COVID-19 has rightly consumed much of local authorities’ time and resources since March. We are on the frontlines, tackling local outbreaks, supporting the vulnerable, and solving entirely new kinds of problems in partnership with our communities. But even amidst the frenetic activity of a fast-moving situation, we must not lose sight on the next looming crisis: the climate emergency.
There are eerie parallels. Air pollution is responsible for the premature deaths of nearly 10,000 Londoners. Intense heatwaves, droughts, and the displacement of people as a result of climate change will put pressure on our health systems and infrastructure. Coronavirus showed us that global events have local consequences. And, like this pandemic, these effects will take the greatest toll on the poorest and widen existing inequalities.
In 2019, Brent LBC joined others around the country in declaring a climate and ecological emergency. Next month, we will publish our Climate Emergency Strategy, setting out our priorities and a pathway to carbon zero. It is the culmination of a year of research, review, and engagement with our communities and colleagues.
We have a mammoth job ahead of us: from improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock and strengthening the local circular economy, to boosting infrastructure that supports active travel and green alternatives.
Two things are clear. First, local authorities need real leadership and committed resources from national government. Second, we need to take people with us. As we’ve seen in this pandemic, issuing dire warnings will only take us so far. Most of us have a limited capacity for acting on apocalyptic predictions, however much the science supports them. Instead, we need to help people understand the tangible benefits of a transformation to zero carbon; warmer homes, cleaner air, greener spaces, and a thriving local economy.
During COVID-19, councils have strengthened ties with their communities, working closely with Mutual Aid groups, faith leaders, voluntary organisations and local businesses. We are well-placed to talk to our residents about the advantages of a green recovery and find solutions that work locally. In Brent, we will be doing this through a new Environmental Network and consultation with our residents. While the pandemic is far from over, we know this work must continue apace.
Despite warnings about the likelihood of a global pandemic and the devastation it could cause, nations failed to prepare. We must not lose our advantage this time – this is our window of opportunity.
Cllr Krupa Sheth is lead member for environment at Brent LBC