Opinion: Extinction Rebellion's message is clear
PUBLISHED: 11:30 02 May 2019
Ask about Extinction Rebellion's shutdown of parts of London and opinion will quickly divide.
But there is no doubt that their message got through. And on the environment – from air quality, to carbon reduction, to species protection – we all need to act.
Last week Keir Starmer and I launched Camden's new Clean Air Plan.
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We were the first council to aim for the healthier World Health Organization air quality levels: the study we commissioned from King's College London shows this is achievable, but that we need more action from European level down. To ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction, we set up a partnership between those who produce air pollution and those affected by it – nearly all of us fall into both categories. We now have commitments from organisations like John Lewis pledging to use lorries run entirely on bio methane, to Great Ormond Street Hospital who plan to consolidate patient transport.
While we clean up our air, the challenge – in many ways greater – remains of climate change. Camden has declared a Climate Emergency and, as with our clean air endeavours, we want to draw on the strengths of our borough. This summer we will convene a Citizens' Assembly to consider the action we can take; in April 2020 we will agree a new borough environment plan.
2020 marks the culmination of our current 10-year climate plan – throughout this decade the council has taken steps to cut carbon, and borough-wide CO2 emissions have fallen one-third. We have put in place innovative schemes such as Somers Town Energy, which supplies heat to over 500 homes. We are switching our street lighting over to LED, which brings immense savings in both energy and cost. And last year we set up the Camden Climate Fund which can help fund renewable energy and efficiency measures in homes, businesses, and community spaces.
But getting the new environment plan right for the 2020s will be crucial. And back to Extinction Rebellion: too much of the devastation of species loss has taken place in our lifetimes, with humanity wiping out 60 per cent of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles in the last 50 years. This is too big a challenge for one authority, but inner London boroughs need to contribute as much as anyone else, if not more: urban environments are vital for continued protection of some species – like the hedgehog which is now faring better in cities while numbers plummet in the countryside.
In Camden we have seen grassroots action such as new bug hotels in Russell Square, and bat boxes secured by the council through planning applications. This year Camden will be writing a new Plan for Biodiversity, building on and encouraging actions to help species. Camden's parks, residents' balconies and gardens, and places like Hampstead Heath can all play their part. And with recent UCL-Camden Council research revealing that the Heath can store almost as much carbon as tropical rainforests, it is clear that we not only have an opportunity – but a duty – to do all we can to protect our planet.