One of the inadvertent impacts of the full lockdown earlier in the year was, of course, the easing of congestion in our cities as car and other vehicle travel declined.
There was a brief glimpse of a different type of future.
Over the past five years we at London Councils have polled people in the capital on the subject of air quality. Awareness of air pollution has risen by 10% among respondents over that time. Almost half of respondents believe that their personal health has been impacted by the quality of our air and a similar proportion say that their concerns affect day to day decisions in their lives – in particular about the nature and mode of journeys that they and their children take, including cycling. Those numbers have all risen over time.
We are now moving on to poll Londoners more broadly about attitudes to climate change and hope to publish the findings before Christmas. Like many other parts of the country, we had been collaborating to tackle the climate emergency in a variety of ways – from retrofitting, to access to green spaces, and moves towards zero emission fleets though to the Go Ultra Low Cities Scheme.
For lots of us, of course, one of the questions that now comes clearly into focus is what impact the pandemic – and our recovery from it – will have on this agenda?
Emerging from a health crisis that has led to profound economic consequences, does provide something of a platform for a renewed focus on the wider environmental challenge we have been facing.
Health and economic recovery is intimately linked with tackling climate change. London’s Recovery Programme, for example, has set itself the target of doubling the size of the capital’s green economy by 2030 and part of that will be about mobilising finance to support the growth of London’s clean tech and circular businesses as part of the move towards a net zero ambition by 2030.
There will be lots of those examples across the country.
It can take a lot to remain focused on those longer term climate ambitions when we are all so consumed by responding to the present, but they are ambitions that will often be part of our broader, near term recovery efforts as well.
John O’Brien is chief executive of London Councils