Green campaigners call for ‘positive action’ from residents as Islington fights climate crisis

The Town Hall is aiming to plant 430 trees a year. Photograph: Islington Council

“Find your passion and get involved,” advises a parent who fights for better air quality in Islington.

As Londoners are warned to take precautions because of the high temperatures, green campaigners say there are positive things residents can do to avert climate change.

Safety tips for the hot weather, exacerbated by global warming, include staying indoors at the hottest time of day, using sun protection and keeping an eye on the elderly and vulnerable.

Islington is one of the six boroughs thought to be at most risk from flooding and extreme heat because of climate change, according to a City Hall report.

Rachael Swinnerton from Islington Clean Air Parents suggests that people feeling powerless to help pick an area they feel passionate about, such as gardening, tree-planting or reducing waste, and get involved.

The group worked with artist Es Devlin and Islington Council to bring 200 trees from the Forest for Change exhibition at Somerset House to the borough.

Islington has a target to plant 430 trees a year to increase the 25 per cent canopy cover in the borough to 30 per cent by 2050.

The council estimates that the trees it cares for remove more than eight tonnes of airborne pollutants a year and store more than 18,000 tonnes of carbon.

Swinnerton said: “Children are really worried about climate change and they understand it.”

She added: “We have focused on positive action, so we have family walks with Living Streets. These have been absolutely wonderful and joyful, exploring the quieter low traffic neighbourhoods with parents and children, and they have been relaxed.

“People said ‘Islington is really quite lovely when you walk around’. It’s about appreciating the environment.”

She suggested people set themselves goals such as cutting out online shopping and travelling by public transport or bike.

Residents can also lobby government and Islington Council, which have the power to make bigger changes.

Swinnerton also wants to see a public information campaign – similar to the one for Covid – about air quality and what people can do.

She said: “Finding positive solutions requires a little bit of change. People say this is too disruptive, but imagine how disruptive climate change is going to be. There’s huge disruption.

“Climate change is inevitable now with quite catastrophic changes for people. It makes sense to make smaller changes to reduce that.”

Anna Hyde from the new Islington Climate Centre said residents could cut back on meat and buying new clothes. They could also borrow items from resources like the Library of Things in Finsbury Park or from friends and neighbours.

Hyde said: “One of the frustrations is people feel they have no agency and there’s no point in even trying. There are loads of people out there and there are loads of brilliant things people are doing.”

She said steps like repairing clothes can help people “feel really empowered”.

The centre recently staged a ‘Make and Mend’ festival for people to pick up repair skills.

However, Hyde warns that a “system change” is needed in these “unprecedented times”.

Caroline Russell, the leader of the Greens on Islington Council, said: “Extreme weather events will become more common as our planet warms. This means we should expect hotter summers, colder winters, and more extreme rainfall events.

“In terms of building our resilience we need to get used to practical measures like closing all windows and blinds by day to keep hot air out, and opening everything up in the evening to let cooler air back in.

“Many older homes in Islington have sash windows which are perfectly designed to set up an air flow with hot air moving out at the top and cool air in at the bottom.”

She said with a rising temperature, ambulance call-outs also soar and urged people to check on elderly neighbours.

Cllr Russell said reversing the planet’s warming is linked to tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

“The council needs to insulate and ventilate homes effectively and help people reduce carbon in every aspect of our lives from how we get around, to the energy we use and the food we eat,” she explained.

Steps Islington Council has taken include creating eight low traffic neighbourhoods, 35 school streets, more than 300 electric vehicle charging points, a community orchard. It is also attempting to increase recycling and has restarted work on insulating council homes.