Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, reports on the latest effort to reduce the council leader’s dangerously high level of bullshit emissions
The hypocrisy and grandstanding of Croydon Council leader Tony Newman on environmental issues – declaring a climate emergency for the borough one day, accepting financial hand-outs from Gatwick Airport the next – has been challenged by Extinction Rebellion.
Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of the capital today, at the start of a week-long campaign to emphasise the urgency of crisis facing the planet, something which the writer and broadcaster George Monbiot described today as “the most important mobilisation of my life”.
“We face the greatest predicament humankind has ever encountered,” Monbiot said.
Meanwhile, in Croydon, Tony Newman will be trying to come up with some bluster and obfuscation to explain why he has, yet again, failed to act, after his inertia was exposed in a forthright letter from Croydon XR, which effectively accuses the Labour politician of “greenwashing” for his own political advantage.
The letter accuses Newman of delay and avoidance, and sets out policy areas which XR expects to be delivered immediately.
The demands includes ending the borough’s support for Gatwick Airport’s runway expansion scheme, as well as completely divesting the council’s pension fund and other investments in carbon fuel industries.
The letter states, “On 15th July 2019 Croydon Council formally declared a climate and ecological emergency. At the meeting, Cllr Tony Newman stated that it was time for ‘deeds not words’. Unfortunately, we have yet to see much evidence of this approach.” Welcome to the real world of Croydon Town Hall, guys…
The letter continues: “Despite our requests to meet with the leader’s team to learn more about what the emerging action plan will entail, and assurance that a meeting would be set-up, this has not happened.
“We are therefore growing increasingly worried that this vitally important matter is being sidelined. As residents we expect you to act to protect us and to safeguard our future well-being.
“This means taking immediate action to address the climate and ecological emergency.”
But Newman has been promising to make Croydon “London’s greenest borough” since his election manifesto in 2014. In nearly six years, he has done little to achieve any real ecological targets.
If anything, Newman’s policies have contributed to the climate crisis.
The borough’s air quality remains highly toxic in parts of the town centre, yet Newman strongly supports the Westfield shopping mall development which would generate an estimated 10,000 car journeys daily into the already clogged heart of the town.
Newman has backed Brick by Brick housing developments, which have concreted over dozens of small green spaces and kids’ playgrounds, destroying hundreds of trees, to build housing mainly for private sale.
Under Newman’s control, Croydon has a £250million contract for the burning of the borough’s rubbish at a waste incinerator in Beddington. The contract includes the requirement for the contractors, Viridor, to dispose of radioactive waste at the plant.
And Newman’s council continues to be wedded to the multi-billion business plans of Gatwick Airport, and even since the Climate Emergency announcement in July, it has pocketed tens of thousands of pounds in sponsorship fees for a youth centre.
Newman, meanwhile, is seriously pinning his hopes on improving Gatwick’s carbon footprint with solar-powered aircraft.
In their letter, which was sent on Friday, Croydon XR hand Newman a lesson in environmental science.
“The expansion of airports in the UK, including Gatwick, is completely incompatible with the UK achieving it’s Paris Agreement commitments,” they write.
“While the aviation industry argues that they have made aircraft more efficient, any efficiency gains have and will continue to be negated by the significant increase in the number of flights taken.
“The government relies on future Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies and carbon offsetting to allow the aviation sector to continue operating under ‘business as usual’ conditions, without requiring any meaningful reduction in emissions. CCS technologies, such as Bioenergy and Carbon Capture Storage (BECCS), are unproven at scale and risk-prone, whilst carbon offsetting will not get us to true carbon neutrality.
“This is not a workable solution.
“Furthermore, the slice of the carbon budget taken up by aviation puts an unfair burden on our public services such as schools, hospitals and – yes – local authorities, who will have to make more drastic reductions in their own emissions to compensate. The possible future take up of ‘solar-powered aircraft’ technology cited previously by Croydon Council members is highly speculative and won’t make the slightest impact on emissions in the foreseeable future.
“It’s time to stop using this as an argument for expansion.
“Croydon must withdraw its support for Gatwick or any other airport expansion proposals, and should instead focus on other means of generating truly sustainable local economic development in line with its ambitions to be London’s ‘greenest borough’. This could involve promoting Croydon as a leader in the Circular Economy – placing itself in an excellent position as an early adopter of the sort of clean industries that will likely form the basis of a future Green New Deal .
“Instead of yesterday’s ‘Airport City’ lets have tomorrow’s ‘Clean Air City’.”
Which could all be a bit awkward, given Croydon Council’s embedded role in the Coast2Capital local enterprise partnership, in which Gatwick is a key component, and the cause of considerable embarrassment for local MP Sarah Jones, whose on-going support for Gatwick expansion probably has much to do with the fact that her previous job was working in public relations for… Gatwick Airport.
Meanwhile, Newman and his finance chief, Simon Hall, have been remarkably quiet since giving promises to provide evidence that the council’s pension fund is withdrawing its investments from industries which cause or contribute to climate change. Croydon XR has challenged the council to come clean on its investment strategy.
“Croydon Council Pension Fund and Croydon Council itself must immediately freeze any new investments and begin divesting existing investments in companies either directly or indirectly involved in the extraction, promotion or sale of fossil fuels,” they write.
“These are highly polluting investments increasing the rate of climate and ecological breakdown. Continued investment in such companies is incommensurate with taking meaningful action on either issue.
“I am sure the council will be aware of the online petition that Croydon Friends of the Earth group has relaunched calling on Croydon Council to divest. Extinction Rebellion Croydon fully supports this campaign.”
The Croydon XR letter then throws down another challenge to Newman and his numpties which, you might suspect, they know that they won’t be able to meet: “Please publish the strategy and commit to a transparent and timely process to complete this essential task.” Good luck with that one.
There’s a strong sense that the Croydon XR activists realise that Newman has tried to sell them a pup with the Climate Emergency declaration and the target of the borough being carbon neutral by 2030. In fact, Newman and his numpties must have known that the carbon zero target was utter bollocks even as they took to their hind legs in the council chamber with bold, grandstanding speeches.
Croydon can only achieve its carbon zero target once it cancels its incinerator contract with Viridor, which is due to run for 25 years, through to 2045. Once fully operational, the incinerator will be producing 300,000 tons of CO2 per year, not to mention all the polluting particulates and other dioxins.
So while Newman managed to create a handful of green headlines by staging a bogus conference in a disposable food hall which uses single-use coffee cups (even Boris Johson’s PR team is more alert on this matter than Newman), his commitment has been dubious from the start.
So the XR people have decided to lay down some guidelines for Newman and his council which will work to keep them to their promises.
“Without a solid understanding of our carbon emissions, it will be impossible for Croydon to meaningfully measure its progress toward the 2030 carbon neutral target that you have set,” they write.
“Please establish a carbon baseline, set out a clear monitoring framework and make all reporting public. There are free resources that officers can use to help inform this work.”
Indeed, all that they have had from Newman is… well, hot air.
“We can find no up-to-date yearly monitoring of carbon emissions by the Council and it is unclear whether you are on track to meet the target of 34 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025 as set out in your existing Climate Change Action Plan. The new stated target of carbon neutrality by 2030 cannot be achieved without effective monitoring and this must inform all policy development going forward.”
Newman’s only response so far since XR Croydon challenged him was to offer even more hot air.
Newman tweeted that he proposes “a follow-up meeting with yourselves to discuss Citizens Assembly for [Croydon Council] currently being arranged…”, it has been three months so far with Newman failing to organise a meeting, “and our cabinet formally then to agree Assembly at next meeting.”
Anyone hear a can being kicked a long way down a (busy and polluted) Croydon road?
By the weekend, Newman was back to his usual self-promotion on social media, claiming “strong backing” for the council’s “investment” in a “Green agenda”.
Clearly, the man who has placed his faith in solar-powered aircraft has not yet been told that one of the biggest sources of the greenhouse gas methane is: bullshit.
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The Pension Committee decided at its last meeting to have a paper from officers on having an active equity Fund through the London pension body that we are obliged to use (see George Osborne below) that could also aid a move to carbon neutrality.
The points below are from the minutes of the council’s Pension Committee from the meeting before that as regards to fossil fuels investment.
“The Committee RESOLVED to
Undertake a fact-finding and information session on climate change and investment
Undertake a fuller carbon footprint exercise
Update the policy on climate change, incorporating targets and metrics
Consult with Fund members and other scheme employers on the next steps around moving towards carbon neutrality in the Fund
Implement the adopted policy”
We have made significant investments in clean energy that produces power for 32,000 homes and more investment like that is coming.
To be lawful in our move towards carbon neutrality we must believe that any change in investment strategy would bring financial gains to the Pension Fund as our adviser reminded us also recorded in those minutes:
“It was noted that the report looked at how the previous four years of investments were contributing to emission reduction and clean energy production.The Mercer’s representative noted the need in securing the objective of moving towards carbon neutrality in the Fund’s overall investments that the Committee must pay attention to its fiduciary duties.”
With any new investment now having to be part of the London wide CIV body set up by George Osborne we need a product from the CIV that allows us to move to carbon neutrality and no such product exists currently though Councillor Hall is lobbying for this as our rep on the London CIV. We are currently invested in an indexed passive no tobacco fund with L&G that has high corporate responsibility standards. The Committee decided at its last meeting to seek an active rather than passive fund manager through the CIV that would aid the carbon neutrality aim but we also need a Fund like the one we currently have that allows cheap FX hedging in a volatile Brexit environment. We hedged 18 % of the Fund against Sterling strength on August 1 locking in gains made in this area since the Brexit referendum.
The Fund has increased in value to £ 1.3 billion from £ 850 million in March 2016 and the Fund aids the payment of council staff and other employees of other employers’ pensions. The council tax payer is on the hook to pay any shortfall in funds available.
Croydon used to have a very good section entitled “Environment and Sustainability Team -EAST which I think has gone “West”. There are a multitude of ways of reducing consumption and polluting outputs which will help with climate issues but the elephant in the “world room” is uncontrolled population growth. I hear nothing in recent times about this and the Chinese policy of one child per family was fraught with problems.
This borough deserves so much better than Tony Newman. It’s lazy, blinkered, backward politics that allows someone with as little calibre as Newman run Croydon’s Council.
Croydon deserves an elected Mayor. Croydon deserves a leader with vision. Croydon deserves a leader who does not repeatedly make poor decisions, is able to judge character and see the big picture.