Climate finance, CVF & Bangladesh

Climate finance to help developing world adapt from climate change has become the key issue before COP26 at Glasgow of trust between the developed and developing world in the lead up to the Conference. $100 billion was promised to the developed world by the developing world in their commitments to the Paris Agreement and progress on this front has been slow as the OCED graph below well illustrates. We have yet to reach the target set for 2020, when at most 79 per cent of the target has been reached.         

Further under the chairmanship of Bangladesh, the Climate Vulnerable Forum – a group of 48 climate vulnerable countries & thus one of the biggest voting blocks conference of the parties – members are being encouraged not to pay international development loans and their interest, as a means of protest against $100 billion climate finance not being in place yet from the developed world. In this respect please see the letter below, from the PM Sheikh Hasina. This while it is known it is likely $300 billion will be needed by 2030 for the developing world to adapt to climate change.  So watch out for what the CVF does at COP26 in response to this outstanding issue from Paris 2015. 

 
That said we also have the IMF initiative to give developing world and thus the global south Special Drawing Rights (SDR) issues for them to recover from the COVID pandemic by a global green recovery. Here we are talking about up to $ 650 billions depending on individual countries shares in the IMF. All l would like to suggest is this all be ring fenced for developed world assistance, who are the biggest share holders in the IMF, for climate change adaptation for the developing world. That way we would not only cover the immediate short fall but also the likely commitments in the near future to permit the developing world to adapt in the immediate future. Otherwise the trust won’t be established for the success of COP26 and other global gatherings. 

IPCC Report & flash flooding in London

 

Flooding of the basement at the family house along Warwick Avenue

Flood warnings have been issued in London previously but the flash floods in West London and South West London in recent weeks still hit home hard. As forecasters warn of water spray, sudden flooding and lightning strikes, which could lead to power cuts, damage to buildings and delays to public transport. It came as the UK and London recorded its hottest day of the year so far, after the temperature reached 32.2C (89.96F) at Heathrow Airport in west London on 20th July. Public Health England has also extended its heat-health warning, which warns people to take measures to stay cool and look out for vulnerable people in recent days.
 
So Londoners increasingly recognise the impact of climate change on London not just in terms of increased temperature, but also more rare and unpredictable weather events, which may mean people, who never thought they would be affected, have their homes severely impacted by flash floods. 
At the London Assembly as Chair of the Environment and as Chair of the London Waterways Commission under both Ken & Boris mayoralty, we tackled the issue in 2014 when we were told by the Environment Agency that some 24,000 were under flood risk and current plans will protect 10,000 of them, the high risk ones identified in their boroughs as the table shows below. 
We recommended that sustainable drainage and river restoration could help to protect to protect the 24,000 London properties at risk. 
Further back then that, the Environment Committee Report on Crazy Paving in 2005 suggested clearly that losing London’s front gardens won’t help as we adapt to increasing flash floods as a result of climate change. It was suggested that 2/3rds of Londoners front gardens are already covered by surfacing other than vegetation, that is paving, bricks, concrete or gravel of a total surface area of 12 sq miles equivalent to 5,200 football pitches. Their loss is placing an increasing burden on London’s underground drainage system, as the increase in run-off from impermeable surfaces such as concrete can be three times greater than run-off from porous surfaces. 

The IPCC Report releases this week confirms that heavy rainfall will be more frequent and intense. So London’s flooding is sure to worsen, as further development means flood plains being covered by concrete. One way of responding is saving our front gardens at least from the work of the Environment Committee at the London Assembly. 

 

 

Flooding in W9 again – Whats going on?

On the afternoon of the 12th of July, my family house was affected by the flash flooding at basement level and in the rear garden. This was not meant to happen after the £17.5 million investment in Maida Hill, Maida Vale and Little Venice in 2014/15. 
 
The old sewers did not have the capacity to transfer additional flows brought about by increased permeable areas and changes in climate. This resulted in extensive flooding to properties in the surrounding urban areas during severe storm events. Due to the sheer density of the urban area and the limited available space to build, part of the solution required flows to drop 13 metres into a tunnel and storage facility. 
 
So questions need to be asked about effectiveness of the Maida Vale Flood Alleviation Scheme built at great expense in 2014/15 after successful lobbying by @MaidaFloodAction campaign of 200 odd properties in the neighbourhood when it was not able to cope with a months rain in half an hour last Monday!

A major shaft was dig on the corner of Formosa St and Shirland Rd,W9 to take flood waters away to under the canal to a storage facility at Westbourne Garden, yet it was still not able to cope with the down pour we had this week. 

After all we have been paying for these facilities via increased water bills, as the works at the time even had to be approved by the regulator at the time.  And the map clearing shows the properties that should be affected by this improvement yet many properties along Warwick Avenue, Formosa St had been flooded in the basement areas again last Monday. In fact my parental house was flooded even worse than ever before. 

More generally we need to ask ourselves how often we can now expect such flash rain falls as well as whether the infrastructure can handle these occurrences whether by changes in the climate and the urban environment. As we can see from events in Belgium and Germany, floods caused by heavy rains have left more than 30 deaths ( up to a 1,000 missing) and destroyed many buildings as well.

Finally when l was on the London Assembly under my chairmanship we did some work on flooding issues across the whole of London on future trends in flood risk for Londoners  and the risk to 24,000 homes in London identified by the Environment Agency. 
 
This very local issue clearly shows the threat of flooding for Londoners particularly in W9 has not gone away and needs addressing again. 

1971 – A fateful year for the family

My mothers passport showing clearing the dates of our fateful trip

We left to settle down before the Dec 1970 General Elections in East Pakistan and had to come running back to the UK during the Bangladesh liberation War for our own security.

My family were living a very prosperous life in London during the sixties with a house in the surburbs and a restaurant business in the West End, before my parents felt the urge to “go back home” in 1970, home being Sylhet, East Pakistan. My father had by then been in the UK since the mid-1950’s and it was clear his heart and mind were still in Bengal. As a small child, the thing l remember best about this departure was filling the huge trunks with all our worldly possessions before being sent off by ship to a destination on the other side of the world. 

As soon as we set foot there, we entered into the turmoil of the Pakistani General Election of 1970. As a result of national disasters in East Pakistan the election was moved to December and the lack of response by the public authorities meant this was a key issue. During the election campaign l can well remember learning the first political slogan l learnt  “Joi Bangla – amar Desh, tomar Desh” as the Awami League had a stomping victory in the East, giving them a mandate to run the whole of Pakistan, in an election considered by all to have been free and fair. 

Amidst the stand off between the military authorities and political parties, on the 7th of March, the family were in Dhaka for a wedding, when word broke out that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was going to be making a speech that day at the Dhaka Race Course. On immediately hearing this my parents like many others duly left us at the wedding to go and hear the momentous speech that was about to be made. I felt very sorry for the bride at the wedding as the guest all left except for us kids. Ever since whenever l’ve been at a wedding, l have always wondered what else l may be missing! 

On the fateful night of the 25th of March, we heard the first of our relatives had been killed in Chittagong – Lt Col M R Choudhury – and this brought immediate panic in the extended family. He left his wife and children in Sylhet after the Eid festivities, clearly aware something was going to happen when he went back.  We were immediately moved to the villages by foot and were put up by relatives there as we all fled the town and cities, in response to the Pakistan Army “Operation Searchlight” crackdown on Bengali nationalists. Other relatives made their way to India and tea plantations, as it was only 60 miles away. With no cars and rickshaws available we moved by foot, on journeys which seemed to take days to get away from Pakistani military persence in the cities and towns. 

We later had another family member brutally killed in Chittagong in the second week of April, Shafi Ahmed Choudhury who had been the Chief Planning Officer of East Pakistan Railway, for giving logistic support to the Bengali resistance. The next few months were the most dangerous months for our immediate and extended family when we lived on a diet of rice and jackfruit something l grew to hate as an adult because of its smell! 

As we had UK passports, we were sent back to the UK during the end of Bangladesh liberation War for our own security. And l can remember well hearing on the Radio, George Harrison’s Bangla Desh song! He had just held the first ever relief concert in New York’s Maddison Square Gardens to raise monies for the millions of Bengali refugees going into India in response to his friend Ravi Shankar cry for help. So l really could not get away from it all even when l was back in the UK! 

There was of course turmoil on the streets of London as well as we were put up by our uncle near Westbourne Park tube station, not far from the Mangrove. The issue on the streets of this part of West London was the police repeatedly raiding the Mangrove, on grounds of drug possession, despite a lack of evidence. An issue that was going to dominate the nature of the relationship between Black Londoners and the Met for decades to come. 

So you can see 1971 was a very fateful year for my family. And whilst the family does make annual journeys back to Bangladesh, we don’t ever now bring up the topic of attempting to settle there again. After the first experience it is not surprising really!

Myself and my younger brother & sister in Dhaka 1971

Westminster North carve up need new names

The Boundary Commission 2023 Review of Parliamentary Constituencies in London, may have given the London Region two more seats but it has well and truly curved up the Westminster North parliamentary seat by breaking it up into three by adding the relevant wards into adjoining seats of the North Central and North West London sub-region.  

They propose putting Church Street, Little Venice, Maida Vale, Regents Park and Abbey Rd wards into the new parliamentary seat of St John’s Wood & Camden Town While Westbourne, Harrow Rd, Queens Park Wards  into a new parliamentary seat called Kensington & Westbourne. And finally they propose putting Bayswater & Lancaster Gate Wards into the new constituency of Westminster & Chelsea East. Leaving nothing that remotely looks like the present Westminster North parliamentary seat. 

On first observation, some of the proposed carve up gives us some intriguing bedfellows. The Paddington Wards certainly have many things in common with Kensington North on the other side of the Westway but l am not sure the residents of Church St Ward in Marylebone have much in common with the good of Hampstead! While Marylebone and old Camden Town clearly on different sides of Regents Park have had a connection over the years particularly based on the catchment of old schools.  

Consultation is currently open until Monday 2nd August 2021 on these boundaries. I for one will make representations on the matter, if only on the names of the seats being proposed as l always felt the name Westminster North does not help its case to survive as a political entity. As it is not clear whether it is North of Oxford St or North of the Marylebone Rd! It is of course really Paddington & Marylebone and should have been called that in the first instance. As a result l will suggest the new Kensington & Westbourne seat be called Kensington & Paddington instead – who knows Westbourne as such but they will certainly know Paddington! While St John’s Wood and Camden Town should really be called Marylebone and Camden Town. With these name changes you will at least get the old neighbourhoods of Paddington & Marylebone back on the political map. 

More importantly the numbers are based on those registered to vote while l think it would be better in the long run to have them based on Census figures. And since we had one only this past March, these would have the latest figures for population size and given most of it was done on-line the figures should be available a lot sooner than with previous Censuses for the decade.

Even with these proposed changes though in the parliamentary seats, they will of course be a fight in the wards of Westminster North for next year’s Local Elections 2022. So bring on Spring 2022 for the locals. 

St John’s Wood & Camden Town new proposed parliamentary seat

Kensington & Westbourne new Parliamentary seat

 

A copy of this blog was published in Westminster Extra edition for the 2nd of July 2021

Foreign Policy making in UK’s multi-ethnic society

Bagehot last week ( 22nd May 2021 edition of the Economist ) suggests that a multi-ethnic society makes for more complicated when it should make for better foreign policy making; linguistically, historically and by experience, particularly when we have a pivot to Asia. 

 
Many things can be lost in translation. So having ethnic communities maintaining their linguistic knowledge is something to value in a society where other languages are not valued in the way they should be and thereby assist our adaptation to the Easternisation of the world economy.  
 
The same applies to history. Would the world not be better for an understanding of how Chinese see themselves during the second world war where they lost up to 14 million with their battle against the Japanese starting earlier than in the European field of the second world war by a few years. A forgotten ally and unsung role indeed. 
 
And finally there is the experience of many ethnic minority communities in the development field, many of whom maintain those links for the betterment of the places they left behind usually via direct investment involving money transfers which are usually in total annually greater than any bilateral aid flows. Something the NGOS ignore completely while pretending to represent the South! 
 
So a multi-ethnic society should make for better foreign policy making and not just more complicated ones
 
  
 

Diplomats,Londoners & outstanding congestion charge

 

One of the major vehicle issues in Central London neighbourhoods like Marylebone is the parking of diplomat cars and many of them not paying the congestion charge after the US embassy decided not to pay it. The amount due in total is substantial to the tune of £129 million at the end of the 2020 calendar year. This could for example pay for all the concessionary fares we have for Londoners annually! 

One thing is for sure that if residents of London did not pay their congestion charge for their car, TfL would certainly pursue them to end of the world! So whilst l was still an AM this winter l asked what is the latest on TfL pursuing legal action against embassies not paying their outstanding congestion charge 

Now proceedings in the International Court of Justice or another international tribunal can only be brought by Her Majesty’s Government, not by Transport for London (TfL).

The Mayor responded to my written question by telling me his Deputy Mayor for Transport wrote to the Secretary of State for Foreign,Commonwealth and Development Affairs asking him to pursue this matter but has yet to receive a reply. The Commissioner has also previously written to the Secretary of State for Foreign,Commonwealth and Development Affairs on TfL’s behalf but has not yet received a formal response either. In the meantime, Foreign,Commonwealth & Development Affairs officials write to diplomatic missions and international organisations with large Congestion Charge debts annually, to encourage payment.

The US embassy has racked up by far the biggest bill for the congestion charge, at £13.3 million due last December 2020, due largely to their refusal to pay it.  And as there is a new President in the USA, will we ask him to pay what is owed?

With President Joe Biden, maybe we can make some headway on the issue. Sure enough he is due to be in the UK next month for G7 Conference in Cornwall via London, an ideal opportunity to raise this issue again. Clearly if the US pays up so will all the other diplomats who owe Londoners these monies. 

Reserved empty parking spaces for diplomats in Marylebone where locals may have parked

Committee “carve up” not good news for Grenfell & Cladding scandal

After looking at last week’s “carve up” of Committee positions at the London Assembly more closely, the one that causes most alarm for me is what happen to the Fire,Resilience & Emergency Planning. It is the Committee that has been scrutinizing #Grenfell and the #Claddingscandal for Londoners under Andrew Dismore’s able chairmanship not only at the London level but nationally as well. We can not expect this from the Committee now under complete Tory control, given it would have to be critical of a Tory run local council and also how a Tory government has handled the cladding scandal nationally from a London perspective.  

So l don’t want to see any crocodile tears from the LibDems or Greens at City Hall over Grenfell & the Cladding scandal for handing this Committee and critical role on London issue over on a plate to the Tories.

Petrol stations going Green?

Converted new petrol station along Edgware Rd for electrical charging instead.

In the whole of Greater London we have 531 petrol stations in 2020 when we had 551 in 2017 a breakdown of which by borough can be found below. Now l am sure we had many more of them certainly in Central London before 2017 as many petrol stations sites were converted into residential and other uses since but it appears we don’t have figures going further back then that at all!  Nonetheless there does appear to be a dramatic change happening, which would probably reflects on less car usage and a switch to electrical cars certainly in Central London at least! 

That appears to be the case with one of my local petrol station sites which was converted to a electrical charging points station instead during the construction of the site to the credit of Aldi supermarkets with some assistance from locals, businesses and the cab trade. .Its a very useful way of redirecting the infrastructure we have already in London to a greener future. So let the numbers of petrol stations go down and some even adopted for electrical charging of vehicles. 

 

Breakdown of petrol stations amongst London Councils

Westminster cladding victims have just one choice

M&M Buildings where leaseholders face bills of up to £40,000 for cladding works to make their homes safe.

As the scaffolding goes up on the cladded blocks in the City of Westminster for those caught in the cladding scandal, their face a plain choice in the forthcoming London Elections.

Now the cladding blocks where scaffolding has been put up in the borough of Westminster including the following below; 

  • Montgomery House, 135 Harrow Road, W2 1H 
  • Marshall Building, 3 Hermitage Street, W2 1P 
  • Munkenbeck Building, 5 Hermitage Street, W2 1P 
  • Balmoral Apartments, 2 Praed Street, W2 1J 
  • Cornwall House, 7 Allsop Place, NW1 5B 
  • 60-62 St. Martins Lane, WC2N 4LN 
  • Westminster Green, 8 Dean Ryle Street, SW1P 4DA 
  • Eagle Wharf, 138 Grosvenor Road, SW1V 3J 
  • 5 Praed Street, W2 1NJ 

After last week in the Palace of Westminster and the Commons in particular, it should be clear to residents that the Tory government has done next to nothing to help. They expect you to foot the bill to fix a problem that wasn’t your fault, leaving you facing unaffordable leaseholder charges. 

In this respect their is no choice between Cllr Rita Begum, the Labour Party candidate for West Central and the present incumbent Tory AM. He has remained silent and instead of standing up for you, he was looked the other way. Cllr Rita Begum supports all unsafe cladding should be replaced by 2022; insists that leaseholders shouldn’t have to pay for the repairs and that their homes should receive government support to replace the cladding and finally end the exorbitant charges for waking watches.

I of course also have echoed the same views in supporting a London Assembly motion supporting the 10 steps promoted by the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign, including robust targets and urgent government action to address the remediation of buildings found to be dangerous and the Mayors call for levy on private developers to fund the costs of cladding away from the leaseholders.

So Westminster cladding scandal victims quite honestly have just one response this coming Thursday the 6th of May, and thats voting LABOUR,LABOUR & LABOUR to make their message to government loud and clear.