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On 8th July last year, two days before full council declared a Climate Emergency, Enfield's cabinet members signed a printed copy of a document pledging action to tackle climate change. Six months on, how much progress has been made?

climate action pledge signed by enfield cabinet membersThe declaration signed by the cabinet in July 2018 commits the council to:

  • Make Enfield Council a carbon neutral organisation by 2030
  • Divest the Council from investments in fossil fuel companies
  • Only use environmentally friendly products where we are able to do so
  • Make our supply chain carbon neutral through ethical procurement
  • Work with local communities and positively promote changing behaviours in Enfield to limit activities scientifically linked to climate change

Local environmentalists in XR Enfield, the borough-level branch of the global movement Extinction Rebellion, clearly think that the council has so far done too little, and are planning a demonstration on Saturday 25th January. The protest aims to "highlight the severe climate implications of the new incinerator in Edmonton, the lack of determined action from the Council, and more broadly the ecological crisis that threatens our species and our planet".

Shortly after the declaration the council set up a Climate Change Task Force, which met in September and November, chaired by deputy council leader Ian Barnes. One of its first actions was to employ a "sustainability consultancy", Greengage Environmental, to work on determining current carbon emission levels - the so-called Baseline.
 
In November, with help from fellow members of Enfield Green Party, I compiled a list of questions designed to discover what avenues the council is exploring and what progress it has made. Unfortunately, the response was delayed, first by the general election and then by the Christmas period, but Ian Barnes has now provided written answers - see the box below.
 

How is Enfield Council addressing the climate emergency? Answers to questions put to deputy council leader Ian Barnes

 

What’s the current state of play with regards to the Climate Change Task Force?

Enfield Council has already made huge strides in reducing its carbon footprint but over the next ten years our target is to make the council carbon neutral.

We declared a climate emergency in July 2019, and I know some people have felt frustrated by the speed of action, but as Chair of the Task Force I want our forthcoming strategy to propel us through the next decade, which means we need to get things right first time with this document.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt since being elected in 2018, it’s that Enfield Council is an extremely complex and large organisation, so we’ve begun by making sure all areas of the Council are working together to tackle this absolute priority. At the end of last year we asked sustainability experts, Greengage, to investigate the sustainability of each department in minute detail. It’s a painstaking job and has taken months but it will form the bedrock of our new strategy.

That strategy will dovetail all departments and other strategies to provide a route map for the next decade. It’s a large undertaking and my aim is to have the strategy finished by May after periods of internal and external engagement.

In the meantime the Task Force is being proactive by tackling vehicle emissions through the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhood trials across the borough - encouraging more people to leave their car at home and to take to public transport, cycle or foot. The air pollution in some London boroughs now increases the risk of an early death by the equivalent of smoking 150 cigarettes a year – I do not want Enfield added to that list.

Our School Streets programme will dramatically improve air quality outside schools and the scheme will begin in February with St Monica’s and Oakthorpe Primary Schools. And we’ve also expanded our free cycle training for 5,000 school children each year in the hope that these young travellers will take to our cycle lanes.

Plus we are planting 60,000 trees along our stretch of the London Loop path, half in winter 2020 and the rest the following winter. I’d also like to investigate the reintroduction of the beaver and goshawk back into this new woodland but this ambition requires extensive research.

 

How does the TF plan to involve Enfield residents and community organisations in addressing the climate emergency?

A first draft of the strategy should be finished by the end of January. This will go to internal workshops during February before engaging with external groups during March. My hope is to present the completed strategy in May.

We want groups to share our ideas and help develop our approach for how the council can work with stakeholders to deliver the scale of the change needed to address the climate emergency. We already have a dialogue with Extinction Rebellion and I’m pleased to see that other umbrella organisations such as the Enfield Climate Action Forum are being formed.

 

One of the pledges in the declared climate emergency is to divest the council from investment in fossil fuel companies. What are the timescales involved?

In common with all other Pension Funds the Trustees of the Pension Fund invest in a range of financial investment products with the aim of balancing risk and return and this includes consideration of issues such as assets becoming ‘stranded’ which is a risk associated in this case with the utilisation of finite assets such as coal, oil or gas.

The Fund’s exposure to carbon related assets comes largely from our investment in passive pooled funds which include the holding of assets in a very broad range of companies some of which inevitably include carbon intensive industries but also in companies that emit carbon through their activities such as through the transportation of goods by land, sea or air.

The Pension Policy & Investment Committee takes its fiduciary duty and corporate social responsibilities very seriously when considering its investment strategy approach due to the seriousness and the long-term responsibility of a pension scheme.

Since September 2019 The Committee has dedicated significant time to deliberate on the best strategic options needed to reduce the funds exposure to carbon related assets.

A meeting was recently held for the Committee to meet and formalise the Enfield Pension Fund Investment beliefs, based on their deliberations, training and acquired knowledge. These investment beliefs will be the bedrock and blueprint for implementing Enfield Pension Fund investment strategy as these beliefs will encapsulate Enfield Pension Fund views and approaches in dealing with crucial ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) factors including Climate Change considerations, for example the Fund chosen strategic approach to decarbonising its portfolio and its approach in supporting the transmission to low carbon global economy.

Once the Committee approves these beliefs, the investment strategy review of the Fund will commence, with the insight of the new underpinned ESG (including Climate Change considerations). Once completed the Committee will then be presented with the investment strategic outcome/options for their consideration, in order to choose and approve the best investment options that are appropriate for the Fund and the Committee’s risk appetite.

 

Will the council commit to using only electricity produced from renewable sources as soon as current supply contracts finish? When is that?

The council’s current energy purchasing arrangement comes to an end in 2022 under which the earliest opportunity to switch to 100% renewable electricity arises in late 2020. We are currently talking to our supplier about beginning a phased switchover of council offices, communal areas in housing and schools with the aim of being supplied by 100% renewable energy by 2023.

As with the pension fund, breaking current contracts incurs a considerable penalty at a time when Enfield Council is under severe financial pressure following a decade of cuts made to its budget by the Government.

Beyond 2023 the council will investigate longer-term renewable electricity deals either through its current contract or alternative consortium purchasing arrangements.

 

Since it's obviously essential that all new buildings must be more energy-efficient that current standards require will the council make an IMMEDIATE start on devising higher standards and improved inspection arrangements? Specifically, will it make contact with councils that have already raised their standards? Norwich reportedly has the best record here.

There are already standards in relation to energy efficiency in new buildings, for example Passivhaus, and the council is committed to making our new developments sustainable.

We want there to be the same standards across the country so that there is real impetus for change and to make sure there is a level playing field for local authorities and developers. This means central government must set national standards, which ensure all new homes are more energy efficient.

Obviously existing emissions from Enfield Council’s housing stock will be a huge challenge in the coming years and this will be covered in the forthcoming strategy.

 

Finally, I'm not entirely clear about why commercial confidentiality means that the public can't be told anything about the task force's discussions to date. It's normal practice for meetings and agendas/minutes to be mostly public but to include sections that are non-public because of commercial confidentiality or other sensitivities.

We’re certainly not shrouding our activities in secrecy: There is a dedicated webpage with updates on the Climate Change Task Force meetings - new.enfield.gov.uk/services/environment/climate-change-task-force/ - with detailed information on the work of the Climate Change Task Force, including meeting notes which we aim to publish a week after each event.

The Task Force is an operational group not a committee, and as Chair I want all members to able to talk freely about potentially commercially sensitive material at any point during any meeting. I feel that being able to criticise or praise initiatives without fear of overstepping boundaries is an essential component in moving forward with fresh and innovative ideas.

Finally, I want to reiterate that we know and understand that time is of the essence when it comes to tackling the climate emergency, not just for better air quality and health benefits across Enfield, but for the sake of the planet as a whole. I would obviously welcome unlimited funds to set everything in motion tomorrow, but the fact remains that councils are under tremendous financial pressure with regards to frontline services and it appears the cuts will continue for at least another five years. But the Task Force is committed to planning carefully and utilising what resources we have to put effective systems in place while listening to the feedback of the local community. If we get these first steps right I hope we will quickly gather speed and achieve those vital targets.

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