This week is London Climate Action Week and the Climate Innovation Forum will, once more, be one of the key events. As we know from running a virtual London Circular Economy Week 2020, these events can bring people together to create a community, deepen understanding of actions, reinforce learning and create a call to action.
Last year’s London Climate Action Week – the first – was a great success. It really felt as though the city had been taken over by advocates for climate change and people who wanted to learn more. The Climate Innovation Forum was at the heart of these events. Watching the video highlights reminded me of the scale of the challenge and the size of the opportunity.
Of course, much has changed since last June. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken over our lives and few people want the world to go back to how it used to be. COP26 has been postponed by 12 months giving us more time to manage the complex diplomacy of increasing international ambition. However, despite the hiatus in normal activity, including London’s renowned cultural and sporting scene, London remains a world leading city, full of talent and driven by ambitious goals for decarbonisation and promoting the circular economy.
So, what should come out of this year’s London Climate Action Week and the Climate Innovation Forum?
We should focus on a green and low carbon recovery that supports jobs and the most vulnerable in society. In LWARB’s response to the Committee on Climate Change’s letter to the Prime Minister on the principles of a resilient recovery from Covid-19, we set out the role that the circular economy can play. London has shown its commitment by signing up for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s initiative to which more than 50 global leaders pledge to build back better with the circular economy.
It will take a transformation in the way in which we live, work and consume for London to achieve its ambition to be a leading low carbon city. There will be many opportunities for investment and jobs as we put in place carbon reducing initiatives to promote, for example, energy efficiency and retrofit programmes, build electric vehicle charging networks, redesign roads for more cycling and plant trees and create more green spaces.
Primarily, these activities will help to reduce emissions from energy production – which is 55% of global emissions. The remaining 45% of emissions comes from consumption – the production of materials such as steel, concrete and aluminium and from food systems and land use.
A circular economy keeps products and materials circulating within the economy at their highest value for as long as possible, through re-use, recycling, remanufacturing, delivering products as services and sharing. Circular economy policies and business models, together with behaviour change, can address consumption-based emissions which for London are 110 million tonnes CO2e. The circular economy also reduces waste, creates new jobs and supports local communities. It has a role to play in building the skills for the future and reimagining a high street where repair cafes and community hire shops, like Library of Things, take the place of retail outlets.
Innovation in policy making, supply chains and marketing can promote these principles and realise the benefits. We are already seeing a real interest in connecting businesses, boroughs and citizens so that they can all increase their awareness of and benefit from circular economy approaches.
We will also need to continue to support and provide capital for the start-ups and small medium sized enterprises that will enable the transition to a low carbon, circular future. Businesses like those in our Advance London network have an important role to play in creating jobs, stimulating local economies and amplifying new circular business models.
Despite struggling to access Government schemes, many have shown their resilience by pivoting to new business models. Globechain, the reuse marketplace for business, has helped the NHS to access personal protective equipment. Anti-bacterial hand sanitiser producer, Delphis Eco, and leading recycling company, First Mile, helped fight against Covid-19 by getting households to recycle their plastic bottle closures – such as trigger sprays, hand soap pumps and flip top caps – via a free RecycleBox courier collection. If these businesses can adapt to a global pandemic, with the right investment, they can be London’s dynamic businesses of the future.
I look forward to hearing about more of the successes of the last 12 months – from policy to behaviour change and investment. The energy generated by London Climate Action Week and the Climate Innovation Forum will reinforce the inspiration that came from London Circular Economy Week. It will strengthen the link between the circular economy and the transition to a carbon-neutral future. This link is an essential part of addressing hard to mitigate consumption-based emissions and can create the sustainable businesses of the future, generating new, high quality jobs.
These events and the community we build will sustain us as we work together for a resilient recovery from Covid-19 and anticipate sixteen months of intense action ahead of CoP26. I look forward to seeing you there – virtually, of course.
James Close is the Head of the Circular London Programme at the London Waste and Recycling Board. He was formerly the Director for Climate Change for the World Bank Group.