How Camden's task force is battling to reduce carbon emissions

BY ALEXIS ROWELL The main focus of the Camden Sustainability Task Force since its creation in 2006 has been how a local authority like ours can play its part in the battle against climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The key question we have tried to answer in thi

The main focus of the Camden Sustainability Task Force since its creation in 2006 has been how a local authority like ours can play its part in the battle against climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The key question we have tried to answer in this report therefore is how we reduce the carbon dioxide associated with transport in Camden, estimated to be around 15% of all our emissions.

Of course the most important issue in terms of transport-related carbon emissions is flying (which is not included in the 15%). There is no low carbon technological solution on the horizon for jet aircraft. Indeed if current trends continue, then aviation will be responsible for more than 100% of the UK government's carbon emissions target by 2050. And that's just the carbon dioxide. The problem is greatly increased by water vapour trails from jet aircraft. These are estimated to make the greenhouse effect of aeroplanes 2.7 times higher than their carbon emissions alone would suggest.

Task Force members are united in their opposition to the proposed third runway at Heathrow because of the extra carbon emissions this will mean. We have recommended that Camden Council join the 2M (Two Million Voices) campaign against Heathrow expansion, and lobby government for aviation and shipping emissions to be included in the carbon targets of the forthcoming Climate Change Bill. However we also know that we can not prevent people from flying - at least not until some form of carbon rationing comes in. So we have decided to propose a carbon offsetting solution for those who live and work in Camden. We would like to give businesses, institutions and residents the opportunity to offset the carbon emitted by the flights they take by paying into a Camden Carbon Offset Fund. We would then use the money to extract carbon from Camden's atmosphere by investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy generation projects here in the borough.

We would also like to see developers required to offset the carbon they can not deal with through energy efficiency and renewable energy generation. The government wants new buildings to be zero carbon by 2016. We want to see developers achieving carbon neutrality in 2008. We have therefore proposed that, as soon as is practicable, the council's planning policy on climate change be reviewed and, as in Milton Keynes, developers that do not build zero carbon developments be obliged to offset the remaining carbon into the Camden Carbon Offset Fund.

We in Camden have no direct control over trains, trucks, taxis and buses, or over residents that park off road or in motorcycle bays which are currently free. The Mayor has begun work on creating a revitalised London Overground system, of which the North London Link is a critical part. Trucks are theoretically covered by the Mayor's new Low Emissions Zone although we have asked officers to look at whether a freight deconsolidation terminal would make sense on the borders of Camden, to decant loads into smaller, more environmentally friendly vehicles. Black cabs are being refitted to run on Liquid Petroleum Gas which produces lower emissions than diesel. Transport for London has a programme of moving to hydrogen buses which should pay dividends in the long term although there are significant cost hurdles to surmount first. Electricity for the London Underground and Overground can be increasingly produced from renewable sources, and possibly even from the Combined Heat and Power systems that the Task Force has recommended for Camden's housing estates.

One of our key goals is to persuade residents to cut down on car use. However we have relatively few devices to achieve this. We therefore concluded that the best approach would be a range of incentives to make more environmentally friendly options like walking, cycling, public transport and car clubs more attractive. Recommendations include: reducing vehicle speeds to 20mph across Camden; an extension of separated cycle lanes to make cycling safer; a free bike system such as Paris has just installed; an increase in car club spaces across the borough; and more signposts for walkers indicating distances and walking times.

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We do have direct influence over Camden's corporate fleet of 343 vehicles. Camden will shortly become the first local authority in the country to trial biomethane made from food waste. If this is a success, then we would like to see our fleet use biomethane and the council encouraging businesses and institutions to use it as a vehicle fuel. Biomethane - which can be derived from food waste, landfill gas, animal slurries or sewage - produces almost no carbon or noxious emissions, and because it comes from waste it does not displace crops.

We have attempted to draw many of our recommendations together in a plan - devised by a group of parents, cyclists, residents and Task Force members - to transform Fitzjohn's Avenue, the epicentre of the school run, into a more sustainable streetscape. Among the suggestions are: a 20 mph speed limit policed by average speed cameras; shared space at all junctions (ie raising the road to pavement level); properly separated cycle paths both up and down; the re-establishment of the verge as genuine green space wherever possible; echelon (herring bone) parking as in Fairfax Road or Church Row, with any extra spaces allocated to electric car charging points and car club spaces; a review of the Swiss Cottage gyratory system with a view to making Finchley Rd and Adelaide Rd two way, and with the space between the library and the cinema being reclaimed as new open green space; increased frequency of the 603 bus in both directions; and cycle training for parents and children on how to cycle safely to school together.

Martin Luther King was speaking of another age when he said: ""We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today; we are confronted with the fierce urgency of now; in this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late." His words are, if anything, even more apposite today. We can not wait. We need to act now. All of us.

Cllr Alexis Rowell

Chair, Camden Sustainability Task Force