Rita Begum
Rita Begum

At this week’s meeting of Westminster Council Rita Begum, Councillor for Maida Vale and the Labour and Co-operative Candidate for the West Central Constituency on the London Assembly, made an impassioned plea for action on Climate Change.

“Members will know that a number of highly eminent people – Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Andrew Bailey (Governor – Bank of England) and even Members of the Royal Family – all of whom have made comments on the need to take immediate action to redress the climate catastrophe.

Greta Thunberg clearly pointed out in speeches to our politicians that “This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to”

However, she also went on to say “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.”

Sir David Attenborough reminded us that the UK and 125 other countries made commitments to deliver change – in response to wildfires in Australia, USA and Brazil – as well as record-breaking temperature rises in the Arctic Circle, floods and worldwide tempests.  The UK government has made a commitment to transitioning the economy to net zero by 2050 – 30 years away.

The Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey made a speech in which he stated that investment and productivity in the UK economy as a whole has been weak.  He also stressed that, as part of Covid recovery, the critical element that stimulation and investment will play in transition to zero net emissions.

Sir David Attenborough has regularly spoken about the 88% of people who changed their lifestyle after watching Blue Planet II and our heir apparent, Prince Charles, has made clear that “It is now rapidly becoming a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”

So, when Sir David says “it’s too late” to avoid climate change, it has to be taken seriously and acted on at all levels – especially by Local Authorities.

Council members will no doubt know that, since 1990, the UK has achieved a 37% reduction in its territorial CO2 emissions.  However, this does not include emissions from aviation, shipping and business related to imports and exports.  This makes the average 0.4% a year.  And the main reason is not a consequence of climate policies, but an 2001 EU directive on air quality that forced the replacement of dirty coal power plants with less dirty gas powered stations.  Let’s look at some of the less complex issues and see what actions Westminster can do now.

Two charities – New Weather Institute and Possible – published a report in April showing that 29% of Westminster residents – 3rd in a UK league table – had bought a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV).  Members may like to note that six of the top ten areas for large SUV sales were wealthy London boroughs – one in ten being a Range Rover.  Consumer demand for these larger, more polluting SUVs is not primarily driven by practical needs.

  • These energy hungry vehicles produce around 25% more carbon dioxide emissions than medium-sized  And, for every fully electric UK vehicle sold in the last four years, 37 SUVs were sold.  New sales of UK diesel, petrol and some hybrid vehicles are to end by 2030 and we are hosting the COP 2021 climate conference in Glasgow later this year. The latest Government target, as of yesterday, is a 78% reduction target in greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.
  • The two Charities have called for an immediate ban on advertising for at least the dirtiest third of most polluting SUVs – so large that they do not fit average car parking or garage spaces. I support this proposal.
  • We should also urge the government to end advertising for all internal combustion engine vehicles well in advance of the 2030 deadline to discourage a final surge in sales of these polluting vehicles.
  • Given the undue profit margin for SUVs and harms caused by the growth in ownership, the ASA needs to be pressed to show less bias towards the advertising industry interests and become far more proactive in addressing climate ”

Speaking after the Council meeting Rita Begum also said:

“I understand that my opponent Tony Devenish has argued that SUVs are “often essential” for residents in Westminster, Kensington & Hammersmith.  He has advised that “constituents don’t see themselves as living ‘in Town.  They seem to enjoy the best of both worlds, working from home in the countryside and enjoying City life.”

His belief in SUVs as being ‘essential’ is part of a civic profile – voters being part of a ‘sandwich’ generation; shifting children between social events; experiencing time with elderly relatives; using their SUV as a dog carrier and holding down a job.  He is also quoted as having said that “SUV owners are environmentally friendly”.

As a GLA candidate, I note the points made about the high volume of SUVs in Westminster and would stress my support for Sadiq Khan in tackling climate change – including the emission pollution produced by SUVs.  “I will also be pleased to support the priority Sadiq is giving to making, similar to President Biden, the need to place air quality and our environment at the top of the list for action now.”

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