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Climate emergency: Is 2030 a realistic carbon neutral target? We ask council bosses

PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 October 2019 | UPDATED: 11:40 24 October 2019

Solar panels on top of Camden Council's York Way depot are now operational. Picture: Camden Council

Solar panels on top of Camden Council's York Way depot are now operational. Picture: Camden Council

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Meeting Camden Council's target of making the borough carbon neutral by 2030 is "doable with the right support", according to the town hall's environment chief.

Cllr Adam Harrison with an electric vehicle charging point. Picturee: Camden CouncilCllr Adam Harrison with an electric vehicle charging point. Picturee: Camden Council

Cllr Adam Harrison added: "We'll push everyone, we'll do everything we can. But there is a huge gap between what we can do, what we want to, and what we need to.

"We will need the government to step up and help."

Over the border in Haringey, the target is more cautious - to investigate whether a 2030 date is possible. Council officers are also investigating when the earliest achievable target is, according to Cllr Kirsten Hearn who holds the environment brief. She said: "It's down to 2041, and I'm challenging officers: 'Can you look again?'"

Barnet Council this year refused to declare a climate emergency, arguing that the government had and it was a matter of national policy, but Westminster this month did so - recognising the climate crisis and setting a carbon neutral target of 2040.

Haringey Council's Cllr Kirsten Hearn at an electric car charging point. Picture: Haringey CouncilHaringey Council's Cllr Kirsten Hearn at an electric car charging point. Picture: Haringey Council

Camden's Cllr Harrison told the Ham&High about the progress being made. He said: "We are going as quickly as we can. There are schemes like Somers Town Energy; we are encouraging people to switch to solar."

The council has championed district heating systems as a way of decreasing emissions and improving efficiency, but for some - including Camden's opposition leader Cllr Oliver Cooper in our letters pages last week - there needs to be more investment in alternatives to gas boilers. But Cllr Harrison said the technology wasn't cost-effective enough yet, though the way district heating systems had been built meant it should be easier to convert them when the time came.

Cllr Harrison added: "We will need funding but it's not just a question of money, it's one of policy and getting people to travel differently. We think we can build up quite quickly with government support."

Haringey's Cllr Hearn told this newspaper: "That target requires all homes to be zero carbon. We can refurbish our own but we are dependent on homeowners to do that themselves."

Camden Council's Somers Town Energy district heating project. Picture: Camden CouncilCamden Council's Somers Town Energy district heating project. Picture: Camden Council

She added the town hall had been pushing developers to do more as part of section 106 planning obligations. "It's been a challenge because developers are much more interested in the financial benefits from what they are doing, but it's a very clear part of our policy," she said. She added the council was pressuring developers to build carbon neutrally, rather than paying an "offset" charge.

"In terms of what the council are doing, it's going to the next step - we have changed our energy provider to a much greener supplier; we are also looking at putting in district heating systems in our Homes for Haringey estates."

A huge chunk of carbon emissions across north London comes from transport, and across boroughs traffic calming and active travel schemes have been introduced to varying degrees.

Camden has three operational Healthy School Streets and is rolling out more, while trialling a pedestrianisation of part of Camden High Street. Cllr Harrison said: "The obvious [thing] is getting people to walk and cycle more and use public transport.

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"It's something we have to do carefully. You have go to look at other things - how easy is it to cross roads at junctions? Is it safe? Does it give priority to pedestrians?

"Healthy School Streets are important because they help improve air quality around schools. Immediately, it helps people think more carefully: Do I need to make this journey by car? We are looking to work with a number of of schools to bring forward more schemes. The data show they do change behaviour."

Cllr Hearn said her council was working to achieve a similar shift in transport habits.

She said: "I feel quite strongly that in a London borough with transport links like ours there's very little excuse and very little reason for people to use cars most of the time. You need to discourage car use by making other forms of transport easier for people.

"We are still campaigning for a bus route that goes up to Muswell Hill and around Highgate. I think we need to reduce car use and car parking - there are too many roads where it is impossible to get two buses alongside each other."

She added: "Part of this is we need to look at low traffic areas like in and around Crouch End.

"We don't have particularly good cycling routes in the borough. I am ashamed to say we're perhaps lagging behind some others. We need to find a way of making it safer to cycle through Crouch End.

"Talking to lots of older and disabled people, there can be a huge difficulty getting along the pavement."

Earlier in October, Haringey trialled a series of road layout changes as part of the Liveable Crouch End project. These were not universally welcomed. Cllr Hearn said while there had been complaints, she had also received positive messages and the complaints were at least engagement and feedback that would be used to improve plans.

"I do believe very strongly that we need to have less traffic on our roads. People get hacked off, quite reasonably, when they don't know how they are getting from A to B - but even so we can't go on living with the air we are breathing."

Amid calls to make the climate emergency part of everything the council is doing, Camden's Cllr Harrison said: "We need to find a way of assessing the carbon impact of part of all of our decisions.

"In procurement, we have put in place a social value framework to make sure we are achieving socially positive outcomes from the council's spending decisions."

After Westminster Council declared a climate emergency, environment chief Cllr Tim Mitchell said introducing a diesel surcharge, air quality inspections at schools and installing the most electric car charging points in London were key achievements, but Labour's Cllr Pancho Lewis said while he was pleased, the target did not go far enough and should aim for 2030 instead.

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