This week a big lightbulb went on above many heads in government and civil service, writes Eleanor Margolies…
On Thursday 27 February, judges at the Court of Appeal said it would be unlawful to expand Heathrow Airport because the government had failed to consider the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
The UK – along with 195 other countries – signed an agreement in Paris in 2016 to cut carbon emissions. Now the government will have to look at every new project in this light. That must include the Silvertown Tunnel between Greenwich and Newham, a four-lane road-building scheme recently signed off by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. At a cost of £1 billion, this will increase pollution and do nothing to reduce congestion and car journeys. It’s been opposed by Southwark Council, recognising that the tunnel will make traffic worse.
The next Mayor could help us cut our carbon bill instead. Transport for London is the biggest user of energy in our city. But just 0.01% of the power for tube stations and bus stops comes from renewable sources like wind and solar. Imagine if all the bodies under the Mayor, including the fire brigade and police, used their purchasing power to boost renewable energy.
Here in Southwark, there is a great opportunity to do exactly that, as Southwark Council’s current energy contract is coming to an end. In 2019, the council spent almost £13.5 million on electricity. Its supplier, NPower, uses more coal than average (7.2 – 8.9 % as opposed to the national average of 5.2%) and much less wind and solar power (only 8.9 – 26.2%, when the national average is 32.8%).
Fossil Free Southwark is calling on Southwark Council to purchase 100% of its electrical energy from renewable sources. Not all the electricity used in Southwark schools is purchased by the council, so parents, governors, teachers and pupils can ask schools to switch contracts. And anyone can check their home supplier’s record, or start the conversation at their workplace.
Changing supplier is only the start. TfL has 5,700 acres of stations, depots and offices and could install solar panels across London. Similarly, Southwark Council could install solar panels every time it puts scaffolding up to fix the roof on a school, or block of flats. Let’s make 2020 the lightbulb moment.