What net zero London looks like
Take a trip with us to 2030 — the mayor's target for net zero emissions
Morning — we’re casting our eye to 2030 in today’s issue. As Extinction Rebellion descends on central London, we explore what our city will need to look like to meet its net zero emissions target. That’s after your Sunday briefing below.
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What we’ve spied
📣 Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence — a racially motivated attack that sent shockwaves throughout London and the UK. On April 22, 1993, Lawrence was murdered by a gang of white youths while waiting for a bus in Eltham, south east London. The horrific crime and the Metropolitan Police’s incompetent investigation had huge ramifications for race and policing in Britain. On Saturday a memorial service was held for Lawrence at St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, Lawrence’s father has called for the Met to re-open its investigation into the remaining gang members who escaped justice for the attack. The Spy highly recommends the BBC’s three-part documentary of the murder and its aftermath that aired in 2018. Lawrence’s mother also sat down with the BBC for an interview this week, in which she said police are still in denial about racism.
👮 Speaking of Met failings, there was plenty of cause for concern this week:
Londoner rap venues have told the Guardian they routinely experience racial profiling and censorship. Promoters and club owners have claimed that police are targeting black music events “by stealth” via an unofficial system requiring clubs to disclose the genre of music in risk assessments. One central London club owner said that police describe events as “high-risk” if the genre is associated with people of colour and can threaten to review clubs’ licences. “They know that these are Black shows,” said another person in the industry.
A Met officer who patrolled Soho has been accused of corruption after he allegedly took bribes in exchange for granting licences. The officer was described as being “in the pocket” of West End club bosses and security firms. He’s said to have received bribes that include a signed Wayne Rooney shirt, concert tickets and a £7,000 family holiday.
A serving Met officer is accused of raping a woman 14 years ago and will face trial in August. He denies the charges, which date back to when he was employed by Essex Police.
Another serving Met officer has been charged with outraging public decency on Hampstead Heath while off-duty. The alleged incident was supposedly spotted by an officer who happened to be in the area. He also denies the charges.
👪 The number of nurseries and primary schools in London is in freefall as the city’s housing market drives away young families. A depressing piece in the FT quantifies the exodus of young people and families from London that’s been triggered by the housing crisis. Twenty state-funded nurseries or primary schools in the city have been forced to close or merge between 2017 and 2022.
🏛️ Sadiq’s decision to move City Hall is coming under fire as it emerges that costs have hit £30m. Back in November 2020, the mayor chose to move the Greater London Authority from its current home by Tower Bridge to a former conference and exhibition centre called ‘The Crystal’, in a bid to save on rent. But unexpected costs for repairs and improvements at the Crystal have pushed up the cost of the move, leading critics to brand the decision “foolish”.
🗿 A huge new Damien Hirst sculpture has been unveiled on the banks of the Thames. The 60ft ‘Demon with Bowl’ is the artist’s sixth work to be installed on the Greenwich Peninsula. Hirst says he lived in Greenwich Peninsula in the 80s — back “when it was a wasteland” — and would collect things that washed up on the riverbank. This process apparently inspired the sculpture.
🚆 Work has begun to restore Waterloo station’s century-old glass roof. The ageing glass panels will be replaced with lightweight plastic, which should make the station feel “lighter and brighter”. Some disruption is expected, with a one-way system being introduced on Cab Road for taxis. The station is also being fitted with new gender-neutral loos.
🎵 A musical telling the story of the ‘first working-class model’ Twiggy is going to open in London. Close Up - the Twiggy Musical is being written and directed by Ben Elton, and will be at the Menier Chocolate Factory — near Borough market — from September 16.
What a net zero London looks like
The year is 2030. Outside city hall, a slightly greyer Sadiq Khan steps up to a lectern. As he shuffles his speech papers, his mind recalls the past seven years of progress. Solar panels now cover London’s rooftops. The sale of combustion engine cars was banned in the capital just a few months ago, and the city’s roads are now filled with electric charging points. Most Londoners have ditched the boiler in their home for a heat pump. Khan smiles. “We did it,” he declares to the crowd. “London has hit net zero.”
That, at least, is the plan. Two years ago, in the midst of the pandemic, Khan set a big target: London would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to essentially zero by 2030. It’s a far more ambitious timeline than the rest of the UK, which is aiming for 2050. But Khan thinks London can get there quicker — and he’s come up with a strategy to do it.
The return of Extinction Rebellion to central London this weekend has put climate change back on the agenda, so it’s time for a progress check. Where does London stand with respect to its targets? And what does a net zero London actually look like?
The latest data on London’s emissions, from 2020, is relatively promising. Although a lot of the reduction in carbon emissions was driven by the pandemic, London’s CO2e emissions stood at 28.1 million tonnes in 2020, down from 31.5 million tonnes in 2019. It’s a 38 per cent reduction on 1990 levels and a 45 per cent reduction since the peak of London’s emissions in 2000. And those falls are even more dramatic when adjusting for population — per capita emissions are down 53% on the 1990s, from 6.7 tCO2e in 1990 to 3.1 tCO2e in 2019. Londoners now have the lowest CO2 per capita emissions of any UK region.
That’s partly because Londoners own fewer cars and commute more on public transport. Homes are also more energy efficient in the capital because they are smaller on average and more tightly packed. While these features are common across cities, London’s relatively lower carbon emissions are also owed to successive mayors encouraging greater use of public transport and more energy-efficient new buildings.
But London still has to go further for net zero. To figure out what that path would look like, in 2020 Khan commissioned consultants Element Energy to come up with a set of strategies. They presented four scenarios to him, on a sliding scale of ambition. The toughest would have meant a ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles in London by 2025, and the scrapping of cars and boilers more than ten years old as soon as 2022. Overall car use in the capital would need to fall by 40% by 2030. But Khan turned that option down, and perhaps no wonder. One only has to look at his attempts to expand London’s ultra-low emissions zone to see the opposition a big crackdown on cars could have unleashed.
Instead, Khan opted for an intermediate strategy, known technically as ‘Accelerated Green’. It still means London will decarbonise much faster than the rest of the UK, and involves some big numbers. It means a nearly 40% reduction in the total heat demand of buildings, and 200,000 homes retrofitted with better insulation each year. Meanwhile, 2.2 million heat pumps will need to be in operation in London by 2030, along with a 27% reduction in the distance Londoners drive by car. Close to 500,000 homes will be connected to centralised heat networks, cutting out the need for individual boilers. Fossil-fuel heating systems in new developments will be banned by 2025.
But ambition aside, there’s still a huge roadblock for Khan to follow this path: his actual powers. There’s only so much decarbonisation in key areas that he can do as mayor, without needing the UK government stepping. In the case of London, the biggest sources of emissions to tackle are domestic (38% in 2020), followed by industrial & commercial (30%), and then transport (24%).
To take the first of those — a huge priority for tackling Londoners’ own domestic emissions is shifting houses and flats from gas boilers to a renewable or low-carbon heat source. That’s either through installing heat pumps or even hydrogen boilers. But as London mayor, Khan has no direct powers to encourage building retrofits for greater energy efficiency. This situation is compounded by London having a higher proportion of rental properties compared to the rest of the country. There are few incentives for landlords to retrofit their properties given that the tenant often receives the benefit of cheaper bills. Instead of directly pursuing policies to retrofit London domestic properties with renewable heat sources, Khan is limited to using planning laws for new builds.
And that’s what London’s chances of reaching net zero by 2030 really come down to. One way or another, Khan will require more nationwide policies or more powers devolved down to him. To a big degree, the power to reach net zero by 2030 is ultimately out of London’s own hands.
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