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Photograph: Steve Beech
Photograph: Steve Beech

A vision for a properly green London

Dr Hannah Peck, deputy director at climate campaigning charity Cool Earth, paints a picture of the lush, eco-friendly city our capital could be

Chiara Wilkinson
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Chiara Wilkinson
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We're closing off 2021 re-sharing some of our favourite pieces of the year. In November, a climate scientist imagined a greener London for us – and it sounded pretty great. 

A truly sustainable London would be very, very green. There’d be more of those buildings with plants all over the walls and food growing on the roof. We’d appreciate the green spaces that we already have much more and keep trees growing and parks standing. But planting a ton of trees is actually quite complicated: they’ve got to be the right species, they’ve got to last. They need to grow into huge oxygen-creating carbon stores for London’s future generations.

There’d be cycle lanes everywhere and a great public transport system running on clean energy. No cars, only electric vehicles. Oxford Street would be pedestrianised with plants everywhere. All the shops would stock sustainable products and only use packaging that’s biodegradable or reusable. And restaurants would have mostly plant-based menus to reduce meat consumption. Instead of paving, driveways would be covered in grass or vegetation [that soaks up rain], helping to reduce flash flooding. Everything would be powered by wind, solar or battery systems. The technology is out there to do it.

There’s a lot of potential in the Thames. It would be wonderful if it was more accessible to everyone – I actually commute in a kayak across the river most days. There was recently a proposed amendment from the House of Lords to the Environment Bill on the overflow of untreated sewage into rivers. The amendment was initially voted against but it caused so much outrage that it was agreed on a week later. It’s a good step in getting the changes needed to reduce pollution, but will take time until we can swim without worry and see wildlife return in abundance.

To get to this future London, it’s urgent we act now – in many ways, we’re already too late. We’re seeing that in the extreme weather that’s causing suffering around the world. But we’re also seeing positive changes in behaviours. It will take all of us working together and doing little things that add up, as well as huge government investment. If we keep pressing, I’m optimistic we could get there.

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