Sustainability | Renewable Energy

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London - the Leading Sustainable Metropolis in the World

London, England
View of London's Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from across Westminster Bridge

Hyde Park, London, England


Is London a Green City?

Hyde Park, London

How does a city with the busiest airplane traffic in the entire world and a population of over 12 million (for the entire metro area), become exceptionally sustainable? London has maintained over 35,000 acres of public green spaces (around 40% of the city's entire area).

The Mayor of London announced a revised, more ambitious target of net zero (carbon neutrality) by 2030 (the old target date was 2050). In March 2021 - "The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched an ambitious new programme to help businesses tackle the climate emergency and achieve London’s target of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2030."  [Quote from -  london.gov.uk/mayors-new-scheme-for-businesses-to-cut-carbon]. To that end, London is engaged in ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies. Additionally, the city boasts one of the greatest sustainable mass transportation networks in the world.

“London’s positive climate leadership ranking recognises the Mayor’s commitments to take action on the climate emergency we are facing. London was one of the first global cities to publish a 1.5 degree compatible plan, in line with the Paris Agreement, to put us on a pathway to zero-carbon..." - Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor of Environment and Energy at the Greater London Authority.

Sustainability measures such as London's congestion charge (C-charge) zone and ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) work to encourage EVs, public transit, and cycling; and dissuade driving of high-emitting internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. Even more ambitious than the C-charge zone and ULEZ, London is introducing ICE vehicle-free zones in select parts of the city center (discussed below).

The Mayor of London and Transport for London are working on redesigning some parts of city center districts into pedestrian- and bicycle-only vehicle-free zones. The C-charge zone and ULEZ encourage highly efficient vehicles and zero-emission vehicles, as opposed to imposing an outright vehicle ban. In London's low emission zones less efficient, highly polluting vehicles face a hefty fee and as a result; over 90% of vehicles in Central London are ULEZ compliant.


The Benefits of London's C-charge and ULEZ

The C-charge zone began as a weekday measure but now has expanded to 7 days/ week (except Christmas Day). ULEZ is within the C-charge zone.

In order to encourage alternative cleaner forms of transit, and discourage excessive polluting ICE vehicle use, there is a levy imposed on less efficient, more polluting vehicles entering Central London. The levy, London's C-charge (implemented citywide in 2003), applies to vehicles with tailpipe emissions entering central London, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The C-charge levy starts at £15 and can be paid online, or the driver may face a fine of up to £160.

ICE vehicles tested and certified to have much lower polluting tailpipe emissions qualify for a lower C-charge, and zero-emissions vehicles qualify for an exemption to the C-charge. For example, electric vehicles qualify for an exemption from C-charge levies and are permitted to use London's ULEZ. London's ULEZ operates within the congestion charge zone.

Vehicle standards in London's ultra-low emissions zone are strict. For example, heavy-duty vehicles using London's ULEZ must pass Euro VI emission standards or pay a daily charge of up to £300.

"The Low Emission Zone was set up to encourage the most polluting heavy diesel vehicles driving in the capital to become cleaner. It covers most of Greater London and operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The tougher LEZ is already having an impact, with new data from City Hall showing compliance with the new standards is nearly at 90%. Transport for London announced that their entire 9,000-strong core bus fleet complies with the LEZ standards, and now meets or exceeds the cleanest Euro VI emissions standards."   FROM  -    london.gov.uk/new-tighter-lez-standards-for-hgvs-in-london


Results of London's C-charge and ULEZ

As a result of London's C-charge and ULEZ, there are fewer automobiles in Central London, more bus journeys, more travel by cycling; as well as an increase in transit via simply walking. Such a mandate does come with its skeptics, however the ratio of Londoners in support of the congestion charge to the skeptics has consistently been around 1-to-1.

London's C-charge and ULEZ are examples of the kind of solutions that will produce the paradigm shift needed to reduce our global dependence on fossil fuels. There continues to be significantly reduced tailpipe GHGs in London, as 90% of cars in central London now meet the ULEZ standards, and citywide compliance with the ULEZ standards has continued to grow.

The revenue from London's congestion charge goes to fund the city's public transit, road improvements, and related transit infrastructure. Between 2003-2019, London's C-charge raised over £2 billion (around £150 million per year) for road maintenance, sustainable mass transit projects, and alternative transit street improvements (like widening bike lanes and creating car-free central pedestrian/ market zones).

"In the first year of congestion charging alone, London enjoyed a 30% reduction in traffic congestion and a 30% increase in average speeds, while bus passenger numbers increased by 38%. The charge has generated over £2 billion in revenue since 2003 – around £150 million per year, and rising. All of this revenue has been reinvested into London’s transport infrastructure. Turning over road space to other users has created a more efficient transport system that can accommodate more people.

...more people are using public transport and cycling than ever before, and the number of trips made by car continues to decline. The Congestion Charge has helped London to achieve a transport mode shift – since 2002, the percentage of trips made by private car has reduced from 46% to 36%, while public transport has increased from 29% to 37%, and a further 27% of journeys in London are made by walking or cycling. London’s goal is that 80% of all trips in the city will be made by walking, cycling or public transit..."   FROM  -  c40knowledgehub.org/How-road-pricing-is-transforming-London-and-what-your-city-can-learn

Taking a more strict environmental stance than even the ULEZ represents, major streets in London's city center have started banning ICE vehicles (as seen in this article from World Economic Forum about one such street):

  • A street in the heart of London’s financial district has banned petrol and diesel vehicles
  • The aim is to bring nitrogen dioxide levels within guideline limits.
  • The 18-month trial will be used to consider similar plans for other streets.
  • Air pollution is the biggest environmental threat to health in the UK, according to Public Health England.

One London street is taking extreme action against air pollution by banning all petrol and diesel cars. Beech Street, in the heart of London’s financial district, will be restricted to zero-emission vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians by spring 2020, with exceptions made for emergency vehicles, access to car parks and for refuse collection and deliveries. The road, much of which runs underneath a housing estate, will participate in an initial trial for 18 months, while air quality and traffic are monitored.   

FROM - weforum.org//britain-london-air-quality-zero-emissions-street-ban-petrol-diesel-cars-electric


Mass transit in London

London's Ultra low emission ZONE
Double-decker bus in London

London boasts one of the largest bus systems in Europe, with ~9,000 buses, running 24 hours a day, and serving over 6 million passengers on weekdays. London has invested in diesel-electric hybrid buses, which deliver around 40% CO2 reduction; along with a few other types of alternative fuel buses now serving London.

Already, around half of buses in London run on biofuel-diesel blends, or are hybrid diesel-electric, or are simply electric. Most biofuel buses in London run on biodiesel, specifically, as opposed to bioethanol-petrol blended fuels.

"Cleaner buses

Since last year, all new double-deck buses will be hybrid, electric, or hydrogen, to focus on only buying the greenest, cleanest buses. In central London, all double-deck buses will be hybrid as of 2019 and all single-deck buses will emit zero exhaust emissions by 2020. By 2037 at the latest, all 9,200 buses across London will be zero emission."   FROM -    london.gov.uk/pollution-and-air-quality/cleaner-buses


'All Transport for London (TfL) 9,000 buses now meet or exceed the cleanest Euro VI emissions standards. Around 4,000 London buses have been retrofitted to reduce harmful nitrogen oxide levels by an average of 90 per cent. And TfL is now to focus on growing its zero-emission bus network (in 2020 34 Caetano battery-electric buses were rolled out).

More than 400 all-electric buses have been introduced so far. And around 300 additional zero-emission buses are expected to join the fleet by the end of this year. There are plans for 2,000 all-electric buses to be in operation by 2025. "    FROM  -  sustainable-bus.com/news/transport-for-london-ulez-standard-electric-buses


The London Underground Railway (known as The Tube) features over 250 miles of tracks and is one of the most used subway systems in all of Europe. London has large suburban rail services, connecting many of the city's areas. In addition, there are high-speed trains linking London to Paris and Brussels, as well as a high-speed domestic rail line, connecting London to Kent.


London's renewable energy and energy efficiency goals

The City of London recognizes the importance of new clean energy and energy efficiency technology in contributing towards its carbon emission reduction goals, and has set a target of supplying 25% of London’s energy from decentralized energy by 2025. Currently, London sets many of its clean energy goals through its London Sustainable Development Commission. Greater London Authority planning policies require energy developments to consider: 1) connecting to local district heating networks, or 2) installing their own combined heat and power (CHP), and 3) meeting 20% of the relevant site's energy demand from renewable energy sources.

The City of London has issued a set of public policies to minimize and reduce GHGs from buildings in the city, which must all take measures to become more energy efficient, including:

  • Major development [in London] should be net zero-carbon. This means reducing carbon dioxide emissions from construction and operation.
  • Boroughs [in London] must establish and administer a carbon offset fund. Offset fund payments must be ring-fenced to implement projects that deliver greenhouse gas reductions.
  • Boroughs [in London] should ensure that all developments maximize opportunities for on-site electricity and heat production from solar technologies (photovoltaic and thermal) and use innovative building materials and smart technologies.   FROM - london.gov.uk/what-we-do/planning/london-plan/new-london-plan/dsustainable-infrastructure


The London Olympics were a perfect example of sustainability...

Sustainability at the 2012 London Summer Olympics



Other, novel ways to reduce GHG emissions from fossil-fuel based vehicles by imposing mandates for levies on polluting vehicles, while encouraging the use of low-emitting, clean vehicles, can be found in several other world cities to date, including:

Oslo, Norway, which is considering mandating a complete ban on fossil-fuel cars in the city, and also has a congestion charge

and Crit'Air in Paris, now in cities throughout France



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