London Mayor to 'double down not back down' on climate plan

London's mayor Sadiq Khan has said he will persist with his green agenda despite the resistance he faces.

He told a conference organised by the Vatican in Rome, that the capital had led the way despite Conservative opposition.

The Tory party chairman, Richard Holden, accused the mayor of "politicising" the climate debate to hide his failings.

The Greens said the mayor's "cowardly" election campaign set back progress.

Mr Khan was among several mayors from the C40 group of world cities, of which he is co-chairman, who met Pope Francis to discuss their efforts to tackle climate change.

Mr Khan met the Pope in person and gave him some tea from the London Tea Exchange.

In his speech, Mr Khan said his experience has taught him "this is not the time to back down, but to double down.

"This is a moment which demands the courage to take decisions, meet responsibilities and find a way."

He described the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), which now covers the whole of London - where polluting vehicles face a £12.50 daily charge - as "one of the most effective environmental interventions anywhere in the world".

"It's also proved to be the toughest challenge I've faced in the 30 years I've held public office," he said.

Ulez sign
Ulez rules are now applicable across the capital [PA Media]

Mr Khan provided more than £200m to compensate people prepared to get rid of their polluting vehicles, having twice to extend the fund in the face of criticism.

"What I did not foresee was the scale of political resistance," he told the conference.

"This included a highly sophisticated, well-funded online misinformation campaign; a group of municipal councils challenging the expansion in our High Court; and the national government abandoning key climate policies, pushing its net zero target even further from reach."

Sadiq Khan, tea, Pope
Mr Khan gave Pope Francis loose leaf tea in a book-shaped case, a selection including Royal Yellow, one of the rarest teas in the world [PA Media]

Richard Holden said of the mayor's statement: "I don't want to see the climate used as a political weapon.

"I understand why Sadiq Khan would like to do that, to distract from failings on policing and housing and other areas.

"He should be listening to all Londoners and representing them all and reflecting their priorities."

The expansion of Ulez was predominantly designed to tackle poor air quality but critics have argued that on climate change - the main theme of the three-day conference in Rome - it has not had the same effect.

Many Londoners have changed their polluting diesel vehicles for petrol vehicles which still emit carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the key drivers of climate change.

The Greens said Mr Khan's claims to be leading the way had been harmed by halting work on a fairer system of "pay-per-mile" road-charging during a "cowardly" election campaign.

Mr Khan ruled it out in his manifesto after it became a key part of the Conservative campaign.

Sadiq Khan and Susan Hall
Sadiq Khan secured 44% of the vote while his rival, Conservative Susan Hall won 33% in this year's mayoral election [Getty Images]

Green assembly member Zack Polanski said: "The mayor speaks a good game on climate action but this was just a cowardly way to do politics.

"Rather than having the courage of his convictions and fighting off the climate delayers he's tied his hands behind his back and made the urgent action that needs taking more difficult.

"At the same time as building the Silvertown Tunnel, refusing to condemn private jets and failing on his retrofit plans, it's a little ludicrous for the mayor to claim to be so bold."

In his speech Mr Khan insisted he was still committed to the net zero target by 2030 and had pledged to electrify the remainder of London's bus fleet.

"Every election is a choice - and my election earlier this month was a choice of whether Londoners wanted to see their city strive forward or be dragged backward," he said.

Mr Khan won the mayoral election with 44% of the vote compared to 33% for Tory candidate Susan Hall.

The London-wide voter turnout for this year's election was 40.5% - down by 1.5% on the turnout in 2021.

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