Mayor Sadiq Khan on London’s Climate Progress Two Years After the Start of the Pandemic


With rising electricity prices, some of California’s climate goals concerning electrification and the move away from fossil fuels are being threatened by market forces. In this interview as part of the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit, London Mayor Sadiq Khan gives updates on some of the city’s ambitious climate targets, how they are going to get done, and for what purpose. As well, Khan speaks to the value that the C40 cities provide to global collaborating on the climate crisis as well as the unique, albeit unwelcome,  opportunity that the pandemic provided . The link to the full Bloomberg Summit event can be found here.

Anna Edwards: Welcome to the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit. (Q) There’s the dreadful events we’re seeing with the war in Ukraine. That is a humanitarian crisis there and beyond. It’s also turning into a cost of living crisis in many parts of the of the world. This has many people asking, “Does that delay our transition to cleaner energies?” Or, does it make us double down and speed up?

Mayor Sadiq Khan: (A) I think there are a number of responses to what’s happening in Ukraine with Putin’s barbaric aggression. One of those is that it gives us a clean pass to do more exploration for gas and oil. The other response is that this should accelerate the speed in which we get to renewables, like solar and wind, which are actually cheaper.

It reminds us that energy security is really important. Of course, tackling climate change and getting zero carbon are important, but energy security is really important as well.

You can’t have a situation where Germany is going cap-in-hand to Russia or our prime minister is going to Saudi to have more hydrocarbons. The invasion of Ukraine should make us even more keen to get to zero carbon. It should make us even more keen to making adaptations and investing in renewables. It’s a wake up call to those of us in the Global North.

Anna Edwards: You’ve set targets for 2030 for London on the pathway to net zero. These targets are coming closer. One area is the built environment and buildings. What we do about those? How realistic are the targets you’ve set on that front? Who pays for all of that?

Sadiq Khan: If you break it down, there are three main places where you have carbon emissions. One is transport, one is where people work, and one is where people live.

We're in probably the greenest building in the world, and you can do that when you start from scratch. We've got a big issue in relation to retrofitting buildings and how we travel as well.

There's got to be partnership between the public sector and the private sector. I think there is a first mover advantage in those cities and those businesses that move on this. What we've done in London is have a target to get to zero carbon by 2030, with a roadmap of how we get there. A lot of it is adaptations of our buildings.

What we've done is set up a number of funds of money to assist the private sector. One of those is a London Climate Financing Facility. Another one is the Mayor's Energy Efficiency Fund. The idea is we leverage public sector and private sector money, innovation, and economies of scale to work with, for example, those who live in municipal housing. There's an opportunity there for mass retrofitting in relation to insulation, double glazing in the walls, solar panels, and heat pumps.

There's a real opportunity in us going first. Just think about the jobs you could create in relation to who's going to fit the solar panels, who's going to fit the electrical vehicle charging points, who's going to fit the double glazing, and who's going to do the loft insulation. We're also working with the skill sector to train up Londoners for these future-proof jobs.

As far as the business community is concerned, we're working with many others in the city about the opportunities for how you can take action now. The costs of inaction when it comes to the economy, livelihoods, the environment, and health are far greater than the cost of action in relation to tackling the climate emergency and reducing toxic air.

Anna Edwards: Do you think that that is a persuasive enough argument to persuade private landlords, for example, to put in the necessary investment? You talked about municipal housing, but is it harder with the privately-rented?

Sadiq Khan: It really is. About 2.4 million Londoners rent in the private sector. Unless we can incentivize the landlords to take action, you can understand why tenant A can't afford to insulate tenant B.

That's why we're trying to lobby the government to do more in relation to the private landlords, even though the government set out some policies in the budget to assist in relation to zero VAT.

If you're a landlord, there's no incentive because you're not paying the bigger bills. We've got to find a way to deal with private residential. I think there are easier incentives for owner-occupiers, local authorities, and housing associations that rent their properties. We've not quite found a way to incentivize a landlord to take action more swiftly.

Anna Edwards: You mentioned the skills gap in a labor market that is already stretched, where it's difficult to find builders with legacy skills, let alone the new ones. Can we quickly scale up those skills to enable people to find people who can install a heat pump?

Sadiq Khan: One of the things we're doing from City Hall is setting up a number of academies in those sectors which are future-proof growth sectors. The green economy is one of those. We're having green academies across London.

We also know in London, there's a big issue with underemployment and unemployment, particularly in some communities. For example, black Londoners don’t have access to the jobs that are available, partly lack of access to the skills. We're focusing our green academies in those parts of London where we know there's unemployment and underemployment to give them the skills for the jobs being created.

The reality is, I'm quite confident around the country, many people will still come to the capital city to fulfill their potential. That's why we've got to make sure there is access to the skills which will leads to jobs. London’s green economy is worth 14 billion pounds. There’s, roughly speaking, 250,000 jobs in the green economy. We want to double that over the next decade.

Anna Edwards: I understand that there are plenty of experiments going on around London for different types of charging for vehicles and road use and other transport experiments. What are the early learnings that we're getting from this about what London’s transport needs to look like 10-15 years from now?

Sadiq Khan: To get my job, I've got to persuade Londoners to vote for me. One of the things we realized in 2016 is when Londoners are asked about climate change, they think it's a tomorrow issue that doesn't affect them.

What we've done is turn climate change into a now issue by mentioning the health consequences of the environment. We know toxic air leads to thousands of premature deaths. It leads to people having a whole host of health issues from stunted lungs to asthma to dementia to lung disease and cancer. By doing that, we’ve made Londoners put pressure on us to take more action because it's an air quality crisis as well as climate change.

From City Hall, what we've done is we have the world's first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) that started in central London. We saw in central London that toxic air reduced by half in just two years. We've expanded that to inner London that will lead to a further 30 percent reduction. We're consulting in May to have all of London in one big Ultra Low Emission Zone, working with councils like Waltham Forest, Hackney, and others to have zero emission zones and other policies.

There's pressure from the people to do more because we've made this into a now issue because it is a health crisis rather than a tomorrow issue.

Anna Edwards: This is difficult work. Even with the ULEZ, we still have days where your office has to say the air quality is not great, don’t go out.

Sadiq Khan: That’s progress. In 2016, when I first became mayor, we simply didn't know until the end of the year which days were particularly bad. Working with Bloomberg Philanthropies, we now have more air quality monitors across our city than any city in the world.

What Breathe London has done is we can get real time information on how good or bad things are now. Anybody who suffers from hay fever, you would look at weather forecasts. There's a high pollen count, and you can take action.

If you've got asthma or other issues, you've got no idea what the air quality is like. We're letting people have that information. You can then not go for a jog on a main road. You can decide not to do things.

We’re doing this across the world with the C40 cities. We are giving them this information with air quality monitors because the information is really important for taking action to avoid breathing this poison.

Anna Edwards: The pandemic was an incredible and dreadful event to live through, but it also created a lot of opportunities for change and radical thinking. Do you think that London has taken that opportunity to be radical enough when it comes to road use?

Sadiq Khan: The pandemic has been just awful, both in terms of lives and livelihoods lost. It was Churchill who said to never waste a good crisis.

We saw, during the pandemic, air quality improved hugely. We saw people walking and cycling. It's led to us doing things we otherwise may never have had the chance to do. We nearly quadrupled the amount of cycle lanes that are in our city now to almost 300 kilometers of safe cycling. We've used the opportunity to do a number of things it probably would have taken us longer to do.

The pandemic, without a doubt, has allowed us to think more about how we see our future. What we're trying to do is grow back greener and build back better. That means making sure we use the opportunity to move quicker.

We're doing this across the C40. For those that don't know, the C40 is 97 megacities across the globe that represent more than 700 million people and more than a quarter of the planet's GDP. What we're doing is seeing how we can use this awful pandemic as an opportunity to invest more in the green economies, to have green new deals, and to make sure we don't go back to business as usual.

Anna Edwards: What does London stand to learn from the C40? I imagine we must be able to tap into experiences elsewhere about what's working.

Sadiq Khan: Freetown in Sierra Leone, has a massive program of tree planting. We're replicating that in London.

In Barcelona, Ada's got a really good street space scheme using the opportunity created by the pandemic to have less car traffic in certain communities and encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

We've seen in North Dakar that they're looking at people coming to the city center from the coastal areas because they've been low lying. We're working with them about how they can have high density, good quality housing.

A lot of these principles are transferable. The specific policy may be slightly different, and you’ve got to adjust it. One of the best things about the C 40 is we share best practices.

One of the key things we're keen to do as C40 is recognize that the Global North is responsible for lots of the climate challenges we face. What we're going to do is spend more than two thirds of our budget in the Global South. Those who are least responsible for climate change face the biggest consequences and often have the least means. So, we're doing what we can as cities because we're quite nimble.

Anna Edwards: We've talked a lot about road use and the way we use space in London. How do we make sure that it's not just those who've got the loudest voices and the deepest pockets who are able to live a healthier life in London?

Sadiq Khan: The issue of climate justice is an issue of social and racial justice. Put aside for a second the macro stuff. In London, those least likely to own a car suffer the worst consequences of air pollution. Roughly speaking, half of Londoners don't own a car. You’re seeing those communities where there's a high proportion of Black, Asian, and minority people have the worst air quality.

It may be inconvenient that you've not been able to take the rat run like before. For residents on those main roads, it’s a huge convenience because their children are less likely to suffer from asthma or bronchitis or all sorts of health issues.

In Waltham Forest, initially when they introduced their cycling policies, a lot of resistance came from mums and dads who were inconvenienced dropping their kids off in the car. Now, those same parents are walking, cycling, and scootering with their kids to school.

Anna Edwards: What's the most persuasive argument to bring along those people who don't initially share the enthusiasm for ULEZs and low transport neighborhoods?

Sadiq Khan: The evidence helps. We point to the evidence about how the Ultra Low Emission Zone has led to air being less toxic, fewer people suffering from asthma, and fewer people dying prematurely.

Look at the economics of this too. London is a Roman village that for over 1000 years has expanded and expanded. There simply is not enough road space for everyone to jump in their cars. If we want the roads reserved for those that need to be on the roads, the commercial vehicles, the buses, the black taxis and so forth, you need to get those people off the road who don't need to be there, but the alternatives got to be attractive. We've got more electric buses than in Western Europe, more Hydrogen buses, more cycling space, wider pavements, and great public transport.

We're working towards the world's first smart road user charging scheme. If the polluter pays principle is going to be meaningful, you have to reward good behavior. You pay per kilometer, depending on the vehicle you have, where you're driving to, and so forth.

The future in London is smart road user charging. That technology is not quite there yet. We were the first city in the world to have a congestion charge. We’re the first city in the world have ULEZ. I think we're going to be the first in the world to have smart road user charging.

Anna Edwards: What about charging infrastructure for those who've decided to go and get an electric vehicle. What would you like to see in terms of that charging infrastructure?

Sadiq Khan: In London, we now have more rapid charging points than any city in western Europe. Rapid charging points mean you can charge your car in 10-15 minutes rather than hours. We're approaching 500 now.

We now have almost 10,000 normal charging points across our city, which is about a third of the country's charging points. If you do a bird's eye view of London, not all of London is well covered. We're trying to improve that.

We've set up an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Task Force. We're working with the private sector to make sure we have all of London covered, but also making sure that the energy we're using is renewable.

Anna Edwards: How can mayors and the private sector work together to drive climate action in the C40?

Sadiq Khan: With C40, we work incredibly closely with the private sector. We announced, in Glasgow, a billion pounds worth of private sector money to electrify buses in South America.

What we're keen to do across the C40 is to make sure all cities who want to have a green New Deal can. In the in the current climate, many mayoralties and national governments are short of funds. By leveraging the private sector, we can work outside of silos.

There are negative reasons why the private sector wants to get involved. Nobody likes economic upheaval, high insurance costs, or the issues that come about from flash flooding and so forth. Rather than a negative reason for the private sector to get involved, there's a positive reason, which is that can-do private sector working with can-do mayors are the solutions. Just like for mayors and cities, there's a first mover advantage for businesses.

“There are negative reasons why the private sector wants to get involved. Nobody likes economic upheaval, high insurance costs, or the issues that come about from flash flooding and so forth. Rather than a negative reason for the private sector to get involved, there's a positive reason, which is that can-do private sector working with can-do mayors are the solutions. Just like for mayors and cities, there's a first mover advantage for businesses." Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London