'Spin', solar panels and LTNs – Sian Berry on COP26 and future of Camden

World politicians have descended on Glasgow amid dire warnings of the planet's future

World politicians have descended on Glasgow amid dire warnings of the planet's future - Credit: PA

Less rhetoric, more action – that’s what the Camden Green Party is demanding of local and global leaders coming out of COP26.

Cllr Sian Berry wants to see less “spin”, and more hard truths. Speaking to the Ham&High the Camden Green leader called on local authorities to be honest with the existential challenges posed by the climate emergency.

“Quite honestly the things we're doing right now are nowhere near enough,” the Highgate councillor said. “Greta Thunberg says it so well: it's lots of blah blah blah and not enough action.”

The London Assembly member concedes Camden is limited to what it can achieve on its own, but wants the town hall to push Whitehall to do much more. 

“What I'm seeing is a lot of local government being self-congratulatory about what they're doing,” Cllr Berry said.

Sian Berry says bold, immediate action is imperative

Sian Berry says bold, immediate action is required - Credit: PA

“I don't think that's the right approach because I think every level of government needs to be pushing the level above it to do more.” 

Cllr Berry continued: “The action isn't happening yet and the council will say ‘a lot of this is stuff we can’t do ourselves’, but that's the point. They need to be much stronger in saying things are not rosy in Camden.  

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“We are stuck with far too much traffic, our homes are leaky, our renters and people in social housing are living in mouldy homes that are cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, and they pay too much for their energy. We have to act.”

Climate activists hold giant illuminated letters at COP26

Climate activists hold giant illuminated letters at COP26 - Credit: PA

The COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow is aiming to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.  

The former Green Party co-leader said there is simply no more time to waste. 

“If we don't really start making emissions reductions in the next couple of years then trying to stay below 1.5C, beyond which we know there are disastrous tipping points, will become impossible," she said.

Cllr Berry praised Camden for holding the UK’s first citizens’ assembly in 2019. However she urged the town hall to go beyond “bits and pieces” eco schemes to create a circular and sustainable economy, with “repairing and re-using" at its heart. 

“We've got to be carbon neutral. We've got to be having no further impact on climate emissions by 2030 at the latest,” the London Assembly member said. 

“That means all our emissions, not just things we consume directly within Camden, our transport and our homes and our fuel use within Camden itself, but the things that we buy and consume as well.  

“That has been left out of almost all climate targets set by government so far, and that's the big gap.”  

As for local policies, Cllr Berry called for solar panels to be installed on “every single building possible”, including churches, heritage sites and conservation areas.

Figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show Camden in the bottom 10 of local authorities for solar panel installations per 1,000 households at the end of 2020.

The Highgate representative would also like to see more rewilding, with green spaces managed in a “much more environmentally friendly way”.  

“If Regent's Park could be a bit less lawn and a bit more forest that would be great,” she said. “The same goes for Hampstead Heath and for Waterlow Park.” 

As for tackling pollution, Cllr Berry said low-traffic neighbourhoods “won’t solve everything on their own”.  

“We need a combination of reducing the amount of space we have for vehicles on the streets, making it nicer to walk and cycle,” she said. 

“We need to put that alongside fairer ways of charging for traffic that genuinely do reduce the number of cars on the street – and we need to see much better and cheaper public transport.  

“Those three things together are how we will transform the city.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference during the Cop26 summit at the Scottish

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a press conference during the Cop26 summit at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow. Picture date: Tuesday November 2, 2021. - Credit: PA

Cllr Berry is acutely aware of some people’s resistance to change – but argues it is a public necessity to protect the planet, highlighting recent flooding in London as evidence of climate instability. 

“There are many other climate risks that affect Camden so it's our duty to protect ourselves, but also our global duty because we're a borough that has people from all over the world,” she said. 

“We're a part of London, we're a part of the UK that's had a huge responsibility in contributing towards the climate emergency, so we should be a world-leading voice pushing for action at COP26, and not just saying how great we're doing ourselves.”   

Cllr Berry added: “We really do have to change how we use our streets, how we use our land, how we use our buildings.  

“We need to embrace change and see visible signs of change as a sign of hope... not a sign of being restricted.”