Where are we with Hackney’s Climate Emergency?

In November last year Sustainable Hackney developed a community response to Hackney Council’s Declaration of a Climate Emergency in June 2019, and asked the council for a response.  Working with local groups and individuals we wanted to show our readiness to engage with the council in supporting and shaping the response to the climate crisis.


Six months on Cllr Jon Burke, the cabinet member for  Energy, Waste, Transport and Public Realm, has responded to the community contribution and updated us on a number of council initiatives which are already in progress or planned, which we set out below. 


Some of the ideas put forward by the community are reflected in the response, but there are many other positive ideas which have not yet been taken up on communications, public and business engagement, education, food, divestment, alignment to 1.5 degrees, community energy, planning, housing, employment, waste and others, which we will continue to put forward as appropriate.  


We would like to thank Jon Burke for providing an update on progress.  It is clear that actions are being taken in the year since the council’s declaration, and there are plans and ambition.   


The key gap in the response at this stage is any sense of the impact of the changes on emissions, how this fits with the overall target and whether there is a clear route map to net zero. 


Next Steps


We call on the council to consider again the risk to the pension fund of remaining invested in fossil fuels, especially given the collapse in the oil price; to set an aspiration for Hackney to become a Beacon Borough for Education for Sustainability; to hear the calls for an independent review of the incinerator decision; and to consider a 2030 scenario in setting the carbon budget. 


We would like to hear from the rest of the council and cabinet, especially Anntoinette Bramble (Education), Clayeon McKenzie (Housing), Caroline Selman (Community Safety, Policy and Voluntary Sector) and Guy Nicholson (Planning and inclusive economy).  Climate policy should cut across departments which should work openly with residents and the community to address these challenges. 


We hope this will be the beginning of a conversation where the community continues to engage, support and hold the council to account in meeting its climate crisis commitments.   


We look forward to the citizens’ assembly later this year and will continue to play our part in keeping up the momentum towards tackling the climate crisis with the urgency that is undoubtedly required.


The council has already started taking action:


Renewable energy - The council, and council-run schools, moved to 100% renewable electricity from wind and solar in April this year, which will significantly reduce the associated carbon emissions.  


Green Homes - The launch of the council’s energy company, Hackney Light and Power has been accompanied with a Green Homes programme, funded by the Energy Company Obligation and council carbon credits, which will provide free insulation for some homes and funding to support trials of alternative energy sources, such as heat pumps and fuel cells.  This small-scale initiative is much needed, but significant funding will be needed if it is to be scaled up to meet the need.


Electric charging points - have been installed and there are now 60 free standing charge points (with two sockets each), 130 single point lamp columns and 15 high powered rapid chargers.


Plastics - An internal plastics policy has been developed by the council which has eliminated single-use plastics from internal catering services and cafes.  A number of free drinking water fountains have also been installed in the borough.  Single-use plastic bottles were also removed from the Hackney half marathon.


Divestment - The council has reported that fossil fuel investments in its pension fund have been reduced by 31% from 2016 to 2019 on the way towards the 50% target by 2022.  We note that the pension fund is still exposed to significant risk from fossil fuel investments and look to the pension committee to reconsider the balance of risk with the recent hit taken by fossil fuel shares, and the evident need to rebuild the economy along non-fossil lines, and that they will conclude that 100% divestment is the best way forward.


Procurement - We are pleased to note that the council’s Sustainable Procurement Strategy, which runs from 2018-2022 does include reducing CO2 emissions.  However, the strategy should be reviewed and strengthened, with specific carbon, plastic and local purchasing targets in line with the council’s declaration.  The Learning Trust is working to decarbonise the school menu for schools participating in their new catering procurement framework. 

The council can also lead in influencing procurement practice in organisations like Learning Trust and Hackney Homes to set targets in line with the climate emergency commitment.


Trees - Jon Burke points out that the council’s support for tree planting has been noted by local groups like Tree Musketeers.  In the current term from 2018-2022, the plan is to plant 1,000 mature park trees, 36,000 saplings and 5,000... increasing street tree canopy by 50%.  To support this programme, they have already begun enlarging and resourcing the Council’s arboricultural team.  We noted that many residents took part in planting on Hackney Marshes in March this year and even during lockdown large numbers of street trees have been planted, and trust that adequate aftercare plans are in place.  What is the expected net carbon impact of the tree-planting programme after any losses or removals due to development? 


Transport - Segregated cycling lanes have recently been installed on part of Queensbridge Road and, as part of the pandemic response work the council has announced six new modal filters and seven pavement widenings.  They are currently working on further plans to address some of the  challenges for public transport associated with the pandemic.  Other plans include Crossway to Leabridge Cycle Way, the removal of Stoke Newington gyratory, and the first 21st Century Street at Colvestone Crescent.  We urge the council to make these schemes permanent and to continue to expand support for cycling and walking in liaison with local community campaigns like Hackney Cycling Campaign and  Hackney Living Streets.


Waste - The council’s work on waste reduction includes three Zero Waste Hubs per year which promote repair and reuse with partners including Forest Recycling Project Hackney Fixers, Traid and Dr Bike.


Plans that the council is currently working on:


Carbon Budget - We are encouraged to hear from Jon Burke that a carbon budget is being set, and that the scope will include “all” emissions, including those from incineration.  We expect the scope to include all the emissions we identified in our submission: energy used and generated by all council owned and leased buildings, schools, transport, construction, parks and streets, travel by staff, waste management (including incineration) and emissions embodied in all council purchasing.  There should be annual carbon emissions reports and regularly updated budgets so progress can be understood and any gaps in delivery can be addressed. 


Waste and resources - Plans to reduce residual waste collections from weekly to fortnightly next year are expected to reduce incinerated waste by 4,500 tonnes per year and boost recycling.   

The council has recently announced that the Library of Things (LoT) will be coming to Dalston CLR James Library when it reopens and Sustainable Hackney is pleased to be a community partner for LoT.   We look for a programme of events promoting waste reduction and the circular economy to be developed around the new LoT.


Environmental education - There is a commitment from Jon Burke to reviewing environmental education delivery in primary schools with the aim of  providing schools with more active participation opportunities, such as those offered by the Eco-Schools programme.  At present this takes the form of an Eco-Schools pilot funded by the waste service.  With the right political support the Learning Trust could continue to work with Sustainable Hackney Education for Sustainability and Eco-Schools to extend this to all Hackney schools, and link it with a renewable energy programme for schools.


Energy - Plans for developing the energy company Hackney Light and Power include installing solar panels on council-owned roofs, starting with 250kW on solar power on London Fields Lido and West Reservoir Leisure Centre, with more to come.  District heat is also being studied, with 10 clusters being considered for feasibility: Clissold Park, Dalston, Hackney Central, Hackney Downs, Hackney Wick, Homerton, Hoxton, Shoreditch North, Shoreditch South, Stamford Hill and Woodberry Down.  We look forward to more detail on these plans.

The council is also developing an ISO50001 energy management system and looking at purchasing green gas.  As mentioned in our submission considerations around green gas should include the negative ecological effects of most biofuels, and emissions from green gas production.


Housing - The Housing Service has a new asset management strategy with the aim by 2030 that council properties that are let will have an EPC rating of C or above, and this is being reviewed to bring it in line with the climate commitments.


Planning - On planning, the Local Plan 33, which is currently being inspected prior to adoption includes the “Merton Rule” that developments will need at least 10% onsite renewables to get planning permission.  We are concerned that this only applies to “major commercial developments” and that LP33 refers to an earlier council commitment to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. As such it may not be ambitious enough to achieve the current target of 100% by 2040.


A just transition - Jon Burke asserts that the council is committed to a just transition for workers through its climate emergency motion and claims that the current programme of renewable wholesale energy procurement, forthcoming renewable generation schemes, the Green Homes programme, Library of Things, and the largest urban tree programme in the country represents one of the largest investments in ‘green jobs’ of any local authority in the country.  Details of how many jobs have been created would be useful here.


Biodiversity - The Biodiversity Action Plan which ran from 2013-2017 will eventually be replaced by a new plan which is being developed by London Wildlife Trust.  We hope and expect that they will take extensive inputs from members of the Biodiversity Partnership.


Green infrastructure - A Green Infrastructure Plan is also being developed by AECOM (a firm of infrastructure engineers) but details are sparse.  We hope and expect that inputs will be sought from community groups including Sustainable Hackney, which held several public meetings on this recently.


Air quality - A new Air Quality Strategy is also being developed, but no timescale is given.  Sustainable Hackney looks forward to being involved as we had a significant input to the previous strategy.


Food and food growing - The council expects that the integration of estate green space management into one portfolio will allow for work on community food growing to be developed further.  This is welcome, but we need a comprehensive sustainable food policy to reduce the negative environmental impact of the food we eat.  We call on the council to respond in full to the Sustain document ‘Every mouthful counts’ which aims to help cities respond to the climate and nature emergency. 


Citizen’s assembly - The council, and the Mayor, have committed to bringing back the Citizens Assembly on the climate crisis which was postponed from last November.  They are working on plans for a “fully resourced” assembly as part of Sustainability Day in November 2020.  We don’t really know what that means yet and what the form or powers of the assembly will be.  The carbon budget should be published ahead of the assembly, so that we can be clear what is and isn’t included in the council’s target.


Some areas where there is no change:


There is no movement on bringing forward the timescale of the carbon targets.  The current commitment is to a 45% reduction in emissions against 2010 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2040 which is said to be consistent with the IPCC’s October 2018 1.5C Report.   

The Labour Party’s climate emergency conference motion committing to a 2030 net zero target is dismissed by Jon Burke as an “unevidenced” commitment which could only be delivered by creative accounting.  We welcome the implication that Hackney’s plans are evidenced, realistic and can be achieved without creative accounting, we support the declared ambition to seek opportunities to make a greater contribution, and call on the council to consider a 2030 scenario in setting the carbon budget.

There is no movement on our call for a review of the plans for the Edmonton incinerator, where most of Hackney’s residual waste goes.  We need to scale up sorting so that a far greater portion of our waste is sent to materials recovery and anaerobic digestion facilities.  The recent screening of the planned facility's carbon impact by the same consultancy that is helping to design the incinerator involves only a narrow comparison of incineration to landfill and did not consider alternatives.  We must have an independent consultancy look at the alternatives before we lock ourselves into incineration for the next several decades. This is not too much to ask of Hackney Council on such an important topic.




We would like to thank Jon Burke for providing an update on progress.  It is clear that actions are being taken in the year since the council’s declaration, and there are plans and ambition.   


We look forward to the citizens’ assembly later this year and will continue to play our part in keeping up the momentum towards tackling the climate crisis with the urgency that is undoubtedly required.

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Comment by Sustainable Hackney on July 30, 2020 at 11:54

In July the council delivered its first progress report on its climate emergency actions. https://news.hackney.gov.uk/hackney-council-pledges-25m-to-tackle-c...

The full report can be found attached to the minutes of this council meeting

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