Since the early noughties, London has made huge strides to become a more sustainable city. As one of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities (it ranks 27th when compared to other global metropolises), the need for sustainable development is non-negotiable – especially when we consider its estimated population growth; the capital will house 1 million more people within the next 10 years. And according to the UN, the global population is set to rise from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion by 2050.
Undoubtedly, this will put increased pressure on healthcare, education, transport, housing and energy resources, both in the UK and abroad. It begs the question: how can London (and our other major cities across the globe) develop sustainably, and where can improvements be made?
Tackling Air Pollution in London
Despite a reduction in emissions since the millennium, air pollution is still a significant problem in the capital, threatening the health of citizens and visitors alike.
To tackle this, London has adopted increasingly strict policies for privately-owned vehicles on its roads. In a bid to reduce traffic congestion and encourage motorists to use public transport, the congestion charged was introduced in 2003. As of October 2017, older vehicles that fail to meet the minimum Euro emission standards are now charged when travelling into London too. The toxicity charge (or ‘t-charge’) acts as a deterrent for drivers, since it works in addition to the congestion charge. A Low Emissions Zone (LEZ) was also introduced to the city in 2008; it currently covers most of Greater London.
Green Spaces & Infrastructure
London is the greenest major city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world; currently, 47% of the Greater London area is classified as green space.
Green (or living) walls and roofs are a modern, eco-friendly way of housing a growing population without stripping a city of its green space and vegetation. Not only do living roofs and walls support biodiversity in urban areas; since they improve a building’s insulation, they’re an energy efficient option too. There are currently around 700 green roofs in central London, covering an area of over 175,000m2 (or 17.5 hectares).
London: A Future Smart City
As technology improves, the ‘smart city’ becomes a valuable, and increasingly viable, insight into how our urban spaces will operate in the future.
In 2017, London Mayor Sadiq Khan revealed his ambition to turn the capital into ‘the world’s leading smart city.’ From transport to pollution, modern technology is being used to improve the efficiency and connectivity of London’s entire infrastructure.
In June 2018, the ‘Smarter London Together’ roadmap was released, setting out how the city’s governing bodies would turn their ambitions into reality. By collecting and managing data on the environment (emissions data can be gathered from air monitors in the city, for example), it is hoped that the city will become ‘a better place to live, work, visit and study.’
Recycling & Conscious Consumption
In 2016-17, England produced over 23 million tonnes of waste; just over 10 million tonnes of this was recycled. This is still an improvement though; in 1998-99, London’s recycling rate was just 7.6%. Fast-forward to 2017, and this has increased to 33%. However, London’s recycling rate falls short of the national average, which currently stands at 44%. The UK government has set a target that by 2020, 50% of all household waste will be recycled.
Despite global population growth, David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London states, ‘it is not the number of people on the planet that is the issue, but the number of consumers and the scale – and nature, of their consumption.’
Sustainable development, then, has as much to do with the individual as the wider society; we should all strive to live more consciously, with an outward focus and an awareness that our personal consumption has an impact on the world’s resources.