How London’s Mayor Plans to Tackle Climate in His Next Term

(Bloomberg) -- Sadiq Khan, who promised more green policies after winning a third term as mayor of London, will have to manage a city that’s even more densely populated and vulnerable to climate change over the next four years.

Most Read from Bloomberg

While Khan has limited powers as mayor, his re-election gives him a mandate to continue tackling environmental problems within his remit, such as car emissions. The mayor oversaw a surge in electric vehicles on the city’s roads within his last two terms — and he plans for thousands more EV chargers to be installed across the UK capital.

His controversial expansion of the city’s low-emission zone, which restricts highly polluting vehicles, faced pushback from both Conservatives and his Labour party. His opponent, Susan Hall, waged a controversial campaign built on that opposition.

Khan’s win “confirms the clear message from this election: bold climate and environmental action is a vote winner,” said Mel Evans, head of climate at Greenpeace UK. “Anti-green populism has largely backfired at the ballot box.”

The extent to which Khan can further tackle climate change will depend a lot on whether his Labour Party wins the next general election, which is expected by January 2025. The mayor’s budget is set by the government and many of the policies he wants to introduce need to also be backed on a national scale to have serious impact.

Yet, Khan will find it difficult to stand by as global warming impacts the city. London has been increasingly beset by flooding and severe overheating — threatening the way of life for almost 9 million people. The British capital recorded its hottest day ever in 2022, and is expected to face more frequent heat waves.

Here’s what we know about how Khan intends to tackle these issues.

Electric vehicles

Khan wants to make London “the world’s first electric-vehicle ready global city.” This means a lot more chargers – 40,000 by 2030, double the number from 2016. In 2021, Transport for London predicted the capital would need 40,000 to 60,000 chargers by the end of the decade.Still, driving an electric car in London is set to get more expensive. The cars are currently exempt from the congestion charge that drivers pay to enter the city center, but that free deal ends in December 2025. Khan’s election manifesto rules out any plans to introduce pay-per-mile charging for drivers, a policy that has been considered by the UK and other governments as a way to replace the revenue lost from fuel taxes amid the move to EVs.

Read More: London’s Secret Fix for Air Pollution: Making Drivers Pay Up

Air quality

Khan has said he’s committed the expanded ULEZ. Provisional data released last Thursday suggests the policy may have made a difference. Levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide across 16 sites in newly covered areas were lower in 2023 compared to 2022, and in the first three months of 2024 compared to the equivalent period in 2023.

Simon Birkett, founder and director of the campaign group Clean Air in London, which produced the data, said it was “likely that ULEZ expansion and related measures have played a key role.”Another way to improve air quality is to move away from cars altogether. Khan has promised more bike parking spaces and hangars, though safety remains a major worry for anyone considering cycling — In 2022, 101 people were killed on the roads in London. The mayor’s “vision zero” wants to see these deaths eliminated by 2041.

Water supply and water pollution

Khan has said he’ll make the Thames River, which runs through the heart of London, “swimmable” within a decade. The mayor wants to follow the work of other major European cities, such as Paris and Copenhagen, in cleaning up their main waterways.

It won’t be an easy fix. Cleaning up the Thames relies on better performance from London’s main water and sewage company, Thames Water. The utility dumped nearly five times more sewage into London’s rivers in the eight months to December last year compared to the same period in 2022, calculations by City Hall show.

But Thames Water is struggling to stay afloat, much less make major reforms. The company is heavily in debt and only has enough liquidity to last until July 2025. Without new sources of equity, it risks becoming temporarily nationalized and broken up.


London faces a growing risk of surface water flooding, where water bubbles up from drains and sewers when the network becomes overloaded by heavy rainfall. In the summer of 2021, the city saw devastating flash flooding that hit more than 2,000 properties, closing 30 tube stations and shuttering hospital wards.

Khan hasn’t announced specific flood resilience policies, but he has promised to follow the recommendations of the Climate Resilience Review which he commissioned after the 2021 floods. Its interim findings, published in January, call for him to set out a clear strategic vision for what it means for London to be adapting well to climate impacts by 2030 and beyond, and to ensure that climate risks are factored into spending decisions.

Extreme heat

The climate resilience review also looks closely at the risk to Londoners from extreme heat. In 2022, when temperatures in the UK hit 40C (104F) for the first time, some 387 residents died from causes linked to extreme heat. Older and poorer people who live in apartments without outside space or enough ventilation are particularly at risk.

The review recommends introducing a heat strategy, which could include measures such as a register of vulnerable people and building out capacity for cool spaces. It could also aim to prevent and reduce overheating in infrastructure like bridges, care homes and hospitals.

Khan has said he plans to conduct a drill to test London’s readiness for another extreme heat incident later this year. He’s called for a Green Roots Fund, which will let councils and local groups bid for funding for trees, flowers and small parks, which can help keep the city cool.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.