Public investment key to climate action: Livingstone

By: Jason Whittaker

By Nicole Holyer A lack of public investment in transport infrastructure is congesting cities and aiding dangerous climate change, the former

By Nicole Holyer

A lack of public investment in transport infrastructure is congesting cities and aiding dangerous climate change, the former revolutionary lord mayor of London has warned Australia.

Speaking last week to a capacity crowd in Sydney, Ken Livingstone likened the Harbour City’s growing congestion problems to those of London.

Livingstone argues that public investment in transport infrastructure is the cornerstone of economic success, is critical to creating sustainable cities, and is crucial to lowering carbon emissions in a meaningful way.

Elected Mayor of London in 2000, Livingstone was responsible for introducing the groundbreaking congestion charge to the city.

During his time as Mayor, Livingstone increased the size of the red double-decker bus fleet from 5500 to 8000 vehicles, boosting patronage from 4 million to 6 million passengers a day.

Livingston’s address on Wednesday night centred on the importance of public investment in transport infrastructure.

"With the passage of time, these clever, gimmicky lines like ‘public investment cramps out private’, you get the chance to see that experiment, with virtually no public investment," he says. "You just ended up with less investment.

"They [the private sector] were the first group through my door saying they wanted a big increase in public investment."

Livingstone links the current global economic crisis with a fall in public investment across the board in most western economies.

"Clearly we aren’t investing enough and that’s why so many of the established western economies have done relatively poorly in recent decades," he says.

"The key to economic success has to be that pattern of investment both in the infrastructure and the education of your population.

"That has to be underlying any thought of where we’re going to be in 20 years.

"If we don’t increase investment there will be a relative decline, and that would be catastrophic for any nation."

In developing a sustainable city plan for London, Livingstone and staff started by "working out where we were, and what we thought would happen over the next 20 years, and worked our plan back from that".

"Effectively we drew up a plan outlining where London should be in 2026 and what its citizens should be equipped to be able to do, what infrastructure we needed," he says.

"We produced a climate change action plan for one city – London.

"What it showed, with simple regulatory changes to the energy market, and lifestyle changes – in other words, diminishing the quality of life – you can reduce the carbon emissions of a city like London by 60 percent in 20 years."

The need to reduce carbon emissions immediately is a matter of life and death, he says.

"If we wished to stabilise the world’s increasing temperature to 2 degrees (Celsius) we needed to do it a decade ago," Livingstone says.

"It’s too late. That option is closed."

Livingstone cites climate change scientists who predict a 50/50 chance of stabilising the warming climate at 4 degrees.

"Four degrees is catastrophic," Livingstone says. "Four degrees means all those wonderful resorts in southern Europe and the Mediterranean will largely become deserts.

"Four degrees means virtually all those nations in African and Asia that border great deserts will become uninhabitable.

"Four degrees is going to mean that vast numbers of cities which are on the seas or beside rivers will be swamped. It means that in Bangladesh, 25-20 percent of the country will be under the sea.

"Four degrees – if we are lucky enough to be able to stabilise that – will mean tens of millions of deaths, and it will mean hundreds of millions of refugees of climate change. And that’s the best we’ve got a realistic hope of achieving.

"The tragedy is the vast majority of political leaders just aren’t aware of the scale of how bad that is going to be."

The presentation was attended by Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese and Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP.

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