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Climate Action Plan: London

This article was written by Hana Loftus in March 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.

London%20Street.jpg Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, is no stranger to making bold and often controversial moves - a recent deal with Hugo Chavez to buy cheap oil in exchange for sending officials to help with infrastructure planning being a good example. But he is also well known for his enthusiasm for all things green - we've covered his policies and projects many times before. This week he launched by far the most radical green initiative yet - a climate change action plan that aims to reduce London's emissions by 60% from 1990 levels, by 2025.

So much for the aspiration, hailed by environmental pressure groups as "probably the best city-level plan of its kind in the world," -- what about the tools to make it work? Livingstone has set aside £47m per year for the initiative but, it has to be said, £47m is not a lot of ready cash.

Livingstone is placing a lot of emphasis on behavioral change of Londoners, estimating that London could achieve 25% of the reduction through these no-cost measures. "The simple message is this: to tackle climate change you do not have to reduce your quality of life, but you do have to change the way you live." He wants Londoners to use energy-efficient light bulbs and switch off appliances, which he claims can achieve half the necessary reduction in emissions from existing homes, if only two-thirds of citizens take action. He wants the commercial sector to switch off lights and equipment at night and to avoid inefficient heating and cooling of buildings.

Another key plank of the plan is to take a quarter of London off-grid and onto decentralized local energy systems, primarily CHP. He wants CHP to be the norm for all new development in the city, as well as massively increasing the production of renewable energy at all scales, from domestic solar to major wind installations. The plan estimates that nearly half the total reduction in emissions could be achieved through lowering the carbon-intensity of London's energy supply. Other parts of the plan include charging high-emissions cars more to enter central London, heavy subsidy for loft and wall insulation of existing homes (with it becoming free for those on state benefits), and improvements to the standard of new built development. Much of the cash will go on extensive marketing campaigns to encourage the behavioral change the plan requires. The Mayor also wants "London to become the world’s leading center for research and financial development on climate change during the next five years."

However, the report states one thing baldly: London can't meet these ambitious targets without national-level policy change. The Mayor claims that although a 20% reduction could be achieved by 2016, this would only increase to 30% by 2025 if national action does not occur. He clearly states that he will lobby hard for a tougher national framework. "The absolute priority for the Mayor, therefore, is to work with national government to introduce a comprehensive system of carbon pricing." Livingstone is placing climate change at the heart of his political platform, ahead of the mayoral elections next year, but is wary to promise more than he can achieve.

The plan is an ambitious start, placing a marker for how far London needs to go in order to meet a contraction and convergence target - the 60% target is derived from what London's share of global carbon emissions should be, in a C&C model. Probably the most radical part may be taking so much of the city effectively off-grid, while maintaining a reliable energy supply. The big if, however, is aviation; not included in the 60% target but mentioned on virtually every page of the plan as a matter that London cannot control on its own. Livingstone has come out against runway expansion, but challenges the national government to take decisive action to curb flying. The somber truth is that even if all other sectors achieve the 60% cut, the increase in London's aviation emissions will mean a net reduction of only 20%. Acknowledging this challenge, and taking national and international action, is long overdue.

London's Climate Change Action Plan is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.

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