Election Issues: Balancing economic success with green ambitions

urban sunsetWhoever becomes London’s new mayor is going to have economic growth and improvement of the environment at the top of their agenda.  But are these two goals compatible?

In 2011 the Mayor set out a climate change strategy that aimed to reduce CO2 emissions to 60% of what they were in 1990 by 2025[1]. 1990 is an internationally recognised baseline that countries used in signing the Kyoto agreement.

2015 is the first big milestone in the Mayor’s plan. By the end of last year emissions should have been down by 20% on 1990 level.  But the most recent data for greenhouse gases in London shows that the capital is off course to hit this target[2].  In 2013 a reduction of only 11% had been achieved. This is better than the 10% of 2012 but falls short of the 13% achieved in 2011.

A breakdown of this number shows the challenge.  Roughly 40% of CO2 emissions come from homes, 40% from workplaces and 20% from transport.  But a fast-growing population, booming economy and a skyline filled with cranes make all three of these categories difficult. Per capita emissions have fallen by 28% since 1990, but that growing population means the total improvement has been much lower.

Not surprisingly, the growth in population has made domestic emissions the toughest to cut, down just 7% since 1990.

Environment chart 1-2

Despite all this, London has the lowest CO2 emissions per head in the UK.  That’s partly down to the way we live.  An example is London’s fastest growing borough, Tower Hamlets.  Not only has it London’s lowest car ownership level – at just 15 per 100 population compared to 49 in nearby Havering[3].  It also has far more energy efficient homes.  Looking at Domestic Energy Performance Certificates, London has 11% of homes in A or B categories compared to 9% across the UK[4].  Tower Hamlets has 27% of homes in these categories – largely due to a concentration of flats, especially new build.

Environment Chart 2-2

A nice side benefit for Tower Hamlets residents comes with their fuel bills – they have the lowest domestic gas consumption in the capital[5].

Recently, the London environment debate has shifted from CO2 greenhouse gases to the air quality issue of NO2.  This came to a head last year with the VW scandal, where drivers hoping to prevent climate change found themselves creating potentially lethal local health hazards.  A report from King’s College estimated that almost 10,000 Londoners were being killed by air pollution each year; most as a result of NO2 emissions[6].

A further study from Policy Exchange[7] estimated that just under a half of NO2 emissions come from road transport – the rest a mix of air and rail transport with domestic and commercial gas use.  In central London buses emerge as a particular issue, together with the gas used to fuel the city centre’s offices and shops.

In 2013, only two of London’s 32 boroughs (Sutton and Bromley) met the annual mean limit on NO2[8], and it took only the first week of 2016 for Putney High Street and Oxford Street to break their annual maximum limit for the whole year[9].

So what effect does air quality have across the capital?  The Kings College study breaks down its estimate of deaths attributable to air pollution by borough. This shows Barnet, Bromley and Croydon with the greatest impact, all having over 400 deaths per annum.

Environment Chart 3-2

Such statistics place huge pressure upon the Mayor to find ways for Londoners to breathe more easily.  The key responsibility of the Mayor’s role is to make London a better place for everyone to live. He or she has to ensure that businesses thrive so the economy of the city grows and delivers jobs while also improving London’s environment.   Achieving either is a huge task. Achieving both simultaneously will be a monumental challenge for whichever candidate wins office.

Source data

[1] https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/environment-publications/delivering-londons-energy-future-mayors-climate

[2] http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/interim-leggi–2013/resource/4aaba9fa-b382-40bd-a3e3-593c53bed245

[3]  http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/licensed-vehicles-type-0

[4] http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/domestic-energy-efficiency-ratings-borough

[5] http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/gas-consumption-borough

[6] http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/HIAinLondon_KingsReport_14072015_final.pdf

[7] http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/publications/category/item/up-in-the-air-how-to-solve-london-s-air-quality-crisis-part-1

[8] http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2015-06-26.4471.h&s=speaker%3A11878#g4471.q0

[9] http://data.london.gov.uk/dataset/air-quality-summary-statistics

This report was produced in association with London Live’s election special programme London Votes.