London last summer was the trailer for a climate disaster movie. Here’s how to stop that coming true

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

There is no greater challenge facing our capital, our country and our world than the climate crisis. The only way we can keep the hope of limiting global heating to 1.5C is if we commit to further and faster action as cities and countries.

That’s why we must work together wherever possible – across the political divide – to help achieve net zero by cleaning up our rivers and air, insulating our homes, unlocking a revolution in renewable power and ending our toxic reliance on polluting vehicles.

Last summer, London faced record-breaking 40C weather, causing wildfires and the busiest day for the London fire brigade since the blitz. The year before, we saw the devastating impact of flooding, leaving tube stations filled with water, roads impassable and people losing their homes. All these things are a trailer for a movie we really don’t want to watch, which is why national and local leadership is so important.

The net zero review, published earlier this year, serves as a critical blueprint for success in this mission, and it recognises the important role of local leaders. But the review also made clear that reaching net zero is not just about avoiding climate catastrophe, but about grasping the opportunity to reap the economic benefits of green economic growth.

This is especially true of megacities, such as London. London is the capital of green finance and trading and we are both determined to keep London at the forefront of the international climate movement. We want London and the UK to lead the way as much as possible. This includes continuing to leverage the power of the C40 network of global cities to help inspire and spearhead global action.

In London, we have already seen significant progress. The city has delivered the largest electric bus fleet in western Europe, seen a fivefold increase in protected cycling lanes since 2016, invested tens of millions in making homes and businesses more energy efficient, and delivered record amounts of investment in green jobs, skills and infrastructure as part of its green new deal. This action has been helped by the certainty of having a legal target to reach net zero in national law, but also because London has been determined to lead the way, bringing forward the net zero target in London to 2030, faster than any comparable city.

However, neither of us are under any illusion that achieving our goals will be easy. The same old naysayers in politics and punditry may have stopped overtly questioning the science of climate change, but they remain hostile to the actual action needed to prevent it destroying our world. They are becoming climate delayers.

Related: Ultra low emissions zone expansion cut London pollutants by up to 26% – study

Even with the war in Ukraine revealing another reason to reject fossil fuel reliance, there are still those who seem to think we should shelve plans for our renewable power future. And, in London, the planned expansion of the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) – a policy proved to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions – has been attracting extreme opposition from a small group of anti-green campaigners.

Of course, there are some Londoners with genuine concerns about Ulez. They are worried about what it could mean for them, particularly during this cost of living crisis. That’s why it’s right that there is help for those who need support, with a large scrappage scheme for low-income Londoners, small businesses, charities and disabled Londoners.

Ulez was first introduced in 2019 because it was not acceptable to maintain the status quo of allowing highly polluting vehicles to pump out toxic fumes, leading to premature deaths and a whole range of illnesses. The Ulez so far has ensured 4 million Londoners can breathe cleaner air. We now need to protect the health of all Londoners and reduce carbon emissions further.

Of course, this kind of change can be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary if we are to make our cities cleaner, healthier places to live, work and raise a family.

The net zero review was clear that tackling the climate crisis and air pollution brings with it multiple benefits, including saving our health and social care sector up to £5.3bn by 2035. Cities around the world are recognising that without action, the welfare of their populations will be increasingly threatened, and London must be no different.

We should celebrate the international commitments to tackle climate change that we have agreed in recent years, and we should be proud of the commitments shown by mayors as part of the C40 network of major cities. However, treaties and agreements are just pieces of paper. We always knew that the actual implementation of climate action would be the hard bit, as we are seeing in London now. Rather than backing down, the challenges we face must make us ever more determined to work together, forge cross-party agreement and overcome the influence of the doubters and delayers.

As politicians from different political parties, we want to set an example of what’s possible. We want to work together to remind investors that net zero is a huge opportunity, and that London is always open to it. We want to work together to inspire other politicians, at home and abroad, to follow our lead by putting tribal politics to one side. We want to work together so that we don’t let down younger generations who are, rightly, demanding faster action. And we want to work together to prove to our fellow citizens and colleagues that a better way is possible – and that the long-term health of our people and planet can come ahead of short-term politics.

  • Sadiq Khan is the Labour mayor of London and Chris Skidmore is the Conservative MP for Kingswood

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