Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Why we should support emissions-led parking rates

As a co-founder of the campaigning group Alliance Against Urban 4x4s, and a Camden resident, I welcome the news that Camden Council is making plans to charge highly polluting cars more (Come in 4x4s, your time is up, Camden New Journal, 11 Jan). There has been so much news coverage about climate change and how urgently we need to tackle it sooner rather than later. And yet it seems like everyone is either waiting to be told what to do, or once told, we are quick to point our finger at someone else, or we’re decidedly not bothered one way or the other. This is therefore a heroic decision on the Council’s part, and we should support them.

It’s interesting to see the similarities between America and the UK in their response to dealing with climate change. In America, over 358 cities have signed up to the US Mayor’s Climate Change Initiative, agreeing to meet the Kyoto goal by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by 7% by 2012. Meanwhile, the Bush Government has poured money into research and believes technology will solve the problem (while at the same time arguing that taking action now would lead to higher energy prices and the loss of 5 million jobs).

Similarly, in the UK it is the Councils who are beginning to show real leadership. For example, Woking Council reduced their CO2 emissions by 77% by switching to locally produced distributed energy systems. The engineer in charge, Alan Jones, was so successful that Mayor Livingstone pinched him from Woking to work on reducing the CO2 emissions in London. Similarly, Richmond Council passed a resolution Monday night to change their parking permits so that now they will charge residents on a sliding scale according to the level of CO2 emissions their car produces. Residents will also be charged more for parking a second car. This emissions-led parking initiative puts the responsibility for climate change squarely in the residents’ hands. If they decide to drive a larger, less efficient vehicle, then they must also accept responsibility for the CO2 that their vehicle choice produces. If they choose to drive a smaller, more efficient vehicle, then they will pay less. There are real rewards for those brave enough to drive an electric car. As more residents decide to drive smaller cars, the Council’s CO2 emissions will decrease. Besides Camden, this plan is also being discussed in Lambeth, Tower Hamlets, Islington, and Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, following my USA-UK analogy, there has been a real absence of any significant action by the Blair government to tackle transport, which accounts for 25% of our UK CO2 emissions. Transport is the only sector where CO2 levels are on the rise. And yet the government wants to build more roads and expand the airports. The Prime Minister and Gordon Brown say that they want to protect the economy. But I find this approach worrying. Even the Stern Report, commissioned by the UK Treasury last year, found an economic case for acting now, even if it was costly, because the costs of doing nothing will be far greater in the future.

This brings me to business and the auto manufacturers. There is a real push in the EU now to put binding regulations on the auto industry so that they design and build more efficient cars which produce less CO2. The manufacturers often counter by saying there isn’t a demand for efficient vehicles. The demand is for heavier and more powerful cars, such as 4x4s. Of course, we don’t see much advertising being splashed around making small efficient cars sexy, rugged and cool, but maybe we should if we want to save the planet. Maybe car manufacturers need to take more risks, be more creative, and think outside the ‘internal-combustion’ box.

With Richmond’s lead, and the Mayor’s proposed Congestion Zone charges based on CO2, we may well see people changing their lifestyle choices. And while we may not feel that Camden Council’s decision to charge more for gas-guzzlers is fair, I think it’s important to remember that there is a bigger picture called climate change which needs all of us to do all that we can.