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Greenwich Carbon Neutral Plan – An initial response

Greenwich and Bexley Green Party welcomes the council’s engagement with planning for carbon neutrality by 2030, integrating community engagement and a cross-party approach.

Here we look at the inception of the plan and raise concerns about some shortcomings in the evidence base.

Context leading up to the Carbon Neutral Plan

In November 2018, Bristol Council passed a motion raised by Carla Denyer of the Green Party to declare a climate emergency. This was the first declaration in the United Kingdom and followed the stark warning that urgent action to reduce carbon emissions must be taken within ten years from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C Special Report.

Extinction Rebellion was beginning to form, and a group in Plumstead quickly grew to over 1,000 members and became XR Greenwich. 

In January 2019, Greenwich and Bexley Green Party started a petition calling for a climate emergency declaration from Greenwich Council. The Green Party together with Extinction Rebellion Greenwich (XR Greenwich) lobbied the council and protested outside Woolwich Town Hall. 

In June 2019, under pressure from us and the wave of declarations of climate emergency made throughout the country, Greenwich Council followed suit with unanimous assent. Councillors also met with XR activists to discuss their demands, following which the council promised to present a climate emergency plan in January 2020. 

On 29 January 2020, the council presented ‘Development of the Greenwich Carbon Neutral Plan’, comprising an evidence base report produced in collaboration with Elements Energy intended to form the basis of planning a response together with a call for community engagement. 

Element Energy’s report is 128 pages long and covers areas from buildings, transport, waste management and energy. It has been largely welcomed by the Greenwich and Bexley Green Party and XR as a way to start the conversation about what needs to be done. Nevertheless, it contains a number of shortcomings, which shall be discussed below.

The council cabinet agreed to note the evidence in the report and bring the plan to full council for approval in autumn 2020. 

Motions for a carbon neutral target by 2030 were passed unanimously at cabinet and full council after a debate in which Labour and Conservative councillors paid tribute to the work by activists in raising the urgent need to address the issue.

“An expensive plan to implement, but even more costly to ignore”

The debates at council were well-spirited and directionally correct in terms of intention. Key principles of addressing the challenge generated cross-party consensus, and it was also heartening to hear timely discussion of the need for a full-time Ecology Officer for the borough.

It was agreed that implementing the Carbon Neutral Plan should be seen as a cross-party issue that requires collaboration. 

It was recognised that there is a political challenge to win and retain support from the residents of Greenwich for transformative changes, for example, in respect to substantially reducing travel by car in favour of walking, cycling and public transport. 

It was acknowledged that education and engagement must be key priorities, so that the street closures and reduced parking spaces, the ambitious tree planting and rewilding proposals that are necessary, shall be embraced as progressive and necessary in the challenges we face to meet carbon neutral by 2030. 

And it was understood by all that the targets were necessarily very ambitious, that they would be expensive to implement, but that they would be even more expensive to ignore. 

Shortcomings of the evidence base especially relating to Silvertown Tunnel

Simon Pirani, a fossil fuel research fellow at Oxford Institute for Energy Studies and active Greenwich XR member, has shared an initial response to the evidence base which highlights serious issues that have not been sufficiently taken on board by the council.

He draws attention to the sources used in the Element Energy report and the reliance on the Mayor of London’s conservative targets: 

“It is welcome that Greenwich council’s Carbon Neutral Plan Evidence Base report recognises climate change as a global emergency and that it recognises the growth of activism on climate issues and the ‘catastrophic consequences of inaction’.

But there is a serious danger that, by falling in line with the conservative and inadequate policies of the government and the Mayor of London, and by dressing up such policies as ‘low carbon’, the council will fail to address climate justice and social justice issues jointly, and will miss decarbonisation targets by a long way.” 

– Simon Pirani

One of the Green Party’s key areas of concern – and an issue that has caused huge local and regional consternation – is the construction of the Silvertown Tunnel.

Our Campaigns Officer, Victoria Rance, is coordinating the grassroots Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition that spans across political party boundaries. The coalition’s shared concern is that Element Energy’s evidence base report repeats flawed TfL claims regarding the scheme.

Continuing with the construction of the tunnel makes it impossible for the borough to achieve its targets on decarbonising transport. The references to battery electric cars as “zero emissions vehicles” ignores their cradle-to-grave lifecycle emissions (including 9 tons CO2 in manufacture alone) and the induced traffic demand effect whereby building more infrastructure for cars further cements the car at the centre of individual transport choices and drives up aggregate volumes.

“[The report] uses the word ’emissions’ without making any distinction between the proposed tunnel’s impact in terms of local air pollution or the impact in terms of global warming, thus repeating a deliberate obfuscation used constantly by the Mayor’s office,” continues Pirani.

“It ignores the well-grounded research that throws doubt on TfL’s planning of the tunnel project. In short, neither the council nor its consultants have made any attempt independently to assess the value or otherwise of the climate policies of the government or the London Mayor. This sets a flawed framework for the council’s own policies.” 

We reiterate our longstanding call for cancellation of the Silvertown Tunnel as part of the Carbon Neutral Plan. It is essential to meet the ambition and commitment agreed upon when the target was set.

The council must redouble its efforts to get the whole community on board

Greenwich is home to a large population of knowledgeable people who are willing and waiting for the council to tap into their experience, not only to help make these plans as ambitious as they need to be, but also to help bring the community on board.

Change is unsettling, but can be mitigated by patient, proactive and informed engagement in the community. Councillors must lead the way.

Greenwich and Bexley Green Party urges the council to redouble its efforts to get the whole community on board. Greenwich will be challenged by the changes required for a greener society, but ultimately rewarded with better neighbourhoods, healthier lives, and clean air for themselves and their children. 

We will publish our response to the Carbon Neutral Plan in due course.

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