By Shirley Rodrigues, London’s Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy

As I write this, London, like many cities worldwide, is in strict lockdown as the UK deals with recent high rates of COVID-19. Despite this, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and our team are working hard on plans for our city’s green recovery.

The dramatic change in lifestyle over the last year has shone a light on the disproportionate impact the environment can have on Londoners, with those living in deprived areas most likely to experience poor air quality, cold, damp homes and limited access to green space. These challenges may be worsened by an economic downturn and potential for increased unemployment.

As we emerge from lockdown in the year of COP26, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these challenges together, establishing a new, fairer and low-carbon model that benefits all Londoners. We must ensure that a prosperous recovery, a just recovery and a ‘green recovery’ are not mutually exclusive, but one and the same.

Green New Deal 

As part of this recovery work, the Mayor has set the ambitious target for London to be a zero-carbon city by 2030 and introduced a Green New Deal for London. Reflecting the principles of a global Green New Deal, we believe it is the only way to combat the climate emergency, boost our economy and tackle inequality in tandem. By investing in green projects, we will help stimulate thousands of new jobs and create inclusive and sustainable growth that’s required to get us out of this crisis and transition to a future zero-carbon economy.

In November last year, we announced our Green New Deal Fund which will help to address some of the immediate challenges London faces while tackling the climate and ecological emergencies and air pollution crisis. The first £10m ($13.9m USD) is being invested in projects that will support 1,000 jobs in the short term but also lays the green foundations of supporting small innovative businesses, growing supply chains, and investing in green skills.

Over the next decade, meeting our net-zero ambitions for London will provide huge potential for new green jobs. Cutting emissions by retrofitting London’s aging and energy inefficient buildings alone will require £10bn ($13.9bn USD) of energy efficiency measures and could support over 140,000 jobs. Meeting our targets for zero-emission transport and accelerating the uptake of electric vehicle charging could support over 4,500 jobs by 2030. There are also opportunities for thousands of jobs in solar energy, urban greening, district energy and much more. The UK experiences far less devolution of money or powers to cities so to truly realise these opportunities, we will need sustained and long-term funding from central government alongside the acceleration of private sector financial investment into environmental projects. 

Ensuring a just transition 

But in transitioning to a zero-carbon and circular economy, it’s vital that no Londoners are left behind. Today the Mayor has published new research that helps us further understand the impacts and opportunities of a ‘just transition’ for London’s economy. London’s economy is mainly service based but nearly two thirds of our city’s greenhouse gas emissions are created by non-service-based sectors: transport and storage; electricity and gas; and manufacturing. The research found that those sectors that will be required to change and adapt the most account for a smaller share of London’s jobs – for example, transport and storage accounts for 35 per cent of emissions but less than five per cent of employment. 

However, there are still transition issues we must address. Typically, workers in the sectors most at risk are on wages below the London average. The report highlights the disproportionately large role that workers from non-white ethnic groups play in some of these sectors too. More than half of the transport and storage workforce are from non-white ethnic groups.

This means that our recovery efforts must focus on making sure the most impacted have opportunities to benefit from the transition. As well as investing in programmes to stimulate and accelerate opportunities in the environment sector, we’re working to map the skills and training Londoners will need to access the opportunities from the transition. Through the Green New Deal fund – using our research – we are also directly targeting support to clean tech businesses in areas also hit hardest by the pandemic, such as West London which has been adversely affected by the impacts on the hospitality, logistics and food preparation sectors. The fund also prioritises businesses that encourage greater diversity in the sector, particularly female and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic-led enterprises and it supports young people who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Global collaboration

I hope that London’s work so far can inspire other cities. With COP 26 taking place in the UK this year and with cities pursuing a green recovery from COVID-19, we hope to see even more collaboration between cities over the coming decade, including the lobbying of national governments for the funding and powers we need.     

Today, our cities are the true engines of the global economy and through the C40 network of world cities we can help co-ordinate a green recovery that touches every part of the globe. But it’s important to remember that the race to achieve net-zero should not mean that people in society are left behind. We have a lot of work to do to turn environmental challenges into economic opportunities and ensure no-one is left behind. The shift must be fair and inclusive.

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