London’s new Environment Strategy: Five key questions answered

As London Mayor Sadiq Khan puts forward a long-term vision to make the capital one of the greenest cities in the world, edie speaks with Khan's Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy Shirley Rodrigues to discuss how City Hall aims to put its ambitious plans into practice.

The draft London Environment Strategy released on Friday, (11 August) addresses a range of environmental issues across air quality, green infrastructure, climate change mitigation and resource efficiency.

Notably, the Strategy includes London’s first ‘solar action plan’, which sets out the Mayor’s actions to more than double London’s solar energy generation capacity by 2030. Meanwhile, new policies to cut waste and encourage better use of resources will be developed under an overarching pledge to recycle 65% of London’s waste by 2030.

Green groups have broadly welcomed wide-ranging pledges to achieve zero waste to landfill and extend district heating networks as much-needed proof of the Mayor’s ambition to make London a global green city. But delving deeper into the finer details of the Strategy, how exactly will these overarching plans help the capital’s business community move towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient pathway?

To get under the skin of City Hall’s bold plan to make London “greener, cleaner and ready for the future”, edie spoke with London Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy Shirley Rodrigues upon release of the new Strategy.

Will energy efficiency be prioritised?

The Strategy vows that businesses will spend less on energy and use less energy overall through smart technology, better building insulation, more efficient boilers and heating systems. Technical assistance will be provided to help increase the number of businesses connected to communal heat networks that use local energy sources, including energy created from waste.

Nearly three-quarters of the energy used in London’s homes is for heating and hot water, and the overwhelming majority of this demand is met using gas-fired boilers. Rodrigues confirmed that City Hall is finalising details on a plan to help businesses replace old polluting commercial boilers with new cleaner ones.

“We know that, in order to decarbonise London and tackle air quality, we need to be looking at boilers,” Rodrigues said. “The Mayor had a better boilers scheme for domestic boilers which has gone very well. We know that we also need to be retrofitting our workplaces as well as our homes, so this is a start on how we might help businesses to decarbonise their workplaces.”

If we’re scaling up renewables, what about energy storage?

Rodrigues confirmed that London will trial low-carbon technologies such as battery storage to help the capital be a carbon-neutral city by 2050. She said that investment will build upon London’s participation in Sharing Cities, a €24m European-funded project which seeks to foster international collaboration between industry and cities to develop commercial-scale smart city solutions. As part of the project, the Royal Borough of Greenwich will install energy management systems, smart lamp posts and look to implement batteries for storage.

“We’re looking at how batteries might work in the system and what is need to boost its rollout including its commercial applications,” Rodrigues confirmed.

Will London ever be a car-free city?

“The transport strategy sets out a really strong vision for what the vision for transport in London is,” Rodrigues said. “The strategy sets out a very strong signal that we need to have more cities that have less cars in them, and the ones that are there need to be zero-emission.”

London is undergoing a revolutionary shift towards green transportation; from the green rebranding of the London Taxi Company, to multi-million pound investment to roll-out 1,500 new charging points for electric vehicles (EVs) across the capital.  

Rodrigues is the chair of Hydrogen London, a partnership of experts from government, business and academia which aims to drive forward growth and investment to make the city an industry leader. Through its ground-breaking projects, which includes a scheme to deliver a publicly-accessible network of 700 hydrogen fuelling stations, the programme has demonstrated that hydrogen and fuel technology is a viable option for power the capital.

Going forward, Rodrigues said that the Mayor will seek to integrate hydrogen technology into the zero and alternative fuels plan for London transport infrastructure, alongside electric. Indeed, the Mayor has already given his backing for hydrogen as a method to clean up London’s transport system, unveiling the world’s first double-decker hydrogen bus towards the end of 2016.

Will the Square Mile coffee cup recycling challenge be scaled-up? 

Mainstream awareness of coffee cup recycling as a key sustainability issue has grown significantly in recent times, with Hugh-Fearnley Whittingsall’s high-profile War on Waste TV series drawing attention to the fact that more than 5,000 coffee cups are now discarded every minute in the UK. The issue bears significance nowhere more so than in central London, a high-density population area in a small geographic region.

A joint campaign coordinated by major coffee retailers and business launched earlier this year has sought to improve coffee cup recycling rates in the London Square Mile. Commenting on the success of that Square Mile project – which has reached its target to recycle half a million coffee cups in the capital in one month – Rodrigues indicated that the Mayor’s office is looking at the possibility of adopting the scheme on a wider scale.

“We’ve been talking to the corporations and we’re really interested in the results of that because obviously it’s a big littering issue but also the fact that the waste of resources and the difficulty in recycling plastics,” she said. “It’s something we’re investigating at the moment and we’re looking to come back to people on over the Autumn.”

Could a plastic bottle return scheme be implemented?

The London Environment Strategy outlines a bold vision for a zero-waste city. To achieve this, London’s waste authorities will need to improve the design of single-use packaging, like coffee cups and plastic bottles, which alongside food waste make up 30% of London’s municipal waste. Following a report which highlighted that plastic bottles account for 10% of all litter found in the Thames, the London Assembly Environment Committee (LAEC) earlier this year called on the Mayor to explore the viability of a return scheme for plastic bottles, with a view to a city-wide trial.

Rodrigues pointed towards previous analysis undertaken by City Hall which indicates that a London deposit return scheme would be not be viable because it would put London businesses at a commercial disadvantage, while infrastructure costs to service a London-only scheme would be prohibitive. It is understood, however, that the Mayor would welcome a national-level deposit return scheme.

George Ogleby

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