The first path is the path of inaction, which would see us sleepwalking to a climate catastrophe and thousands more premature deaths from air pollution every year: Mayor of #London Sadiq Khan

Channel 1 Los Angeles

9/23/2021 London

We were at the school to launch a city-wide environment campaign, starting with an art installation, depicting the crossroads that we face today.

Because the choice is stark. 

It’s between two very different futures that young Londoners could inherit.

The first path is the path of inaction, which would see us sleepwalking to a climate catastrophe and thousands more premature deaths from air pollution every year.   

And the other path is the path of action and courage, where we make the tough, but necessary choices, now.

This second path is the one we must take. 

The one that can lead us to a cleaner, healthier and greener world – fit for future generations to come.   

Let me start with air pollution. 

You know, I’ve visited Prior Weston before today.

In 2017, in my first year as Mayor, we chose the school to host the launch of our Schools Air Quality Audit Programme.

As part of this, we analysed the air around 50 of the most polluted schools in our city.

And – like with other schools – we found that the air surrounding Prior Weston primary school was in breach of legal air pollution limits.

Let’s reflect on that for a minute. 

And what it means for children who live and breathe London.

It means that many children  in our city have been growing up with a higher risk of developing asthma, stunted lungs and other significant life-changing health problems – just for going to school in our city.  

Four years on, Prior Weston has changed.

Using our funding, they’ve installed a green screen, protecting the playground from toxic fumes.

And they’re reaping the benefits of the world’s first Ultra-Low Emission Zone which covers central London.

As a result, Prior Weston now meets legal pollution limits for the first time since the standards were introduced.

This is great news.

But it didn’t happen by itself or by accident.

It happened by design, by taking the right path. 

Because by working together, we took bold and necessary action.

We didn’t duck the difficult choices that needed to be made – and as a result, similar improvements have been replicated at dangerously polluted schools across our city.  

Yet – even though we’ve delivered dramatic improvements to London’s air quality since 2016 – cutting pollution levels by nearly a half in central London – there’s still a long way to go.

You know, 4,000 Londoners are still dying prematurely every year as a direct result of toxic air. 

Children are still growing up with stunted lungs.

Thousands of Londoners – like me – are still developing adult-onset asthma.   

And the evidence showing the wider dangers of air pollution just keeps on mounting.     

From the links to dementia and long-term poor mental health.

To the increased risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.

Just yesterday the World Health Organization tightened their air quality guidelines reflecting the overwhelming weight of evidence about the devastating impact of air pollution – even at low levels.

It’s also a social justice issue, with air pollution hitting the poorest in our city the hardest – those who are less likely to own a car.     

As Mayor, I’m not willing to stand idly by. 

It took decades before action was taken to protect children from toxic cigarette smoke. 

And I’m not willing to make the same mistakes by turning a blind eye to the devastating impact of the toxic air pollution that’s still damaging the health of Londoners. 

That’s why I introduced the Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone and that’s why I’ve made the choice  to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, starting next month, to a much wider area. 

We believe this bold action will:

  • Allow over 4 million more Londoners to breath cleaner air. 
  • Benefit 200,000 Londoners who suffer from asthma.
  • Cut carbon emissions, helping to tackle climate change at the same time.   
  • Prevent almost 300,000 new cases of air-quality related disease. 
  • And avoid over one million hospital admissions in London by 2050 – saving the NHS almost £5 billion pounds over the next 30 years.  

Now imagine, imagine if this kind of action was taken across the nation.  

Imagine, imagine if the Government shared our passion and adopted the air quality guidelines from the World Health Organization as legally binding targets.

We’d have cleaner air for everyone in our country. 

Not only saving lives, but saving billions for our economy in the longer-term.

So, I make a plea today to local, regional and national politicians:

Start taking more action on air pollution today – and join us on the right path.  

In particular, I call on the Government to create a national Clean Air Fund to help people switch to cleaner, greener cars and more sustainable transport options. 

The same level of urgency is needed to tackle the climate crisis.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a true crisis in every sense of the word.

But it could pale in comparison to the impact of the climate emergency, which could be even more damaging and disruptive to our way of life.  

I’m increasingly concerned about what type of London children growing up in our city today will inherit –- if we don’t make the right choices now.

Children like those at Prior Weston School.

Again – just like with air pollution – I’m proud to say that London is leading the way. 

We’ve brought London’s zero carbon target forward to 2030. 

We were one of the first cities in the world to publish a climate action plan compatible with the highest ambition of the Paris Agreement.

We’re electrifying our bus and taxi fleets. 

We’re scaling up solar energy across the capital. 

And we’re divesting pension funds from fossil fuels. 

But we can’t do it alone in London.  

Climate change is the biggest global threat we face and we need urgent national, international and global cooperation – which, so far, has been sorely lacking. 

Climate change is also often portrayed as a problem that only impacts far off parts of the planet or something to worry about in the future

But we’re starting to see the real-life consequences on our doorsteps already – with soaring temperatures and flash flooding in London.   

This summer, 31 of our stations were forced to close due to flooding, causing chaos and disruption.

Of course, we’re working to mitigate this growing risk.

But we know from what we’ve seen in the ‘Global South’, and in Germany and New York, that things can get much worse very quickly. 

Our new climate risk map shows that, without the necessary action, most London boroughs, particularly those in inner London, are at serious risk.   

Hackney a few minutes’ walk from here, faces the greatest danger of flooding and overheating, followed by:

  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Islington
  • Brent
  • Tower Hamlets
  • And Newham

In these areas, the risk is deemed “very high”, which could potentially put many lives and livelihoods in danger.

We’ve also identified that a quarter of London’s rail  stations, and 10 per cent of the rail network, could face flooding in the future.

That 1 in 5 of our schools – and almost half of our hospitals – are either totally or partially at risk of flooding.

And that nearly 200,000 homes and workplaces in our city are either at high or medium risk of flooding, leaving over a million Londoners at risk.

The current Thames barrier stops tidal floods from washing back up into the city. 

It was closed just ten times in the decade after construction finished in 1981.

Since 2010, it’s been closed 80 times.  80 times

But even if we plan to upgrade and strengthen London’s tidal defences, we can’t reduce the risk entirely as sea levels rise and rise.

That’s why we need global action now. 

We can’t say to future generations that we weren’t warned.

Or that we didn’t have enough time to act

On this very day, seven years ago, in a speech to the UN Climate Change Summit, President Obama said this:

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”

That was seven years ago…

12 years ago, Gordon Brown warned international leaders of the “threat of catastrophic global warming”.

And 17 years ago, Vice President Al Gore talked not only about a “period of the challenge of climate change, but a period of [the] consequences.”

The list of warnings goes on and on. 

Politician after politician.

Scientist after scientist.

Activist, author, expert, and now a whole generation of young, campaigners are raising the alarm.

Not just global figures like Greta Thunberg, but activists like Anjali, Destiny, Kaydine, and Nyeleti – the co-founders of the Choked-Up campaign.

Luisa Neubauer, Jack Harries and Alice Aedy, and many, many others.

It’s clear the best time to act was yesterday. 

But the next best time is now. 

Because – thankfully – it’s still not too late. 

However, we only have a small window of opportunity left.  

Because as our planet continues to warm. 

And as the ice caps continue to melt. 

The chances of a cleaner, greener world, for the pupils of Prior Weston, and the millions like them across the planet, is diminishing, day by day.

So, I say to those climate action delayers – whether it’s nation states or the big corporations that financially benefit from inaction:

You may say that we can’t move too quickly.

That the necessary climate action would damage the economy.


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