Islington Together: Let’s talk about a greener future

Islington Council launched their Islington Together: Let’s talk about a greener future” festival at Islington Assembly Hall on Monday, 18th October.

I attended the event along with council staff, local campaigners, stakeholders and community groups. This was the start of a series of events to green the borough.

Islington Town Hall Assembly room looked magnificent with trees from Islington Forest on display for the event. They looked beautiful and healthy, ready for planting later in the month and the perfect symbol of our Forest for Change project to green the borough together.

Cllr Rowena Champion thanked the council tree service and Islington Clean Air Parents for the collaborative efforts on the Islington Forest for Change project, and added “the massive energy from Islington Clean Air Parents should be replicated in the future. We look forward to working with ICAP going forward.” She also said,  “we can turn the grey (concrete) to green, it costs much more to put trees in roads but we are going to have to do it because we are running out of space.”

“the massive energy from Islington Clean Air Parents should be replicated in the future.

Cllr Rowena Champion, Executive Member for Environment and Transport

Islington Forest of Change trees on display.

A series of speeches began with Council Leader, Kaya Comer-Schwartz, she provided context for the programme of events. The council have declared a climate emergency and committed to being net zero by 2030.  They recognise it’s a huge challenge but one that must be undertaking to address inequality in the borough and improve life expectancy. Islington is one of the most densely populated boroughs in England and Wales. It is triple the London average and 37 times more than the national average with a very high level of child poverty.

She gave an overview of the four areas they are focusing on: transport, building infrastructure, natural environment and waste.  On transport the Leader acknowledged that air pollution has reached dangerous levels and that lowest income families are worse effected. I was pleased to hear her confirm they are dedicated to taking decisive action to reduce air pollution with their People Friendly Streets programme and that they recognise the need to work with everyone in the borough to achieve their aims.

Next up was Cllr Rowena Champion who explained why Climate Change is the the biggest challenge Islington will face going forward.

Islington is the 6th London borough most vulnerable to climate change according to the GLA Risk of Climate Change report. The borough is very dense and has a lot of concrete, this coupled with increased extreme heat events and surface water flooding will have a huge impact. She said, “climate change is a global problem but it’s also a real problem for Islington now.”

She spoke about the sources of carbon emission, to address this the council are working on a decarbonising plan, looking at retrofitting buildings, district heat networks, green economy and they have a number of initiatives including a ‘library of things’, a borrowing service opening soon.

It was great to hear that Cllr Champion is determined to change the way people move around the streets to improve people’s health and wellbeing, she said they want to reimagine our public space: make them in to play spaces for children, to make them greener and make them healthier.” We have some great ideas for this! Check out our campaigns.

David Harrison, chair of Islington Living Streets and co-founder of Footways walking maps explained that behaviour change is required but it’s difficult for public health campaigns to have an impact with the scale of car advertising with car-centric messaging.

Traffic is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases. There is huge potential for walking in Islington it plays a significant part in tackling Climate Change. One third of journeys are under 2km which is easily walked. 

David said “If you’re thinking of ways to combat climate change I suggest go for a walk!” What a wonderful suggestion.

He proposed monitoring walking patterns, greening, rain gardens placed in roads instead of cars. Go for carshare not ownership. Low traffic neighbourhoods do have a positive effect, he encouraged the council to keep going with the fantastic People Friendly Streets! ICAP agree!

David concluded, providing more pro-pedestrian infrastructure enables behaviour change and makes public health campaigns relevant. “Let’s use these new attractive people friendly routes for safer and healthier daily walks with Footways map!” 

ICAP love them, not only can these routes provide attractive and more pleasant ways to get around our city but more importantly walking on quieter streets with fewer cars reduces the impact of air pollution caused by traffic.

Rosie Kurnaz, Islington Young Mayor, representing the youth council. She said, “young people are fighting for their voices to be heard, they often feel disregarded and ignored. They want to be part of creating change and making an impact on climate change. 

Collective action is key and has a huge impact but that all starts with an individual action which snowballs, i.e. encouraging young people to walk to school will have multiple benefits for them and their environment. Young people need to be part of the solutions because they are going to be the ones who live with consequences of the actions taken today. She and other young people are committed to holding the council to account to insure they act on their promises.

MP, Jeremy Corbyn gave a short overview of Islington’s history in making the borough more sustainable. He reminded some of the audience of the 1992 Rio Climate Summit, which he said was a turning point in history. Islington council recongnised that and so set up a climate committee called ‘Agenda 2021’, which he chaired. They examined council services for environmental sustainability and worked on community engagement. In May 2019 he proposed a motion to parliament, which resulted in it making a declaration that we were facing a climate emergency. It was the first parliament in the world to make that declaration.

He said “Unless we realise and the whole world understands there is a climate emergency little will be achieved.” He said he would be attending COP26 and demonstrations on the 6th November to show that people are very concerned about the climate emergency, however, he said “being ‘very concerned’ doesn’t cut it and doesn’t bring about the changes that are necessary, it is about practical steps to bring about a green industrial revolution.” This means engaging with existing polluting industries to become more environmentally sustainable. They need support to guarantee the jobs of their workforces in order to make the transition.

We need to look at our use of nature and natural resources in our daily lives. We may know that we should buy sustainable products, but that can be expensive. He said: “Surely, we need to legislate for environmentally sustainable food and manufacturing from the beginning rather than leave it to those who can afford it.”

It was fantastic to hear that the council are committed to some ambitious goals and initiatives and that they recognise that in order to achieve these goals they need to work with the whole community. Thankfully, there are many people in the borough with valuable knowledge, skills and creative thinking who are willing to get involved.  Islington Clean Air Parents for one look forward to working in partnership with the council again soon for a cleaner and greener borough.

The event closed with a short Q&A, which only scratched the surface, clearly there is a lot to talk about. If you have questions and ideas feed them back to the council by engaging with consultations and developments. Join a local community group, become and ICAP member here, we’d love to hear your ideas!

More information about Islington council’s vision can be found in Building a Net Zero Carbon Islington by 2030.

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