Ken Livingstone: "making London a beacon of low-carbon prosperity"


Ken LivingstoneKen Livingstone writes in Comment Is Free about his plans to increase congestion charges for larger vehicles.

The article is reprinted in full below:

Tomorrow, Friday August 10, we begin full public consultation on plans to charge the cars with the biggest contribution to global warming - such as the some of the so-called "Chelsea tractors", some high-powered sports cars and expensive luxury vehicles - £25 to drive in the central London congestion charge zone.

London's target to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2025 is twice that set by the government, but it is what the latest science dictates. It only took a five-degree drop in average temperatures to trigger the last ice-age. The implications of a five-degree change in the opposite direction don't bear thinking about. We have no choice but to act.

Congestion charging in central London has cut traffic levels by 22%. But now also offers the opportunity to cut levels of greenhouse gas pollution.

London has achieved a unique shift from private cars to public transport; cycling has increased by 83% over the last seven years; we have one of the most comprehensive free travel schemes for children travelling on public transport; we account for the entire growth of bus journeys nationally; and we have increased bus use by 40%. Now we are looking at the next generation of greener transport policies - such as the cycle hire scheme introduced recently in Paris.

Virtually every single radical step we have taken has been met with choruses of disapproval. But while tackling climate change doesn't have to mean reducing our quality of life, it does mean changing the way we live. The decision about what car people drive is a perfect example.

The average London car emits around 180 grams of carbon per kilometre. But some of the gas-guzzlers in emission band G emit twice as much, or more, CO2 than the average family car.

Some examples: the Cadillac Escalade (6.2 - V8 AUT) emits 383g per km; the Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee (6.1 SRT-8) is responsible for 381g per km. Some high-performance cars are higher still.

If people think a car the size of a small tank is the only thing that will meet their needs, so be it. But the threat of climate change means they now have to pay for the impact of their choice on the lives of everyone else.

The lowest polluting cars, like electric vehicles or hybrids, will receive a 100% discount from the central London charge. The proposal is that the discounts will be introduced early next year in advance of the higher £25 charge. This adds to the incentive to switch to greener vehicles. The increase for the highest carbon emission cars would only be introduced later in 2008.

The emissions charge will affect the 8% of London cars that fall into Band G or equivalent, and it will apply in the existing congestion charge zone in central London only. These Band G cars would cease to qualify for the current residents' discount, which allows residents to drive within the zone for just £4 a week (a 90% discount).

I suspect that most Londoners, when they have weighed up the pros and cons, will agree with this policy. Polls showed 64% backed the idea of a £25 charge when it was first proposed.

The emissions charge rewards those motorists who go green and is one of a comprehensive package of measures we are introducing to cut London's carbon emissions - including subsidising the better insulation of buildings, buying clean hybrid buses, and shifting to cleaner, decentralised energy supply.

I believe that the new emissions charge will play a similarly critical role in making London a beacon of low-carbon prosperity.