A branch of Extinction Rebellion (XR) has challenged Wandsworth Council on its lack of progress with climate emergency targets with just two weeks to go until the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).
On Wednesday evening, members of XR Wandsworth gathered outside Wandsworth Town Hall and gave councillors a ‘half term report’ – an evaluation of the council’s work so far on meeting demands around air pollution, green spaces, food waste collection, and fossil fuel investments.
The 11-page report implies that the council has not done enough to protect its environment or its people, and an increase in urgency is needed in the lead up to local elections in May.
In July, just months after the council installed an air filtering ‘City Tree’ on Putney High Street, the Evening Standard revealed that the street had the second highest level of toxic air in London.
Putney resident Matt Palmer said: “I avoid the high street as much as possible, if nothing else to protect the lungs of my 12-year-old son.
“Whilst any effective measures to capture the air pollution on the high street would be welcomed, the over-hyped city tree has, according to the Putney Society, led to no discernible change in NO2 levels and has cost more than £20k of council taxpayers money – money that could have been used to plant actual trees.”
XR Wandsworth has asked the council to call a citizens’ assembly to tackle air pollution in the borough.
Citizens’ assemblies, which bring together a group of people representing the different demographics of an area to discuss important issues and develop action plans, have already taken place on the climate in other London councils, including Camden, Lambeth, Croydon, and Richmond.
Furzedown resident and XR member Pat Squires said: “Difficult decisions will need to be made, especially about how to reduce the use of cars.
“Look what happened with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods – they were introduced without consultation and removed just weeks later in the face of opposition, so we need buy-in from local residents if solutions are to work.”
A council spokesperson responded: “We held a climate summit for residents to raise awareness of climate change and how to take action.
“We had 655 attendees to the events held during our summit and no other council in London has held anything of this size or scale this year.”
XR Wandsworth has called for less tree cutting, especially of mature trees, and more planting, to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.
They say that the council has failed to reach its 2020-21 target of planting 1,000 new trees, with the net number lingering at 766.
In addition, 430 trees are due to be cut down in the redevelopment of the York and Winstanley estates despite strong opposition from local residents.
The report claims that the council still uses glyphosate spray in parks and open spaces even though it is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a probable human carcinogen and banned in many countries, US states, and an increasing number of councils in the UK.
The council did not respond when asked about its usage of glyphosate.
The report is just as critical on progress with food waste collection, and although the council recently launched a pilot food waste collection scheme in the Southfields Grid area, their next waste and recycling contract will not commence until 2024, which XR Wandsworth says is far too late.
Squires said: “When it comes to food waste collection, all the boroughs surrounding Wandsworth already have it, including Merton, Lambeth and Richmond.
“Wandsworth Council is great on talk, but not much walk.”
The council spokesperson said: “The council is implementing a vast range of measures to help us achieve our ambitious target of becoming a carbon neutral organisation by 2030.
“This includes action to green our vehicle fleet and our pension fund, planting thousands of new trees, exploring food waste recycling, supporting the switch from petrol and diesel to electric vehicles and introducing energy efficiency measures in our housing blocks.
They added: “Our efforts to date have been positively highlighted in an independent report produced by University College London which evaluated councils on their ability to lower carbon emissions.
“This report placed Wandsworth third out of all councils evaluated, ahead of Oxford, Nottingham, Sutton, Islington, Brent and Lambeth.
Although the report’s findings are sombre, XR Wandsworth members do not seem disheartened.
Caroline Hartnell, a member of the group, said: “If you give up, you’re accepting a terrible future for our children and grandchildren and all the world’s children – we can’t do that.”