OPINION - Sadiq Khan: Why I told the Pope's climate summit we must double down, not back down

 (Vatican Media)
(Vatican Media)

It’s an honour to have been invited by the Pope to speak at an important climate summit at the Vatican. Following my recent re-election in London, I go with a clear message for other city leaders — this is not the time to back down, but to double down.

The incontrovertible truth is that our species is waging a war on the natural world, one that will ultimately lead to our ruin. Our hopes of keeping 1.5 degrees alive hangs by a thread. And whether in London or across the globe, it is the most vulnerable — those who’ve contributed the least to this catastrophe — who are shouldering the heaviest burden of the consequences.

This is a moment which demands the courage to take tough decisions because regardless of the differing beliefs and faiths we live by, we share a collective duty as custodians of this planet.

As I start my third term in as Mayor of London, I have an unwavering determination to continue putting London at the vanguard of the climate movement and to work with other cities to do the same.

In London, we’ve already achieved a great deal — establishing the largest zero-emission bus fleet in western Europe, quadrupling the size of our cycle network, divesting our pension funds from fossil fuels, turning London into a global centre for green finance and planting more than half a million trees. And, of course, we’ve cleaned up the air Londoners breathe.

Thanks to ULEZ and the other air quality policies we have introduced, roadside nitrogen dioxide pollution has been cut in half, with initial figures showing it is now at its lowest level on record in London. When I first took office, we had 455 schools located in areas with illegal levels of air pollution. It’s now under 20, and soon it will be zero. In 2016, experts told me it would take 196 years to bring London’s air within legal limits, but we are now set to do it by next year.

My opponents clearly thought that by attacking the climate agenda they could advance a political one. But it didn’t work

The truth is ULEZ has proved to be one of the most effective environmental interventions anywhere in the world. Of course, it’s also proved to be the toughest challenge I’ve faced in the 30 years I’ve held public office. My opponents clearly thought that by attacking the climate agenda they could advance a political one. But it didn’t work. The manifesto on which I stood recommitted London to ULEZ, to London reaching net-zero by 2030, to cleaning up our rivers and to a host of other bold green pledges. We proudly put the green agenda on the ballot paper and Londoners made their choice.

This demonstrates that the path to both human progress and political success can be green — something which I hope can give confidence to other mayors around the world as they take the climate action urgently needed.

I know many other cities in Europe and across the globe are now looking at ULEZ as a successful policy and how they could implement something similar in their own cities. This shows how cross-city support and the sharing of ideas can be so effective through bodies like the C40 — which is a global network of nearly 100 mayors of the world’s leading cities, united in action to confront the climate crisis.

The C40 is making a huge difference because cities are where over half the world’s population lives and where over 75 per cent of global energy is consumed. Through the C40, which I serve as co-chair, we’re demonstrating — with bold policies like ULEZ — the true gap in both ambition and achievement between cities and nations, with three quarters of C40 members now out-performing their respective nation states in emissions reduction.

In a year where half of the world’s population will be heading to the polls for national elections, the need for greater urgency and unity on climate action has never been more palpable. A better future is now visible — our cities and regions have traced the outline. If nations follow where our cities are leading, I’m optimistic that we can turn this moment of maximum risk into a moment of maximum opportunity.

Sadiq Khan is mayor of London