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Some cities are fighting climate change, but our leaders are not

It is mayors living close to the people who understand what is needed to tackle climate change better than national politicians in their private jets and chauffeur-driven cars, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

IT is amazing that at exactly the same time as the press is full of stories about the devastating effects of climate chaos on people in Europe and around the globe, we are also seeing headline after headline about pressure on both the Tory and Labour leaders to ditch even more policies aimed at protecting our environment, alongside a media and hard-right scare campaign against the mayor of London’s extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone.

The fact that many on the hard right deny the need for real action to tackle climate change does not alter the reality.

And the reality is that the increasingly extreme events across the globe — such as the Greek and Italian wildfires just this week — are clear examples of a deepening climate emergency that needs to be addressed urgently.

The latest (and devastating) major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this year outlined how the world has to slash carbon emissions by almost half by 2030 to remain on track for just 1.5°C of global heating and avoid the worst of climate impacts.

Yet emissions are rising, and if reports are to be believed the Labour Party is about to further water down its commitments to tackle them.

The IPCC report gives clear solutions too — such as massive expansion of wind and solar; more trees; energy saving and methane cuts — which do not require new technology.

They do, though, require something else which is lacking — the political will to push aside the interests of the polluting profiteers and instead speedily take the green path.

While the hard right here is now echoing the years-long claims of Donald Trump and co that the environmentally devastating policies of continuing and even expanding fossil fuel use are in the economic interests of populations, they only advance short-term profits for a tiny elite.

They have a devastating impact on the living standards of the overwhelming majority, especially the poorest, who are impacted the most.

It is amazing that so much of the right wing here is calling for Rishi Sunak to even further downgrade environmental pledges when the Tories’ record on this issue — and indeed future pledges — is already frankly pathetic.

They have wasted over a decade serving the interests of big polluters, while they implemented failed, ideologically driven austerity under the false mantra that the free market always knows best, meaning that Britain is already decades off course on vital emissions targets.

And the Conservatives have also presided over a lost decade of productivity — allowing Britain to fall behind in the development of green technologies.

On the latter point, averting the climate catastrophe is not only necessary but also offers huge economic opportunities. 2019 figures showed that at that time the global “green economy” is currently valued at $4 trillion, and is projected to grow to $9 trillion by 2030.

A real Green New Deal could put our companies and workers in pole position to benefit from this new economy and further help us resource public services and a better society, where we deal with the growing levels of insecurity and inequality the Tories have overseen.

Back in October 2005 when I was mayor of London, I invited the mayors of many big cities to City Hall, where we agreed to set up the C20 to represent the world’s 20 largest cities and to exchange best practice and combine our power to begin to tackle climate change.

Today the C20 has become the C40 and is nearly 100 cities strong, now co-operating to tackle these problems and “committed to using an inclusive, science-based and collaborative approach to cut their fair share of emissions in half by 2030, help the world limit global heating to 1.5°C, and build healthy, equitable and resilient communities.”

In line with the work and vision of C40, fortunately, some politicians are acting. We have seen the introduction of a “bus rapid transit” in Bogota in Colombia, making bus travel accessible and attractive to everyone, replacing a lot of private car use.

There is the Cheonggyecheon urban redevelopment, opening up a blue-green nature corridor through Seoul in South Korea which was once a multi-lane highway. It helps people connect with nature and moderates the heat island effect. The Catskills natural water filtration in the hills above New York City saves energy and billions of dollars in chemical water treatment and creates space for nature.

One thought that regularly occurs to me is that it’s interesting that the politicians making the biggest effort to tackle this crisis are mayors and governors who have to deal on a day-to-day basis with the problems in their cities and regions.

Perhaps the problem with national politicians is that so many of them are distantly removed from the lives of their citizens; living in grand mansions and being ferried around the planet from conference to conference by their staff.

They know that tackling climate change will be bitterly resisted by some of the most polluting firms on the planet and are putting it off — in doing so, they are instead putting the very future of people and planet at risk.

It is vital then that this reactionary agenda to stop action on the climate faces stiff resistance, and in recent years we have seen the seeds sown of an international political movement demanding a new, socially and environmentally sustainable model of political economy.

These movements understand that we need a fundamental transformation away from neoliberalism and that it is impossible to tackle climate change without simultaneously reducing inequality and vice versa. They need our full support.

You can follow Ken Livingstone on Twitter @Ken4London.

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