Matthew Farrow, EIC

Cities can lead the green agenda

City devolution can be a platform for promoting environmental protection, writes Matthew Farrow

For those of us interested in environmental protection there has not been a great deal to hold our interest in the current Conservative agenda.  Liz Truss has clearly decided that her personal political interests are best served by focusing on the farming and rural economy side of Defra’s activities. However much this may frustrate me it’s a logical enough political judgement. 

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has made reference to the fall out from the Volkswagen emissions scandal but there is not much discussion on issues such as water quality, recycling, the broader air quality debate, chemicals policy and the like. 

"The biggest boost though to the green city agenda will be the London Mayoral election."

Likewise in the broader media, while Volkswagen’s woes have given a welcome boost to the air pollution debate, the prospects for Paris and the decimation of the renewables support structure have attracted most attention. 

What is prominent  though is the city devolution agenda.  My feeling is that the city agenda can be a platform to promote the importance of environmental protection. This will not happen though by default. 

At the EIC our work on smart cities found that only a minority of smart city initiatives focus on tackling environmental issues. One of our aims in this area is to encourage city leaders and smart technology suppliers to recognise that the smart city agenda can provide a new way to tackle entrenched problems such as low urban recycling rates and poor air quality in city centres.

The biggest boost though to the green city agenda will be the London Mayoral election. While Boris Johnson has only very belatedly woken up to the need to be proactive on the environment (in his early years at City Hall implementation of schemes such as the Low Emission Zone became laxer), Zac Goldsmith starts his mayoral campaign on the back of a career campaigning for the environment. 

"Who knows – we might have ministers are queuing up to talk about the green economy"

In turn Sadiq Khan has responded by announcing his determination to be the ‘greenest mayor’ ever if elected. Sadiq has agreed to speak at the EIC Annual Conference on 19 November (, where he will no doubt aim to take on Goldsmith at his own game.  With either Goldsmith or Khan highly likely to be the next mayor, City Hall officials are conscious that their next boss will enter office having made a strong environmental campaign pitch and are no doubt already working on plans for new green initiatives and polices which the next incumbent can pick up.

As always though the environmental agenda, especially beyond low-carbon, needs constant highlighting by all of us if it is to get consistent political and media attention. And then who knows – we might have ministers are queuing up to talk about the green economy.

Matthew Farrow is director general of the Environmental Industries Commission, the leading trade body for environmental firms.

This article first appeared on Business Green