It should be clear by now, with the frequent wild fires, floods and freak weather we are seeing, that climate change is with us already, and that we have to do two things: first to try to prevent the effects from getting worse (prevention or mitigation), and secondly to try to protect people from the effects we are already seeing (adaptation). It is also clear that the most vulnerable and poorest populations are most liable to suffer the worst effects of climate change.
We would have expected Havering’s Climate Action Plan to be clear on these points – but it is in fact very disappointing in a number of significant ways.
1. Vulnerable residents in Havering are only mentioned once in the whole plan (over 70 pages), and yet they are the ones most subject to floods, air and water quality, excessive heat and other effects of climate change.
2. The plans include plenty of aspirations, but many of these are simply to improve – or sometimes to start! – ‘monitoring.’ The plans lack measurable targets: how many new cycle paths, how many areas can be better protected from flooding?
3. There is little sense of an urgent need for action and too many ‘evaluations’ or ‘reviews’. If the plans included action they would also need costings – and not just a list of sources of grants.
4. Where plans have been made, far too many are described as being at an early stage or ‘under review’.
5. Cited actions the borough has taken (the green roof on Elm Park Library, LEDs, solar panels on schools – some of which were put up 20 years ago) are mostly not at all new.
6. There is a lack of ambition in some areas, and too much reliance on outside bodies: fossil fuel divestment will leave 60% of investments still in fossil fuels. Transport plans seem to rely on London Transport for ideas. Waste reduction depends on ELWA.
7. At a basic level, the nature of climate change is poorly explained and communicated. We would have expected a plan to not simply provide guidance for officers, but to be communicable to the public, since public engagement must happen for the aims of the plan to be realised. We would argue that the community that is going to be impacted by climate change needs to be involved in, and able to influence, decision making on climate change.
To illustrate the poor explanations: the interconnections between global warming, air pollution, biodiversity etc are not explained and their relevance to climate change is often far from clear. Similarly, the word ‘sustainability’ is used without explaining its importance to climate change.
8. We would have expected each area covered by the plan to deal with both prevention and adaptation – but the distinction is only made in one section, and then the focus is on adaptation rather than prevention!
9. It is unclear how the overall aims will be monitored. We would suggest there should be a councillor at cabinet level and a lead officer jointly required to publish audited reports on progress. The last two plans have apparently been disregarded, and there is no acknowledgement that apparently next to nothing has been done since 2017 when the second plan came to an end.
10. Finally, although the nod is given to community involvement, only one or two bodies are mentioned (Tapestry, the Volunteer Centre), none of which are directly concerned with environmental issues. There is no suggestion as to how to reach out to other groups and individuals, concerned about the environment, even though there are several active groups in the borough who could contribute to a meaningful discussion on climate change.
Ian Pirie, Co-ordinator, Havering Friends of the Earth