Super Khan: London the Sustainability Metropolis

Words by Rose Jones

The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. As of 2020, cities are now home to over half of the global population and contribute over 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions, despite only covering 2% of Earth’s surface. The climate crisis necessitates radical action in cities, responding pragmatically to the complex challenges that lie ahead. We need ideas, policy and action that can produce drastically different urban futures. This is particularly true of the transport sector.  

A multitude of urban modern ills, such as health, inequality, and climate, are inextricably linked to humanity’s heavy reliance on private, fossil-fuel powered automobiles . Plainly speaking, over 1 million people die worldwide every year from road traffic accidents. There were over 25,350 collisions, and 125 associated road deaths reported in London, in 2019 alone. What’s more, poor urban planning designed for mass car transport impedes city dwellers’ ability to participate in active travel, such as cycling or walking, negatively impacting cardiovascular health. Those that choose or are forced to engage in active travel, as a result of socioeconomic circumstance, are far more susceptible to air pollution – one of the leading causes of death in the UK. This effect is further exacerbated by the lack of adequate transportation for lower-income communities living beyond the city limits. As a result, so-called car culture mirrors and perpetuates the existing inequalities within society. For example, in the UK, the Equality Trust found that the richest 10% of society receives £977 million in transport subsidy, whilst the poorest 10% receives £297 million. Perhaps the most pressing issue of all, however, is that of climate. The transport sector is responsible for one-third of total CO2 emissions globally, a number that continues to rise.

Anyone hoping to intervene in the future of cities, therefore, must take careful consideration of the enormity and interconnected complexity of challenges that each require urgent attention: climate resilience; reduction in fossil fuel dependency; tackling inequality; individual health and wellbeing, and many more. We need a new generation of civic leaders, committed to radical municipalism, to break from the status quo of urban settings and to set radically transformative agendas.

We need…Sadiq Khan

Responding to this call for action, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has committed himself to building a “brighter, greener and more equal future for London”. In 2018, Khan introduced his London Environment Strategy (LES), showcasing his ambition to make London a zero Carbon city by 2050, compatible with the highest ambition of the Paris Agreement signed 3 years previous. In May 2020, however, Khan announced that he planned to accelerate London’s journey to net zero by 2030.

Given that the mayor’s powers lie mostly in his authority over London’s transport and road policy, much of Khan’s agenda focuses on rethinking mobility, through his Transport Strategy. In his strategy Khan sets out bold plans to reduce the capital’s dependency on the car, hoping to tackle the twin dangers of air pollution and climate, whilst transforming the experience of walking, cycling and public transport, in London over the coming decades. His flagship policy so far is the Ultra-Low-Emissions Zone (ULEZ), introduced in 2019, which requires Londoners with polluting petrol and diesel cars to pay a charge when entering the city centre. An indisputable success, the ULEZ resulted in a 6% drop in central London’s road-related carbon emissions by the end of 2019. Khan expanded the ULEZ to 18 times its original size in 2021, telling the BBC that “This is a matter of life and death. We can’t afford to wait any longer” . Trend analysis shows that concentrations of NO2 at roadside sites in the central zone in February 2020 were 44% lower than February 2017, when changes associated with the ULEZ began. 

Between 2017 and 2021, the mayor worked alongside Transport for London (TfL) to phase out diesel buses and convert their bus fleet, making them ULEZ compliant, by retrofitting cleaner engines Each retrofitted bus emits up to 95% less NOx emissions and 80% less particulate matter, leading to significant air quality improvements across London. Having introduced 950 zero emission buses, London has the largest zero emission bus fleet in Western Europe and Khan has committed to deliver a 100% zero emission fleet by 2034. By 2030, TfL will procure 100% renewable energy, including through long-term Power Purchase Agreements, directly supporting new renewable energy generation across the UK.  

Alongside the ULEZ, Khan has focused on improving Londoner’s experience of walking and cycling, through initiatives such as School Streets, Healthy Streets and the Walking Action Plan. Over the course of his first term, Sadiq Khan delivered 260km of cycle routes – more than 5 times the routes that he began with. This resulted in an increase of over 200 per cent in cycle flows. For those Londoners who would prefer or require private vehicle transportation, Khan is leading the way on electric vehicle charging infrastructure to ensure that the future of the car is a green one. London has over 7,600 charging points, a third of the UK’s total, and more rapid charging points than any city in Europe.  

Given the challenges ahead, we need an urban revolution. Quickly.  Sadiq Khan is proving to policy makers, politicians and society in general, that there are actions that can be done right now to unlock real, transformative change. After all…  

“The climate disaster will not wait. We must act now – to clean up our air, protect our kids, and save our natural world”– Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan 

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