Open letter to our new Labour Council

Very many congratulations from XR Wandsworth on an historic win for Labour in Thursday’s election. I am sure that the Conservative administration’s woefully inadequate response to the climate emergency caused many voters to vote for parties proposing actions which address the dire situation which confronts us all, ending the years of complacency and greenwashing which have become synonymous with the Conservatives’ leadership. We hope that the significant margin gained by Labour and the increase in environmental concerns which were raised during the pre-election period give you the confidence to pursue a radical agenda while in office. We look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

Extinction Rebellion Wandsworth sees tackling the climate emergency as by far and away the most pressing issue facing people in Wandsworth, nationally and globally. In the words of António Guterres “We are on a fast track to climate disaster … We are on a pathway to global warming of more than double the 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris.”

The urgency of addressing climate change has never been stated more clearly. The UN Secretary General includes governments and politicians in his plea for immediate action while acknowledging the role that climate activists have played in driving forward the environmental agenda. With that endorsement in mind, we would like to offer some thoughts – and some queries – on Labour’s manifesto pledges for Wandsworth.

Homes for All

While 1,000 new Council homes and increases in affordable housing are welcomed, we did not see any reference to insulation within the manifesto, nor to building to carbon-neutral standards. Building new homes to carbon-neutral standards and insulating the Council’s existing housing stock will help to address the cost of living crisis as well as the climate emergency. In terms of the often scandalous housing conditions in the rental sector, we notice that you refer only to reaching ‘minimum energy efficiency standards’. Is this an ambitious, sector-leading target?

Sustainability for All

We wholeheartedly welcome the intention to hold a Citizens’ Assembly to determine how Wandsworth can become a carbon neutral borough. Given the fact that we are in a climate emergency we assume that the timescale for this will be announced shortly as one of the new Council’s priorities. After all, it is the action emerging from the outcomes which will be impactful, not the assembly itself.

More disappointing in this section is the aim for the Council to be carbon neutral by 2030, which is given prominence and reiterated a number of times. The concerns here are twofold: first, the Council’s emissions are only 3% of total borough emissions so this is not exactly a stretch target; second, the Conservative leadership also had net zero by 2030 as its aim, and a Labour administration would surely want to adopt more challenging targets.

Finally, taking action ‘to decarbonise the council’s pension fund by 2030’ is certainly not ‘ambitious’ as you claim. The fiduciary and ethical arguments for immediate divestment are well-rehearsed and we would urge you to take this significant and symbolic step immediately. In doing so you would be matching the steps already taken by numerous councils across the UK and sending a clear signal that ending fossil fuel investment is a moral imperative. Once the pension fund is completely rid of fossil fuel investments, the next step should be annually increasing investment in zero-carbon projects.

Prosperity for All

We note your reference to the £700 million reserves which have been built up as part of Wandsworth’s assets and your concern that they are projected to deliver less than 1% return this year. As well as ensuring that there are no fossil fuel investments as part of that portfolio, we would also urge you to seek out the opportunities for ethical investment with a focus on renewable energy and decarbonisation strategies.

Once again, congratulations on your election victory and we look forward to continued dialogue and the urgent action you will undertake to address the Climate Emergency declared by the council in 2019.

Best wishes

XR Wandsworth

Air pollution

Did you know that over 300 people die prematurely in Wandsworth each year because of illegal levels of air pollution, with many others left struggling to breathe? Four out of ten of London’s worst air pollution areas are in Wandsworth. Visit to check the air quality where you live.

New research shows that air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was responsible for 8.7 million deaths globally in 2018, a staggering one in five of all people who died that year. In the UK, it is estimated that air pollution is responsible for around 36,000 premature deaths annually, with up to 9,400 in London according to a recent report by London Councils. Dirty air has been linked to many different health problems in children, including reduced lung capacity and increased asthma. On 16 December 2020 a south London coroner made history by ruling that air pollution was a contributory cause of the death of 9-year-old Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah. And people who live in deprived areas are often exposed to higher levels of air pollution, so poor air quality is a social justice issue.

But what about Wandsworth Council?

The Council declared a climate emergency in 2019; their job is to ensure the wellbeing of local residents. You might therefore assume that they are taking urgent measures to address the climate emergency and protect us from the dangers of air pollution. You would be wrong. The Council has failed to act. In fact they are making things worse by cutting down large numbers of mature trees, as has happened recently in York Gardens. The recently published Wandsworth Air Quality Action Plan lacks all sense of urgency and offers no radical solutions.

So, what have we done about it?

On the 24th July, rebels from XR Wandsworth marched from Balham to Tooting Broadway today to protest against Wandsworth Council’s dismal failure to address the problem of air pollution. Drummers, a coffin, banners and a tree of life were all involved – a lively party but a very sombre message. At the end of the March there were inspiring speeches from passionate local campaigners and experts. You can watch the livestream of the whole action here:

Find out more

One of the speakers on Saturday was Pete Knapp, air quality researcher at Imperial College London. You can read a longer piece from Pete on air pollution here if you would like to find out more.