Sustainable Cities™

Nicky Gavron: We need systemic change

In this interview, Nicky Gavron, member of the London Assembly and Deputy Mayor of London, talks about the future challenges for cities. She believes that a major part of the solution to climate change lies within the cities because of their density of activity, people and expertise. She also emphasis’s the need for visions as well as a systemic change if we are to really make sustainable cities for the future.

Q: What are the overall challenges for cities today?
The overall challenges are urbanisation and climate change because the world is urbanising so very rapidly. By 2050, we are expecting that 2/3 of the world's population is going to live in cities. All this is driven by population growth and this extra consumption of resources means various shortages in relations to food, water, energy and so on.

Q: What is the most important message to give politicians for cop15?
What the nations needs to know is that there is actually such a thing as climate prosperity. Stimulating a low carbon recovery, mitigating climate change is good for the economy, for competitiveness, for productivity and, above all, for the quality of life.

Q: What do cities need to do?
Cities are part of the problem but also part of the solution because they can use and share resources very efficiently. With their density of activity, people and expertise cities have the opportunity to come up with very innovative solutions. Also very important, they control the development of land, the planning of buildings as well as many of the services crucial in relation to CO2 emitters.
Nations gathered in Copenhagen need to recognise that when it comes to practical action, cities are at the centre stage. We need to resource and empower cities.

Q: What can cities do with their levers?
Cities are doing as much as they can with the levers they have got. But they need more resources in order to redo their environmental infrastructure like energy systems, waste systems and so forth. If you had proactive mandatory legislation, a lot of things could happen. You could help communities to control their own energy. I think people would welcome this.

Q: What do city leaders have to do?
First of all, they need to have visions. They need a long term vision for the future of their city so that people know what they are aiming for. Secondly, they have to be courageous and have political will to make difficult decisions. Thirdly, they have to have a good policy framework to make their cities sustainable. We need a systemic change, not a silver bullet.

Q: What should cities do now?
They should create a policy framework and an action plan for themselves showing how they are going to reduce emissions. You have to know where your emissions come from so that you can say; this is what we are going to do with transport, building stock, energy supply and so forth.

You have got to do something to get people out of the car. What we did in London was to invest in walking, cycling, introduction of a travel card and congestion charging. Also in relations to equity, what was the choice for people who did not have a car before? They were caught in a gridlock due to all the traffic.

Q: What is your view on politician's responsibility in relations to climate change?
We need politicians to work cross party and we need to understand that we are the 'now generation'. If we do not do any thing about climate change now, it is too late. We are the first generations that have the knowledge about climate change. And the last generation able to do anything about it. If we don't, it is going to be too late.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future?
I want to spend the rest of my working life on climate change because now that I get it, I really want to do everything I can. My dream is that this will be transformative and lead to runaway collaboration and runaway learning. That it will turn our values and that we will find something transformative about it. Lastly, I hope it will put spotlight on some of the hidden dimensions like solidarity and community it seems like we have forgotten.

About Nicky Gavron

Nicky_Gavron_193x193 Nicky Gavron is a member of the London Assembly and Deputy Mayor of London and has been at the forefront of developing land use, transport and environmental policies for London for over two decades. Throughout the 90's, she was the leader of the London Planning Advisory Committee (LPAC) where she commissioned research and formulated policies for the development of a sustainable London, including the initial strategy on congestion charging. She was heavily involved in shaping what was to become the new strategic authority for London.

With its establishment in 2000, Nicky became the first statutory Deputy Mayor of London. In this role, she worked closely with Mayor Ken Livingstone to set up the GLA's working processes and policy framework. In particular, she led on shaping the London Plan - the first long-term strategic plan for London (and its subsequent review).

She is internationally recognised for her environmental expertise. She was a key figure in the establishment of the London Climate Change Agency and the C40 - a worldwide climate change action group consisting of the world's largest cities. Before she entered politics, Nicky worked as a lecturer at the Camberwell School of Art in South London.


British Council
British Council is the United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We have worked in Denmark since 1945 as a cultural institute. In recent years, emphasis has been on three global programme strands: Intercultural Dialogue, Creative and Knowledge Economy, and Climate Change.

British Council Denmark has a five-staff office in the heart of Copenhagen and is part of a global network of more than 200 offices in more than 100 countries. British Council is in close contact with all art network and cultural circles in the United Kingdom, and try to connect them to similar groups from Denmark.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014