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Nicky Gavron

14 July 2005
Nicky Gavron

Nicky Gavron, London's Deputy Mayor, talked to The Climate Group in July 2005 about plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in London, and the role that cities globally can play in tackling climate change.

On a personal level, what is your interest in climate change?

I have long held a passionate interest in tackling pollution going back to my days as a community activist and then a Haringey Councillor. But climate change has become increasingly urgent. Climate change is already affecting so many people's lives - our lives, our children's lives, our grandchildren's lives.It is therefore a growing concern for me - an area that I have been concentrating on and am now making my highest priority. The Mayor and I both believe that political leadership is vital.

How have you been able to reflect this interest in your work for the Greater London Authority?

When I got involved in politics, I became leader of the London Planning Advisory Committee where, in the 1990s, I commissioned a lot of environmental work on open space, air quality and congestion charging. Introducing congestion charging was very radical I think, and it has cut {CO2} emissions from traffic within the zone by 19%. When the GLA was established, the Mayor gave me the job of leading on the London Plan, which sets out the future direction of London, and gives great scope to work on climate and energy issues. Now, in our second term, he has asked me to lead on the environment as well as planning and to set up the Climate Change Agency for London.

When did climate change become a political issue for London?

I think air quality has been a political issue for quite a long time. But I don't think the link with climate change has been made until quite recently. It has now shot up the agenda and people are beginning to understand that energy consumption and {CO2} emissions are really affecting variations in the climate. It is not just the day after tomorrow for lots of people - it is actually happening.

A recent GLA Survey showed that a large number of Londoners are very concerned about climate change and air pollution. People are looking to the GLA for leadership.

How will London be affected by a changing climate?

London will be very vulnerable due to its location on the River Thames - large swathes of the capital could end up underwater. Critical infrastructure, like the underground system, will also be affected. The Underground already suffers a lot from the rising water table - with even a small increase in flooding this will certainly get worse. We have already established a Partnership, which is looking in great detail at how London can adapt to climate change.

Are you optimistic on what can be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

For London specifically it is a big challenge because we have a rising population and will be building a city the size of Leeds within London by 2015. The Mayor has set a 20% {CO2} reduction target by 2010 and very demanding targets in terms of renewable energy.

It is forcing us to think about how we can meet the targets and, as far as I am concerned, political will is absolutely key at every single level. We have a really good political context here because Tony Blair's huge commitment means that people see the UK as a role model internationally on this issue.

Business leadership is also vital and we are working very closely with the private sector. Too often the business community sees these long-term externalities as not their problem. Some companies are trailblazing and finding there are unexpected financial spin offs from taking action. But the gap between the best and those who are resisting is growing. And I'm angry about the way some governments respond to the latter and not the former.

Would you like to see London as a role model city on climate change?

Yes, very much. I think that cities generally, because of the concentration of activity in them, their density of development and, if they are big cities, the agglomeration in terms of labour markets and industry, contain both the problem and the opportunity to tackle it. We are going for a low carbon London. Low carbon cities are a key way to reduce emissions globally.

In London what are the main opportunities for reaching the 20% target and beyond?

Well, I think we made a good start on congestion charging. By 2007 we are going to put in a low emission zone. The low emission zone is really to reduce pollutants from coaches, taxis, buses and lorries. But although we think of transport as being such a great emitter of {CO2}, in fact only 20% of {CO2} in London comes from transport, and 70% is due to energy consumption in terms of construction, energy use by buildings and the appliances in them. So tackling this is a big challenge.

One way we can make a real start here is through our own property portfolio - the Greater London Authority manages the bus stations, tube stations, fire stations, police station across the capital. We also have leverage because we are responsible for planning, our London Development Agency is responsible for land assembly and regeneration and we have substantial procurement clout, for example.

London has real advantages - an agglomeration of environmental industries, and all the experience of verification and brokerage that goes with carbon trading. We are also a city with a massive financial hub and technological expertise. If you bring that all together, then I think London is in a good position to make progress and to work with other cities. I want to show what a city region can do.

We have set up the Climate Change Agency, which will work with the private sector, through joint ventures, to capitalise on all these opportunities. The agency will work to create a new, decentralised energy infrastructure, developing opportunities for tri-generation (that is combining heat, power and cooling together), and putting in island generation. Transitionally the fuel will be gas, but we are determined to factor in an increasing proportion of renewables wherever possible.

What are the co-benefits for Londoners from reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

We have already talked about reducing air pollution, but security of supply is another thing that many people are concerned about. Under the grid system at the moment, if one part of the system goes down then the whole system fails, which is something that South London experienced the summer before last - leaving many people stranded on underground trains for hours. However, if you have island generation and you have a failure, then only a small neighbourhood goes down and you have the grid as a back-up. With worries over terrorism in London, this is a valuable consideration.

There is also the whole win-win in terms of energy efficiency - you are not only saving {CO2} emissions, you are also saving money. And for people that own buildings, there is the value of their assets - for example, the more efficient the building the greater the likelihood of getting and keeping good tenants.

There are also economic opportunities and job creation possibilities. Researchers recently looked at the viability of using CHP at certain rates of return to decide whether it is financially viable to run it. They looked at the whole of the UK and 27% of the viable CHP at a particular rate of return was actually in London. If we drive for this it could open up the energy services market significantly.

The other thing that is exciting is that the infrastructure that we are putting down in terms of tri-gen and island-generation is exactly what you need to seamlessly transfer to the renewable hydrogen economy and fuel cells.

Have you had other cities come to you for advice, on the congestion charge for example?

Yes, there is a lot of interest because congestion is such a huge issues for many cities. Stockholm, Edinburgh and Copenhagen have all shown interest. The Mayor of Toronto David Miller is specifically interested in looking at what lessons can be learned from the introduction of congestion charging in London. We have a high level secondment arrangement with Toronto to share information, and, in return, there are going to be mini exchanges to London on better buildings, domestic energy efficiency, and carbon accounting.

Is there a role for an official forum for cities on climate change?

Yes, we are looking at a coalition of big cities, a G8 plus of cities - C8 plus if you like. It will be with cities that we already have a partnership with such as Moscow, Paris, Berlin, New York, Tokyo, but we are also looking to add others to the coalition, such as Toronto and San Francisco and to include cities with whom we have friendship arrangements, such as Johannesburg, Dakar, and Delhi.

In fact, congestion charging came from us applying something that worked on a smaller scale in Singapore. We know that big cities can innovate so we want to exchange best practice, but we ourselves want to be a catalyst.

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