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View from Tooley Street: Our roadmap to a greener, fairer and carbon neutral borough

Fires, floods and droughts, in  recent weeks we have seen almost daily news of devastating extreme weather events around the world, writes Kieron Williams, Southwark Council leader…

Following record temperatures, much of the western United States and Canada are seeing enormous wildfires raging out of control. Meanwhile we see unprecedented rainfall in China, India, Germany and Belgium ending in flooding and tragedy for so many towns and cities.

More worryingly still, climate scientists have responded by expressing their shock that these extreme weather events are arriving so much faster than their modelling of global warming had predicted. The short time we had to avert a climate crisis may be even shorter.

Here in London we’ve had our own heatwave and torrential downpours. With floods around London showing just how quickly extreme weather can overwhelm our city too.

With nearly two thirds of Southwark within ten meters of sea level, the likelihood of global warming leading to a tragedy within our own borough is very real.

For all these reasons, we have declared a Climate Emergency in Southwark and set our ambition to end Southwark’s contribution to global warming by 2030.

We have already made real progress. As a Labour admiration we have already halved the council’s carbon emissions from all of our operational estate, now we working to end them by 2030.

However, the council is only directly responsible for twelve per cent  of carbon emissions in the borough. So our plan also aims to bring together residents, businesses and key organisations to get the whole of Southwark to zero-carbon.

It is a huge task. Our analysis has shown it will take over £4 billion of investment in Southwark alone. That’s a bill we will only be able to meet if the government takes this issue seriously too, and invests in the change needed to green our county’s buildings, streets, energy and businesses. That an enormous price ticket, but it is an essential investment if we are to protect the future of our children and grandchildren. It is also a once in a millennia opportunity to build a better, fairer Britain too.

As a council we are leading by example. We have decarbonised the electricity used by all our public buildings and offices. We have ensured all of our nearly £2 billion pension fund is not directly investing in any carbon-intensive funds and reduced its carbon footprint by 43 per cent. We will entirely decarbonise the pension fund by 2030. At our council assembly meeting this month we also changed the very constitution of the council as a whole to ensure all our decisions consider our impact on the climate.

We are also making sure more carbon is naturally taken out of our air. Last year we planted over 8,000 new trees in Southwark, adding to the fact that our borough already has the highest tree coverage in central London. More broadly, we have invested over £61 million in improving and expanding our Southwark parks since 2010. It’s been wonderful to see the brand new Elephant Park being used by so many people this summer. I’m delighted to say we have four more new parks planned in Southwark, one at Canada Water and three along the Old Kent Road. With our nature action plan also setting out how we will create 17 new Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINCs) as well new wildflower meadows, native hedgerows and more across the borough.

We’re working to clean up our air too, so we can cut carbon emissions and make our streets healthier. We have now rolled out 31 ‘school streets’ where roads are closed at particular times to reduce children’s exposure to harmful fumes and to make it safer and easier to do the school run by foot or peddle. We are doubling the number of bike hangers, so more people have secure places to keep their bike near home and rolling out electric vehicle charring points within walking distance of every home too.

We are also bringing green low carbon energy to our estates, investing £150 million to upgrade our heat networks. Including installing heat pumps that capture heat in water under the ground and pump it up to our council homes, in place of ageing gas boilers. Work on our first three pilot estates is already underway, and we will be looking to go further and faster over the coming years.

We know there is much more to do, and that this is just the beginning. That’s why at this month’s cabinet we published our new Climate Strategy and Action Plan, to set out the challenges in front of us and how we might tackle them further. We want to do this in partnership with residents and help us decide how we can best use our limited resources to reduce the carbon produced across the borough.

Our action plan is not the final word – shortly you will see us begin the process of establishing a Citizen’s Jury to help us improve and prioritise decisions to help us go further and faster in the fairest way possible.

The challenge is enormous, but we are committed to work together with you to make Southwark a greener, fairer and carbon neutral borough.



  1. I don’t want to labor on about the climate crisis and all the doom and gloom of extreme temps, flooding, food scarcity, disease and society breakdown but it’s slowly arriving. This letter from the Councillor reflects the (im)maturity of thought and priority our Labour elected officials have in addressing the crisis. They do not see climate change as the real emergency that needs action now. To get things done quickly it has to be top down. Instead they will delegate it away to committees that will take ages and have no power per “begin the process of establishing a Citizen’s Jury”.

  2. I met him Kieron Williams of Southwark Council on Saturday, well complaining at him really state of my Social Housing situation and lack of Council help, the official opening the Clock Tower at the Blue, it looked nice the Tower however funded by Developers of Peek Freen Biscuit Factory Site Grosvenor of course, pretty up the area for the new build private sector housing they hope Southwark Council will influx investment for not the people us but I couldn’t help thinking after speaking to him Kieron Williams he was a nice approachable man for a leader being used as a pawn and how long like the best of them come and go in Southwark Council till the incompetence that is institutional now at Southwark ruins him as a leader. All the best ideas in the world one fundamental fact nothing will go nowhere less the bosses stop being dictated to by the rank and file brought Southwark to its knees and best form of Green initiatives is oust the Borough of them law unto themselves staff within first. I hope I’m wrong though but we shall see time will tell!

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