A green recovery could help us both recover economically from Covid-19 and tackle the climate emergency, by delivering more sustainable growth and transitioning to a low-carbon economy. So how can cross-sector working come up with the solutions London needs to move towards a green recovery?
As part of our Achieving Net Zero Digital Conference Week, we hosted a workshop that explored the practical steps needed to deliver the green recovery. This is a summary of the speakers’ presentations and the ideas that emerged from participants breakout groups during the workshop, but you can watch the video to get all the insights.
London’s Green Recovery
A green recovery could open up new sectors of the economy, help existing sectors adapt to change and become more resilient, and create new jobs, for example in renewable energy. However, Covid-19 presents us with a challenging set of circumstances in which to do this.
London’s economy is vulnerable and public sector budgets are under threat. Social inequalities have been widened during the crisis and movements like Black Lives Matter have amplified calls for meaningful change. A recent survey by the London Assembly also suggests that 1 in 7 Londoners now want to leave the city.
However, lockdown has also shown us what a different version of London can look like, with more people walking and cycling, communities coming together and organisations becoming more flexible and resilient.
The role of local authorities
Bethany Pepper, Programme and Policy Lead for Climate Change and Sustainability at LB Richmond and Wandsworth, outlined the different roles of local authorities – including procurer of services, social landlord and civic leader – and the huge role they have to play in shaping and influencing the green recovery.
As social landlords, they can directly stimulate the green recovery through retrofitting existing council stock. As civic leaders, they can encourage behaviour change and support residents to make low-carbon choices.
They do face lots of barriers though, including political differences within the council, a lack of in-house expertise and uncertain funding streams. To overcome these barriers, Bethany suggested that councils need to cooperate with each other rather than compete, and be more open to the external expertise of the private sector and academia.
Achieving a low-carbon transport system
Transitioning to a net zero transport system brings quick-win opportunities for reducing emissions, along with wider benefits. The key to achieving this, argued Esme Stallard, Climate Change and Cities Consultant at Arup, is to think about how we can make it easier for communities to choose low-carbon options.
Whilst there are lessons to learn from private-sector app-based mobility services, such as ride-sharing platforms, from a social and environmental point of view, most of these apps neither reduce car use nor encourage public transport use.
Local authorities should look at public transport in a more integrated way, to enable people to make more, and longer, journeys. More importantly, they should use data to better understand the community’s needs. This will mean that the right low-carbon transport options are put in place in the right areas.
Social sustainability is as important as carbon neutrality
Patrick Devlin, Equity Partner, Pollard Thomas Edwards explained that the performance gap between energy efficiency claims for designs and the energy efficiency of the buildings in use was between 60% and 300% worse.
To close this gap requires structural legislative change as well as cultural change. If the playing field were levelled between different providers (developers, local authorities, housing associations) then there would be no legitimate objection to stringent, post-occupancy testing.
He also stressed that everything from food security to transport use and diversity of employment is crucial to the establishment of sustainable healthy living models. Planning needs to consider links beyond the individual development or even the masterplan to promote healthy, socially sustainable communities that are capable of carbon-positive living.
Towards solutions for driving the green recovery
Our workshop participants gathered in small cross-sector groups to debate the practical steps required for London’s green recovery and brainstorm some feasible ideas for making sure that post-pandemic London is as sustainable as it can be.
Here are some snapshots of their ideas:
All three speakers were impressed by the range and breadth of people’s ideas. In their closing comments, they acknowledged the importance of providing people with the knowledge that will drive behaviour change and stressed that the green recovery will be a success if sustainable options become the easiest options for people. Data is key here and needed to demonstrate progress to people and politicians. They also noted the importance of language, e.g. streets and not roads emphasising that they are for all people, not just vehicles.