The first act of the incoming Labour adminstration on Tuesday night was to declare a climate emergency. I have had some correspondence and conversations about this. It was quite interesting. There have been three strands. The Tories have all said that it is 'meaningless tokenism', Labour have said it shows a deep commitment to addressing an existential threat and the Greens are saying that it doesn't go far enough.
A couple of correspondents have asked me what I think. My answer has always been to such questions "think global, act local". In a global population of around 6 billion, what difference can the 350,000 odd residents of Barnet make? The answer is none on our own, but if every similar community across the planet followed the example of Barnet, we'd have a chance. We cannot wait for governments, the UN, trading blocks to fall in line. We cannot wait for the 'worst offenders' to change their ways. We have to act. That is my 'grand take' on the declaration.
Now however comes the difficult bit. What practical measures will Barnet Council take? This blog, through our environment Monday series of blogs has been campaigning for this for years. The aspiration should be to make Barnet Council carbon neutral. Let me outline a few things that will make a practical difference and get their house in order.
1. Council buildings and premises
These should all have solar panels, battery backups, wind turbines, ground and air sourced heat pumps, proper insulation, where these are appropriate. We've been campaigning for local libraries to have solar panels more or less since the inception of this blog.
2. Make Council vehicles clean
Barnet Council has a fleet of hundreds of vehicles. All of these should be transitioned to non polluting fuels. Council car parking spaces should only be available to non polluting vehicles. The Mayoral Limo should be a non polluting vehicle.
3. Plant more trees and shrubs
Trees and shrubs convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and use the carbon to grow. The more trees and shrubs we have, the more carbon is sucked out of the atmosphere. Furthermore, many shrubs with sticky leaves can be planted on roadsides and these remove particulates that are emitted by traffic. Barnet needs a strategy to plant these at pollution hotspots and on main roads.
4. Protect trees, green space and biodiverse habitats
There has been much talk of building on green belt and other metropolitan open land. Whilst there is a housing crisis that needs to be addressed, it this is done at the expense of green space, the 'Climate emergency' declaration will mean nothing.
5. Build green public transport networks
Barnet and Croydon are similar size boroughs, both geographically and in terms of population. Both are on the edge of London. Croydon has tramlink, Barnet has gridlock. We need to have a proper transport plan that ends the gridlock. The Conservative administration has been committed to the West London Orbital railway. Labour needs to make a similar commitment. Furthermore, we need to develop a tram network. I would like to see this based on hydrogen cell technology, which would have far lower build costs. We need a proper transport strategy, that includes safe cycleways, improved walking routes and step free access to public transport. Proper cycle hire schemes would be another great initiative, especially at transport hubs.
6. Planning conditions
No new building in Barnet should be built if it is not carbon neutral. If solar panels etc are impractical, developers should pay to have them installed in other locations, such as for low income families who can't afford them. This would lower their energy bills.
7. Solar panels for social housing
I'd set a target for every council house in Barnet that can have solar panels to have them, to have solar panels installed by 2028. I'd give residents long term loans to repay this, which would have a cost of 50% of the saving, so that there was no net cost to the resident and they'd have lower energy bills.
Every home in Barnet should be properly insulated. All social housing should be brought up to standard as a matter of urgency. This will help alleviate the energy costs crisis for residents. Help should also be improved for less well off households in Barnet, who do not live in properly insulated properties.
9. Energy effiency in social housing
Barnet Council should ensure that energy efficient bulbs, appliances, heating etc are used in social housing. Where possible air or ground sourced heat pumps should be used. This needs to be done in conjunction with insulation in many cases.
10. Traffic flow improvement
Cars sitting idle in traffic is a huge generator of pollution. The best way to reduce this is to remove as many car journeys as possbible from roads, by using walking, cycling and public transport. It should however be recognised that this isn't always possible. School admission policies should be amended to reduce the impact of the school run. Where possible, locality should be a key factor. I'd like to see parking exclusion zones around schools in drop off/pick up hours. If parents had to walk a minimum of 250 metres to schools, then this would mean a huge drop off in congestion.
11. Waste reduction
Waste rubbish has a huge carbon footprint and is bad for the environment. The less we produce, the less energy the council has to spend processing it and the less is incinerated. We need an active programme to reduce packaging.
12. The private sector
Incentives for firms to invest in carbon neutral technologies, get employees to cycle, walk and use public transport and be 'good citizens'. I'd like to see the rating system amended to make good companies pay less. I recognise that this is a national issue, but Barnet should start by making the case.
All of these things would not only reduce the carbon footprint of the people of Barnet, they would have a massive positive impact on the lives of local people.