Did you know that over300 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 https://addresspollution.org 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.
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.
We could not have been more pleased when Wandsworth Council declared a climate emergency in July 2019 – this seemed like it would be a turning point for the Borough. But we have since been dismayed by the lack of engagement with local groups or progress towards meeting the targets set out in their annual action plan.
In light of this, we have drawn up demands of Wandsworth Borough Council in four key areas: air pollution, green spaces, food waste and divestment.
Over the next year we will continuously highlight these four key areas of concern, reviewing and publicising the Council’s progress against these demands.
A video explanation of all our demands:
Our demands in a nutshell:
Find out more
You can find the full document setting out all our demands here. It is fully referenced and explains the problem, the solution, and our demands in each key area. We also sent this to the Wandsworth Councillors.
How can I help?
1. Join us outside Wandsworth Town Hall on Wednesdays Every Wednesday, 4.30-6pm, come rain or shine, members of XR Wandsworth will be outside the Town Hall with placards and flyers. Our aims: to remind Wandsworth Council of our four demands, and to emphasise that we are not going away; and to raise awareness of our campaign among Wandsworth residents. Please come and join us.
2. Join our Digital Rebels group If you’re on social media, you can help get the word out about our four demands and why they matter. This could be as simple as liking/retweeting XR Wandsworth tweets!
3. Come to one of XR Wandsworth’s weekly meetings You can catch up with what we’re doing and help plan future actions.
4. Write to your local councillors in support of our demands
2021 started in lockdown but we were already planning our Wake Up Wandsworth campaign. At a January meeting we identified four themes: Air Pollution, Green Spaces, Food Waste and Divestment. We would identify a list of demands around each theme; write to Wandsworth Council with these demands; and take action around them. Prior to the next local election in May 2022, we would assess what Wandsworth had/hadn’t done, and communicate this to voters.
After months of careful planning, the Wake Up Wandsworth campaign was launched on 7 April. The day before, billboards appeared in East Putney and Clapham Junction proclaiming: ‘Wake Up Wandsworth Council: Time to act on the climate emergency’; our demands were flyposted across the borough; and our full demands were emailed to all councilors individually. A group of XR Wandsworth members gathered outside the town hall and our four demands were posted on the town hall door. Since then we have maintained a weekly presence outside the town hall with placards and leaflets – Wednesdays for Wandsworth. We held two very successful public zoom meetings to explain our demands.
We have also carried out regular actions in support of our demands. The first was the Ghost Buggies air pollution action in Clapham Junction on 8 May featuring white buggies, hazmat suits, gas masks, Toxic Air Zone signs, green man swarming – and a new billboard. This was repeated at Tooting Broadway on 12 June.
One of our most successful actions was the March for Life on 24 July. Over 100 local residents and members of XR Wandsworth marched from Balham to Tooting Broadway in protest at Wandsworth Council’s dismal failure to address the problem of toxic air. Accompanied by the stirring beat of South London XR Drummers, six pall bearers with white ‘death masks’ carried a coffin for the 300 Wandsworth residents who die prematurely each year because of air pollution. At Tooting Broadway, a ‘Tree of Life’ grew from the coffin, and passersby were invited to write their messages to the Council on ‘leaves’ to be hung on the tree. These were later delivered to the town hall.
Another key moment came in October, six months into our campaign, when we presented Wandsworth Council with a ‘half term report’ on their performance on our four demands. The report contained comments like ‘If you had started your revision in 2019 you would already have passed your Divestment test’ and featured our fabulous ‘Wandsworth – Together on Greenwashing’ logo.
Another highspot of the campaign was our alternative climate festival on 13 November. We were refused a stall at the Council’s greenwashing ‘Together on Climate Change Festival’ at Battersea Arts Centre, so we put on our own event outside. The highlight was our uninvited entrance into the arts centre, with coffin, in protest at the presence of Shell, sponsoring Ubertricity. How could Shell be allowed in and we weren’t? Stallholders, members of the public, and speakers were openly supportive of our presence, and we agreed to leave – to the sound of applause – only on condition Shell’s display was taken down.
We asked Wandsworth Council to meet our four demands in full by the date of the next council election, 5 May. We had no doubt that all the demands could be achieved, with sufficient will on the part of the Council. But so far they have failed to do so. Our task for the coming months will be to hold Wandsworth Council to account for their failure, to share these failures with the electorate, and to encourage people to think of the climate when they vote – and vote for the planet!