London, like the rest of the UK, is committed to becoming net-zero carbon by 2050. That means greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions would be dramatically slashed and any remaining emissions offset, neutralising environmental impact and slowing climate change. But how does a city choked with traffic and packed full of carbon-emitting processes and structures – from fossil fuel-generated energy to steel skyscrapers – reach such a goal? And exactly how different would the urban environment look if it were net-zero?
If London’s population continues to rapidly grow – by 2050 it may be home to more than 11 million people – and the climate crisis accelerates, the challenge will only become more urgent. Transport, energy infrastructure, waste, new construction and existing architecture, all need to be take steps to achieve carbon neutrality.
How we get and use our energy both depletes natural resources and emits GHG. Heating, for instance, accounts for over a third of the UK’s GHG emissions. But the transition from burning coal and gas to renewable, low-carbon energy sources – such as solar, hydroelectric, wind and geothermal – has already begun.
Local energy can also significantly cut emissions. Instead of relying on the gas or electricity grids, with power generated in stations outside of London, energy is generated and supplied locally, such as through solar panels or district heating networks.
District heating – in which heat is generated in a centralised location and distributed locally through a system of insulated pipes – can use fossil fuels, but are increasingly using renewable, low-carbon sources. London, at last count in 2013, had 920 district heating networks – and more are being developed.