Climate Emergency: WLS response to ‘Wandsworth Environment & Sustainability Strategy’ update

Wandsworth’s Climate Emergency Action Plan (WESS):

What’s happening?

And what does it mean for Transport in our borough?

Last Thursday, January 23, was a real Red Letter day

We all know there is a gathering consensus. Not just that climate change is happening, but that it is now tipping into Climate instability. The past year has shown us – the raging fires in Australia, California and Portugal; ever more powerful and destructive hurricanes sweeping across the Caribbean into North America; unprecedented floods in East Africa; equally devastating droughts in South Africa; Moscow’s temperature rising 1 Degree Centigrade every decade (not the 1 Degree since the start of the industrial age that the planet as a whole has experienced).

Last July Wandsworth Council responded to the huge 12,000+ petition Wandsworth residents presented by declaring a Climate Emergency. This message is to help us all get up to speed on what has happened since.

How unique is Wandsworth’s Declaration of a State of Climate Emergency?

  • Of London’s 33 local authorities, 26 of them have now done likewise.
  • In England as a whole, 285 of its 435 local authorities have also declared a Climate Emergency.
  • In recent months, several towns and cities around the country – from Birmingham and Brighton to York – have announced plans to get people to reduce their Carbon emissions, help clean up the Air, and sort out Congestion – by using their private cars less, and taking to public transport, cycling and walking more.
  • In Birmingham the nationwide Citizens Assembly on the Climate Emergency held its first meeting on two days ago on 25 January. 110 people, comprising a carefully selected cross-section of the whole population, held its first meeting at the request of the six House of Commons Select Committees that initiated this process, to discuss and recommend to the Government what is to be done.

A real head of steam is building up behind taking the Climate Emergency seriously.

Was there anything remarkable about Wandsworth’s Declaration in July?

Yes indeed. Conservative and Labour Councillors came together to adopt it. I know many local people will have said ‘Hats off’ to them for putting aside the usual party animosities and uniting to confront the single gravest threat that exists to the lives of the next generation.

And since that Declaration?

Wandsworth Council set up a small working team to draw up an Action Plan to decide what to do. The big fear was that many Councils would sit back after their Declarations and do little or nothing. In fact, only 35 Councils seem actually to have produced Action Plans so far. And Wandsworth is one of them.

Can you get hold of Wandsworth’s first Annual Action Plan?

Yes.  You can read it on-line.And print it out, if you like. It comprises 3 documents:

Has the Action Plan been adopted?

Last Thursday evening, 23 January, the Council’s Corporate Resources and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) met to consider the Plan. It proved a most extraordinary evening to witness. And really exhilarating.

  • Councillors spent, quite literally, the first 2 ½ hours listening to, and discussing with, seven local residents organizations. These included Parents for Future (South West London branch), the Wandsworth 10,000+ Petition organisers (whose action had triggered the Declaration by the Council), Wandsworth XR (Extinction Rebellion), Transition Town Tooting, the Wandsworth Green Party, and two others. Each set out their suggestions, and then responded to Councillors’ questions.
  • Several Councillors who were not members of the Committee also decided to come along and sat in on the meeting.
  • The public gallery was crowded with local people and campaigners; and an overspill room had to be arranged to accommodate us all.

£5 million was earmarked to implement the first wave of measures to reduce CO2 emissions.

  • The Finance Committee, and the Cabinet Member reporting to it, decided to change their names, adding in the words ‘Environment’ or ‘Climate Emergency’.
  • One older Councillor, a Conservative, commented that this meeting of the Committee was the most interesting, and with the most constructive discussion, he had ever attended.
  • The First Annual Action Plan was then approved by the Councillors from both parties unanimously – Conservative majority and Labour opposition.

Is Wandsworth only trying to cut its own CO2 emissions as a Council?

Absolutely not. That’s the most important thing about the Action Plan. The first section is about what actions the Council will take to start reducing its own carbon footprint. But the second part is about the borough as a whole – and how the Council intends to lead the whole community of us living here into the actions we all need to take to reduce our own Carbon emissions.

Is anything else remarkable about this first Annual Action Plan?

Absolutely yes – its sense of urgency. It realizes we all need to act fast. Ten years is the horizon. By 2030 the Council and the whole Wandsworth populaton need to be ‘carbon neutral’. That is not the same as ‘zero carbon’. But it is a gigantic leap forward. It means that by 2030 all of us in the borough will have so reduced our carbon emissions that what we still emit can hopefully be largely balanced out by funding an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere in the world.

What other commitments does the Action Plan make?

  • The Action Plan is carefully structured, almost like a Spreadsheet: Sector (the first is, quite rightly, Sustainable Transport); Measure/Target; Specific Actions; Cost; Carbon Reduction Impact (low, medium, high); Co-benefits (e.g. improved air quality; lower energy costs; reduced waste, increased biodiversity; healthy lifestyles; low carbon behaviour (mainly Walking & Cycling); greener neighbourhoods etc); Timeline (Year and which quarter); Lead Officer(s) responsible for delivering.
  • From now on, every single Officer’s Paper to any Wandsworth Council Overview & Scrutiny Committee must contain a section indicating the impact on the Climate Emergency and Environment of any measures and policies approval is being sought for.
  • Top-level Management of the process: A Climate Change Steering Group comprising senior Officers across departments, mainly at Assistant Director level, has been formed to superintend the whole process of rolling out the measures to be taken.
  • Community engagement: The Action Plan is seen as only a first step. The Council is committed to serious engagement in order to formulate revised and additional specific actions. Its summary states: “Through real engagement with community groups, residents and businesses and through additional dedicated resources, the Council will build on this plan with further actions developed and delivered over the next ten years.” Paragraph 7 reiterates this: “The Council is committing to working with residents, communities and businesses in partnership to ensure we co-produce and continuously improve its actions to address this emergency. This is a core underpinning principle of this work, recognising that this is an emerging area and that the Council working alone will never have all the answers.To take one example, an Air Quality Action Plan Partnership Group will be set up.
  • Carbon literacy training for Council staff:  This started last December when a Senior Management Conference comprising over 150 senior officers spent a whole afternoon being educated.

What does all this mean for Transport in our Borough?

Wandsworth Living Streets made a raft of suggestions to the Officers preparing the Action Plan during the whole process. Paragraph 28 of the Officer’s Paper summarises how they dealt with these suggestions. “Specific points raised on parking costs for Zip cars, differential car parking charges, charges based on emissions, numbers of car parking spaces and dropped kerbshave been brought together into two overarching actions – “ Exploring increased differential parking permit charges to discourage higher polluting and carbon emitting vehicles” and “Review policies surrounding parking to encourage a modal shift in transport from cars to alternative options (including exploring reducing the number of dropped kerbs) going forward”.

But there is one big disappointment in the Action Plan – barely no mention of Walking.  Yet Walking is the single most used way of making very short trips – to and from buses and stations, the local shops, leisure centres, libraries and so on. It is a failure on our part that it goes largely unmentioned. In this, of course, Wandsworth is not alone. Other Councils often do not realize the absolute centrality to so many Londoners of walking their short trips, and what they require of our streets to be attractive and safe to walk along.

The Task ahead of us in Wandsworth Living Streets

All of us individual residents, local groups and societies, must in the months ahead do everything we can to raise awareness among our Councillors and Officers in Wandsworth of how important Walking is as the most used, zero carbon way of travelling short distances. And what an important part a more Walking-enabling public realm – everything from pavements to road crossings – can play in reducing Transport sector carbon emissions, and at the same time improving people’s health and well-being.

All the best,

Robert Molteno

Secretary, Wandsworth Living Streets