Climate change: Public money needed to fix traffic, planet

Lack of public investment in transport congesting cities and aiding climate change, London's ex-mayor warns

By Nicole Holyer | September 21, 2009

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.

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

His speech implored governments to invest more in transport infrastructure to get people out of their cars and onto trains, trams and buses.

The current global economic crisis has cut public investment across the board, he says.

"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."

Livingstone’s 2026 plan for London showed a reduction of carbon emissions up to 60 percent was possible in two decades through "lifestyle changes".

He is a passionate advocate for acting on emissions, which he says is a matter of life and death.

"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."

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