Today’s announcement from the government is bad news for London and for our planet. While Rishi Sunak is right to highlight the need for policy trade-offs to support people during economic turbulence, he should have been frank with his party and the public about the urgency of taking practical action right now.
We know that policies to advance a just transition are popular, economically sensible, and tackle the dual challenges of the cost of living and the climate crises – many of them are no-brainers to adopt.
Investors, communities and environmental campaigners are united in the call for long term certainty when it comes to planning for net zero. Much of the country has begun the process of decarbonisation, and Sunak’s announcement today is moving the goal posts once again, and delaying the country’s likelihood of meeting its 2050 net zero target. We will now be worse equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change – and businesses won’t have the clarity they need to achieve the scale of change that’s required.
Londoners already live with some of the worst air quality in the UK, and transport accounts for a quarter of carbon emissions in the capital. Each year, 4,000 Londoners die prematurely from the effects of air pollution, and many mobility providers have already spent years planning for the 2030 target.
For London to reach net zero by 2030, we need policies that support a shift to electric vehicles, while reducing private car ownership. This measure does neither, and will instead keep more polluting vehicles on our roads.
Given 42% of Londoners don’t own a car, the most effective way to support people through the cost of living crisis is to invest in public and active transport.
This announcement is a particular blow for London, where there are more renters than anywhere else in the country. London’s renters usually can’t make improvements to their home’s energy efficiency without their landlord’s involvement, who in turn need incentives to act.
Reducing the incentive to do this isn’t just bad for the environment and the city’s energy-inefficient housing stock. It will lead to household heating bills staying higher than they could be. It’s bad economics.
With housing costs already far higher than the national average, the last thing low-income Londoners need is further strain on their cost of living.
London is already lagging behind on moving away from fossil fuel heating. The city installs fewer heat pumps per person than anywhere else in the UK. Many housing developers and homeowners want to address this. But the government aren’t supporting them by making heat pumps and other low carbon solutions more affordable and efficient.
Demand from customers and supply from companies is shaped by regulation – we need to set tough, fair and long term rules to incentivise the development of innovative solutions, not policy stagnation.
Centre for London is an independent think tank. It is a registered charity, independent of government and funded entirely by donations and partnerships from organisations, foundations and philanthropists.
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