Last year Lichfields published a series of blogs examining various climate change issues. The first in this series
explored London’s response to date on the climate change crisis and reviewed the recent findings of the CCC’s 2020 report to parliament.
Almost one year on, climate change continues to be at the forefront of both public and government consciousness. This blog provides an update on London’s progress in achieving its Net Zero Target, in the context of a newly adopted London Plan and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the need to tackle the climate crisis was a policy priority both in London and across the UK
. However, the economic and social context for climate action has changed in importance in the past year and it is recognised that pursuit of low-carbon can support economic recovery. From this, policy proposals and funding packages are now being framed as a means to create jobs, promote a “green recovery”
from Covid-19 and help the UK meet its revised 5-yearly carbon budgets and achieve its net-zero emissions target.
Over the past few months a number of key events have taken place including the Leaders Summit on Climate (22nd
April) and the 2021 G7 Summit (11th
June) paving the way for vital UN climate talks at the COP26 summit, hosted by the UK in November 2021. Hosting these talks is a major responsibility and gives the UK more influence on the climate commitments of other countries. The power of our example is crucial and the Prime Minister has announced radical new climate change commitments that will set the UK on course to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and will require more electric cars, low-carbon heating and renewable electricity. The need to make progress was given emphasis by the recent publication of the IPCC Report
The government is under pressure to back up this ambitious new target with investment and robust policies and to put the foundations in place for reaching Net Zero. It is doing so in the face of some domestic political challenge over the costs this might incur on poorer households and for managing public spending
, and criticisms over the geo-political management of the issue in the run up to COP26
Latest policy response
In the last year, several key policy documents have emerged at the National level, including the Planning for the Future White Paper
(August 2020) and the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution
(November 2020). The latter sets out the Prime Minister’s ambitious plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ and covers clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies, with the headline-grabbing announcement of a ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. Whilst many welcomed the plan’s ambition and the Government’s recognition that tangible action is required to meet society’s Net Zero aspirations, the RTPI stressed that “only by investing in local authority planning teams would a localised framework be established to ensure investment is properly integrated into the built and natural environment”
This was recognised to some extent in the White Paper, which cited planning as having a central role in addressing climate change. However, its proposals did not require local plans to pursue carbon emission reductions in line with the Net Zero target under the Climate Change Act, nor did it address how national and local climate targets will inform the new local plans and planning decisions under the new system. In an effort to attempt to strengthen climate change considerations in local plans, the revised NPPF (2021) includes a change to the wording of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development”
for plan making, and now requires plans to “mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects”
(para. 11a). Whilst this might beef up the NPPF’s climate change policies, key conclusions from our previous blog
were that the Net Zero Target is only achievable if it is embedded and integrated across all levels of policy and investment.
There is still some way to go in ensuring that national policy is supporting and enabling local authorities to align their local development plans with national objectives. Recent policy proposals have demonstrated a centralisation of planning policy consideration on topics that affect the climate, which disempowers the ability to consider those issues at the local level.
What’s going on in London?
The pandemic has impacted London significantly, with the widespread (if temporary) emptying of offices prompting new commuting behaviours and changes to lifestyle. Headlines last year showed a dramatic fall in carbon emissions during lockdown – demonstrating that it is possible to reduce emissions in a short period of time. However, these reductions are largely linked with the slowing of the economy.
In response to the pandemic, The GLA has produced a London Recovery Programme
which intends to ‘tackle the climate and ecological emergencies and improve air quality by doubling the size of London’s green economy by 2030 - accelerating job creation for all.’
Sadiq Khan has also spoken about the possibility of a Green New Deal for the city that will ‘increase access to green spaces, support active travel and zero emission fleets to eradicate air pollution, help adapt to climate change and deliver better health.’
These strategies are supported by the London Plan which was published on 2 March 2021.
Key headlines from the plan, relating to climate change, include the redefinition of zero carbon, requiring new buildings to meet at least 35% reduction of carbon on site with at least 10% (housing) and 15% (non-housing) from energy efficiency (paras. 9.2.5-9.2.7). This demonstrates how reducing energy requirements could be achieved through good design. The plan also introduces the regulation of embodied carbon levels in proposed buildings, requiring all major developments to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030. Its welcome policies mean all new developments must “calculate whole lifecycle carbon emissions through a nationally recognised assessment and demonstrate actions taken to reduce them”
(Policy SI 2, Part F).
In the context of the now adopted London Plan, the response of Boroughs (in terms of climate emergency declarations and the target dates for reaching net zero emissions) has varied (as shown below).
London headline figures
- 29/33 (88%) London Boroughs have declared a climate emergency.
- 24/29 (82% of those that have declared) have set targets to become carbon neutral earlier than the UK/London Plan target.
- Only 2 boroughs have allowed themselves until 2050 to reach carbon neutral.
- The boroughs that haven’t declared a climate emergency are all outer London boroughs.
Whilst most London Boroughs have now made significant commitments to net-zero carbon, it is not yet clear how the reduction targets are to be implemented.
We are beginning to see London Boroughs advancing beyond these first steps of recognising the climate crisis by developing strategies to reduce emissions and create on the ground change. LB Greenwich has consulted on its Greenwich Carbon Neutral Plan
(2020) which includes the principle of reducing emissions from new buildings, by committing to “strengthen the Local Plan by 2021 to deliver zero carbon development – through adopting a tiered carbon off-set price via SPD; increasing planning officer capacity to negotiate higher sustainable standards in new development; and evaluating options for a Local Plan review”.
Similarly, LB Merton’s Climate Strategy and Action Plan
(2020) links to the existing Strategic Objectives and Core Strategy planning policies of the Local Plan which features climate and carbon policy requirements, but also identifies the need to draft Local Plan policies in line with the London Plan: including net-zero carbon development for new buildings and reducing embodied carbon.
Whilst London Boroughs do appear to be progressing their Climate Strategies/policies, there is still a long way to go and it will need a continuing commitment and development of expertise at city and borough level. The presence of the Mayor of London as a regional planning authority as part of a compact-city approach to strategic planning means that London, unlike anywhere else in the UK, has its own regional plan and the opportunity to develop robust planning policies, setting strong standards to inform and guide the policy approaches of the 33 London Boroughs.
But is it the case that London is leading the way, or are local authorities elsewhere in the UK making significant progress without the backing of an additional tier of governance? Our forthcoming research on the UK-wide response of local authorities to climate change will explore place-based responses to the Climate Emergency across the UK.
 As evidenced by the introduction of the Committee on Climate Change (‘CCC’) (2008), the UK’s commitment to the UN Paris Agreement and the legislation of a Net Zero emissions target of 2050 The report and its background appendices is available here: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-i/ The Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the total cost to the UK of reaching net zero by 2050 could reach £1.4trillion. The National Infrastructure Commission says the poorest tenth of households will pay an extra £80 a year in bills by 2050, the richest tenth an extra £400. HM Treasury is reviewing the costs of the overall programme. https://www.politico.eu/article/boris-johnson-climate-problem-conservative-government-cop26/ https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/recovery_programme_overview.pdf https://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/the_london_plan_2021.pdfImage credit: @Aquobex via Twitter