national governments and galvanise populations into action. Unfortunately, the mayor’s plan does no such thing. It says nothing about removing cars from the capital, relying instead on the regressive congestion charge. There is nothing in the plan criticising business or the way production for profit abuses resources and drives climate change. And while it recognises the potential for new technologies to reduce emissions - for example creating power from waste without incineration – these are left as pious hopes for some unnamed future. The emphasis is on increased "efficiency" measures combined with some cash to help needy Londoners insulate their homes. The mayor’s plan calls on the government to deliver "a small number of key national regulatory and policy changes". These centre on introducing market mechanisms like carbon pricing, which is capitalism’s fantasy "solution" to climate chaos. The mayor, who is constantly inviting businesses to build yet more gigantic offices in London, even hopes that the capital might become a home for the emerging global carbon market as a result!

This touching faith in technology, business and the New Labour government to reduce carbon emissions is totally misplaced. As the plan admits, the UK is the world’s eighth largest emitter of carbon dioxide. London is responsible for 8% of these emissions. Taking economic and population growth projections, London’s emissions are projected to increase by 15% by 2025. Only drastic and immediate action that disrupts business as usual can reverse this situation and prevent the Thames from breaking through the barrier at Greenwich and flooding vast areas of the capital. Here are some of the things the report could have said:

  • cars will be banned from central London as an emergency action
  • supermarkets and big stores will have to find alternatives to the wasteful use of massive lorries for deliveries
  • no more out-of-town shopping centres will be built
  • commuters can park for free around London before catching public transport
  • the mayor will invest in car pools to discourage private car ownership
  • fares will be slashed on rail, Tube and bus to encourage public transport use
  • plans will be made to preserve what’s left of local shops and high streets from the global corporations
  • campaigns will be launched against further airport expansion and for upper limits on the number of flights in and out of London
  • no more gigantic office blocks will be built in the City of London
  • the City’s resources, currently used for speculation, should be used to fund solar panels and local combined heat and power supplies.

Cities are certainly part of the problem at present, but by mobilising populations to bring about real social and political change, they can be transformed. Running a Temperature, which was published recently by A World to Win, outlines how this can be achieved.

Penny Cole, co-author Running a Temperature

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The report could also have said "cancel the Olympics"! The 2012 games are being trumpetted as the "greenest ever Olympics" it would be an awful lot greener not to host them at all. Can't do that though, bad for business and think what an international uproar there would be. With the money thus saved or at least not spent, green regeneration could then be undertaken. Or would it?