London’s post-Brexit Bid to Lead in Environmental Policies by Dr Ilma Bogdan FRSA
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The landmark of Brexit has triggered not only the reconsideration of the British identity and standing in the world as a whole but also London’s role as the hub of a multitude of international activities. Put simply, the question emerged: what London, as a leading international city, can offer to the world post-Brexit?
One is inclined to say - a great deal. London continues to be a financial, political and cultural global centre, Brexit and pandemic repercussions notwithstanding. According to the February Bank of England Monetary Report, over 2021 UK GDP is expected to return quickly towards pre-pandemic levels as a result of the largely successful vaccination programme. Speaking recently to the Treasury Select Committee, Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, reassured MPs that the City will withstand EU attempts to divert financial businesses from London after Brexit. The Commonwealth Secretariat will continue to be located in London after Brexit as well as London continuing to run such renowned social and sporting events as the London Marathon.
However, with the UK hosting this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November in Glasgow, I want to focus my argument specifically on how a post-Brexit London can lead the world in tackling climate change. This conference has particular importance: it is now five years since signing the Paris Agreement and there is, therefore, a pressing need to urge countries to meet their declared climate commitments. The conference delay in view of the pandemic only intensifies the immediacy of this task.
In this context, all viable candidates for the upcoming London Mayoral Elections in May are making a strong bid to address environmental issues, particularly air pollution. The current Mayor and Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan (49%), pledges to take “the boldest action of any city in the world to tackle air pollution” in his manifesto, whereas Tory candidate, Shaun Bailey (28%), promises “a zero-emission bus fleet by 2025 and interest-free loans for black cab drivers to go electric”. Both the Liberal Democrat candidate, Luisa Porritt (10%), and the Green Party candidate, Siân Berry (9%), boldly vow to turn London into “the greenest city in the world”. Whoever wins the elections, clean air will certainly be at the forefront of the city’s policy agenda.
Another pivotal environmental sector, which has been gaining momentum recently, is green finance, which involves mobilising capital to deliver global and domestic environmental objectives. This year, the UK finally joins a group of 16 countries (Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland included) by issuing its first sovereign green savings bond. That will give retail investors a chance to put money into environmentally-focused projects, such as renewable energy schemes. According to the London School of Economics (LSE) Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, by issuing the green bond the UK can show leadership in responding “to the global imperative of a green and inclusive recovery from the coronavirus crisis”. The Institute’s report hopes that more countries around the world will now emulate UK’s action as a host of COP26, which, in turn, will generate considerable financial market momentum for investment in environmental projects within and between developed and developing countries.
Prior to that, UK-based funds have already constituted the second largest investments into both the French and Dutch green bonds and the London-based Climate Bonds Initiative has already been providing bonds certification, which verifies conformity with the 2 degrees Celsius warming limit set in the Paris Agreement. It is a scheme used internationally “by bond issuers, governments, investors and the financial markets to prioritise investments which genuinely contribute to addressing climate change.” Besides, London can strengthen its lead in global green finance through The Green Finance Institute, the UK’s principal forum for collaboration between the public and private sector with
respect to green finance, established in 2019 by the government and the City of London Corporation to champion sustainable finance in the UK and abroad.
The last - but, certainly, not the least – environmental sector in which London may exercise post-Brexit global leadership is food waste reduction. During the pandemic, food security has come to the forefront of the international agenda as the critical task was not only to fight the virus but also to feed all those who were locked up and unable to obtain provisions. The fact that the UN World Food Programme was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize reaffirms the urgency food security and sustainability has acquired.
Globally, 1/3 of food is wasted and the global food system accounts for 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions. The global food system occupies 50% of the world’s habitable land, uses 70% of the freshwater we consume, causes 78% of all water pollution and is the single biggest contributor (94%) to biodiversity loss. In the UK, more than 10 million tonnes of food are wasted annually, 2/3 of which could have been eaten. The estimated worth of that is £20 billion (£500-£600 per household) and the estimated environmental impact is 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions (including emissions associated with food production and disposal of waste). This statistics is shocking.
During the pandemic, the UK acted promptly. In spring 2020 the government set up the Food Vulnerability Directorate to ensure food subsistence for the most vulnerable in society, such as those who were shielding, who struggled to access food for any reason and who were economically vulnerable. As the National Food Strategy observes, the UK food system adapted quickly and, overall, there were no serious food shortages. People cooked at home more and wasted less. During the lockdown, the government also provided extra funding for surplus food redistribution organisations. In London, the work of charities fighting hunger and food waste, such as City Harvest and The Felix Project, became indispensable. In the first nine weeks of the lockdown alone, for example, City Harvest delivered 1.5 million meals across London. Throughout 2020, The Felix Project delivered enough food for 21.1 million meals. This way of London tackling food waste is a worthwhile example to be continued post-Brexit and post-pandemic.
Dr Ilma Bogdan FRSA is a member of the Conservative Foreign and Commonwealth Council (CFCC) www.cfcconline.org.uk