What Tower Hamlets Council claim to be doing on Climate Change

Why we’ve declared a climate emergency in Tower Hamlets

John Biggs

They say a week is a long time in politics. The political cycle means just looking to the next election can be the norm when making decisions, but when it comes to the environment we need to face up to the ‘political iceberg’ ahead, which is climate change.

At a recent council meeting, we declared a ‘climate emergency’ in Tower Hamlets and committed to work towards being a ‘carbon neutral borough’ by 2025. We were addressed by parents, but also by local schoolchildren, who are worried about the future. This follows action taken by schoolchildren globally who protested and called for politicians to take action on climate change.

Locally in the East End of London our air quality, every day, exceeds safe standards, and it’s affecting people’s health. 40% of residents in Tower Hamlets live in areas that breach EU and government guidance on safe levels of air pollution and it’s the fifth worst borough in London for air pollution.

I see this as not just a public health matter but as a social justice issue. Poor air quality generally affects deprived areas and children disproportionately. Young people are more exposed as they are nearer to harmful fumes, and we found that children’s lung capacity in Tower Hamlets can be up to 10% below the national average. This statistic is a call to action.

In response, our Breathe Clean campaign works with residents to educate them and let them know what they can do to help, with initiatives like our anti-idling campaign to tell people to switch off their engines. We’re delivering the first of 50 planned ‘school streets’ and ‘play streets’, which means areas around some schools have restrictions to traffic so pupils are not exposed to harmful emissions.

We are investing in improving neighbourhoods through a Liveable Streets fund to make it easier to get about by foot, on a bike and on public transport, and installing 300 electric vehicle charging points across the borough. An air quality fund is giving small pots of money to innovative groups in the community who want to do their bit.

Action means working across borough boundaries, with the Mayor of London and indeed across national boundaries. Lots of vehicles drive through our borough to get into central London so we can’t solve this alone, even though local behaviour is a large part of the problem. Our initiatives compliment London-wide policies to reduce our environmental impact.

The introduction by the London Mayor of an ultra-low emission zone marks a big step in stopping the oldest, most polluting vehicles driving into the capital. It has taken political leadership by Sadiq Khan. Like the Congestion Zone, ULEZ might require initial changes to people’s routines, however it will lead to great benefits for the capital with harmful Nitrogen Dioxide levels predicted to drop 40% as a result.

To help with the change, the Mayor is more than doubling a ‘scrap for cash’ fund to help both micro-business owners and low-income Londoners scrap older, more polluting vehicles. In total, £48m is being invested into scrappage to help those who face serious financial pressure in upgrading to greener options.

There are obvious personal challenges. I know, for example, that minicab drivers are concerned about this proposal – they don’t normally have the financial capacity to instantly change vehicles. I will be doing everything I can to make sure Tower Hamlets receives its fair share of the scrappage funds and carefully monitoring the impact on local drivers.

We are doing what we can at a local level but we need the government to also show much more leadership on this issue and introduce measures such as a national scrappage scheme. To tackle climate change, we must all work together and step up our efforts to leave our children a legacy of which we are proud.

Biodiversity in East London boroughs


Hedgehog among plants

Tower Hamlets LBAP
What can you do to help?

Biodiversity – the range of plant and animal life globally and locally – is in the spotlight after a UN report on Sunday said one million animal and plant species are at risk of extinction.

These findings show that biodiversity is more crucial than ever before.

According to the UN report:

  • Human actions are threatening more species than ever before
  • Nature and its contributions are vital for human existence
  • Irreplaceable species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate
  • Biological communities are becoming more similar
  • Food, resources, and materials are being supplied to more people in more places at our futures’ expense.

So how does this relate to Croydon, Hackney, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets? What are the issues that locals should be thinking about?

Mathew Frith, Director of Conservation at the London Wildlife Trust, is optimistic about East London’s biodiversity.

Frith told Eastlondonlines: “Because we throw fewer pesticides around, the air quality is still poor, but work over the last 30-40 years has brought about significant changes. I think that people are much more aware and sympathetic to nature being close at hand.”

But he does think London has a way to go on the journey to biodiversity.

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Tower Hamlets Council has declared a climate emergency over its 'toxic' air pollution levels.

Below Photo by David Holt from Londonist Flickr pool.

Climate emergency declared in Tower Hamlets over its 'toxic' air pollution levels

PUBLISHED: 14:00 22 March 2019 East London Advertiser

Rachael Burford

Two pupils from Lansbury School tell the council what they want done to tackle carbon emissions. Pic: Rachael BurfordTwo pupils from Lansbury School tell the council what they want done to tackle carbon emissions. Pic: Rachael Burford

On Wednesday it agreed to become carbon neutral by 2025 and to introduce a revised environmental plan to meet the target.

Councillors heard more than 2,200 residents signed a petition demanding more be done about the borough’s air quality, which is the fifth worst in London and reducing children’s lung capacity.

Two pupils from Lansbury Lawrence Primary School received a standing ovation from the chamber after explaining what they wanted done to tackle carbon emissions.

Zain Ali, 10, said: “We want more moss to grow around our school site because it is an excellent air purifier.”

Tower Hamlets is the 28th council in the UK to declare a climate emergency and the second London borough. 

Lambeth declared a state of emergency over carbon emissions last month.

Mayor John Biggs said: ‘’Research shows that children’s lungs in Tower Hamlets have up to 10 per cent less lung capacity than the national average. 

“Politicians everywhere need to listen to the message from young people that if we don’t change our actions now we will leave a legacy of a climate emergency. We are taking steps across the borough to reduce our impact on the planet.”

The council agreed to urgently air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels in Tower Hamlets by 2025, implement traffic free ‘school streets’ for all at-risk schools and campaign for an electric-only bus fleet on all TfL bus routes through the borough. 

Campaigner Ameneh Mahloudji said: “We are delighted that Tower Hamlets Council has declared a climate emergency. In our borough, horrific air pollution means that children are growing up with stunted lungs.

“This is because of our addiction to fossil fuels, which is also causing rapid climate breakdown. 

“Cutting carbon emissions to zero as early as 2025 in Tower Hamlets will help to save our future, as well as let us breathe clean air. It is a matter of life and death – we simply do not have years and years to wait. This declaration must result in urgent action.”

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