London’s Climate Emergency: How Do We Respond?

In 2019, the world saw an awakening in the way cities and countries across the globe consider the environment.  Civil action spearheaded by Greta Thunberg’s #FridayForFuture school strike, the global environmental movement captured by Extinction Rebellion and the impact of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2 have captured the public’s imagination and pushed climate change action to the top of political discourse and people’s consciousness.

Set against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework there is a push to become more environmentally and sustainably focused in the policy arena.  Hundreds of cities, countries and regions declared ‘climate emergencies’ during 2019, including over half of the UK’s local authorities. By the of end of December 2019, The Climate Mobilization had recorded 1,288 climate emergencies world-wide, a considerable increase from the 233 declarations recorded on 1 January 2019[1]. The movement has become so influential that Oxford Dictionary declared ‘climate emergency’ as its word of the year.

In July 2019 the Mayor of London declared a climate emergency and committed to making London a zero-carbon city by 2050. The London Environment Strategy  sets out the policies and programmes that will help London become the world’s greenest global city. Plans include reducing emissions, creating a National Park City, reducing food waste, increasing solar energy production, creating new green infrastructure and investment in clean energy and energy efficient measures.

Following the Mayor’s example, twenty-two London boroughs are similarly setting their own ambitious carbon reduction targets. In fact, half of UK city leaders have identified climate change as a current policy priority[2]. The changes, whether mitigation or adaptation, will require investment, but the costs of not acting far outweigh those of early implementation (Stern Review, Oct 2006).

From our own research, important actions that London and its boroughs can take to address the climate emergency, include:

    • adopting circular economy principles: adopting the three circular economy principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use and regenerating natural systems, promotes an economy of reuse and spurs a transition to renewable resources;
    • promoting sustainable modes of transport: investing in infrastructure to support the use of low-carbon transport modes such as improved walking and cycling routes, electric cars, carsharing schemes and efficient public transport networks;
    • raise awareness and encouraging modal shifts: improving access to and benefits of using public and green transport modes, including the delivery of cost effective and efficient public transport systems and initiatives and/or incentives to cycling schemes;
    • build new energy-efficient infrastructure: new buildings should be built to be climate resilient, low carbon, energy and water efficient, including the incorporation of on-site distributed energy solutions like combined chilling, heating and power systems;
    • retrofitting existing buildings: energy use in homes accounts for approximately 14% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Repairing and upgrading existing buildings through schemes such as installing loft and wall insulation, improving access to and use of renewable energy technology, and implementing shade, ventilation and damp reduction measures would result in energy use efficiencies.

One thing is certain, to effectively respond to the climate emergency London will need to take radical, urgent action and work collaboratively. The question remains however: who will lead this agenda and how will they galvanize the support required to meet these targets?


[1] Calma, J 2019, ‘2019 was the year of climate emergency declarations’, The Verge, 27 December 2019. Accessed 3 January 2020,

[2] Urban Voices: UK City Leaders’ Survey 2019, Arup & Centre for Cities


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