A greener London must also be socially just

The Green candidate for mayor sets out her plans for a cleaner, fairer capital


As I write this, I’m gearing up for a London mayoral hustings event organised by the six major campaign groups banding under the name the Green Alliance for what is billed as Greener London Week.

This election has been billed as the greenest ever. That’s partly because Zac Goldsmith started his career as a keen environmentalist, and also because our own increased prominence as a party has helped bring green issues to the fore.

But it’s mainly because Londoners are crying out for Boris Johnson’s successor to take bold steps to tackle air pollution and climate change.

As someone who recently helped launch the 100% London campaign to get our campaign running entirely from clean energy by 2050, and who in 2007 helped launch the Greater London Authority’s first action plan on climate, I’m delighted that these issues are being treated with the seriousness they deserve.

The vision put forward by the Green Alliance is full of exciting and practical suggestions for me and my fellow candidates to sign up to. Personally I’ll be surprised if Zac Goldsmith supports the call to ban diesel vehicles in central London when congestion is high, or if Sadiq Khan will agree to no new roads if they increase pollution. But if they prove me wrong, nobody will be more pleased than me.

A lot of the strongest ideas from the Green Alliance deal with air pollution. While I’m happy to support them, I worry they fall short of delivering environmental justice for all Londoners.

For example, there is no mention of traffic reduction even though a third of Londoners don’t own a car. That’s more than two million people, many of them poor or old, contributing far less to pollution than drivers, but all having to breathe the same filthy air.

London did boast more than a decade of success in reducing traffic, until Boris Johnson mucked things up.

Around a million vehicle journeys a year disappeared from our roads in a period when London’s population grew by around 100,000 per annum. The Greens on the London Assembly contributed to that success by using their leverage over Ken Livingstone’s budget to promote cycling, walking and alternatives to car travel. So it shows what’s possible when the will is there.

Whoever is the next mayor needs to tackle rising traffic. Organisations representing town-planners, engineers, blue-chip businesses, motorists and small firms all agree that a smarter and wider form of congestion charging is required.

I would start developing and consulting upon this as soon as I was elected, and I am the only candidate honest enough to talk about it during the campaign.

The money raised from the scheme would of course go directly into keeping public transport fares down for hard-hit passengers, as well as improved bus, Tube and train services, and better facilities for cycling.

Social justice and environmental justice are linked and the way we deal with the many problems our capital faces should reflect that. If we want Londoners to reduce climate change emissions, we should focus on reducing fuel poverty and insulating the homes of London’s poorest communities.

If we want to reduce the noise and pollution from London’s airports, we should push for heavier charges for those who go on multiple leisure flights each year.

That’s why I think the Green Alliance demands are incredibly sensible, but I would like to go further and deliver a transformation to a cleaner, greener London that benefits all Londoners, poor as well as rich.

Sian Berry is the Green Party candidate for mayor of London

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