By Michael Shank

This article is written by Dr Michael Shank, Director of Engagement at the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance.

The problem: There’s concern that a global backlash against climate policies is in full swing and that running on climate isn’t good for political campaigns.

Why it matters: We need more bold and ambitious climate leadership, not less and now before the planet gets any hotter.

The solution: By leading on climate in the ways shown in this article, elected officials can be confident that climate can, in fact, be a winning platform.

Countering the claim that a global backlash against climate policies is in full swing, a climate-centric mayor recently got elected to a historic third term – showing that climate can be a winning strategy for elected officials. London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s recent win for a third term as mayor and his doubling down on climate commitments during and after his campaign shows that all’s not lost in the political climate fight.

The win is not unremarkable. Many traditionally climate-leading countries and cities – from Sweden to Seattle, respectively – are witnessing a political tack right towards public safety issues and away from climate commitments. In fact, Khan’s win, prevailing over an opponent’s climate-related criticism of the Ultra Low Emission Zone and more, shows that bold climate leadership can win votes.

There are three key takeaways from Khan’s third-term mayoral win in London that mayors everywhere should emulate and mirror.

First, be the city’s first green mayor

To be clear, Khan was never squeamish about leadership. Years ago, he started calling himself the first green mayor of London and recently reaffirmed that his determination to “ensure London leads from the front with world-leading climate action remains as strong as ever”. Uncowed on climate, Khan has led from the front with other mayors like former NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, calling on cities globally to divest from fossil fuels too.

Be the green mayor, prioritise public health and safety and go big by going global. We could use more of this among climate mayors around the world.

Importantly, Khan understands that you can be a city’s first green mayor while simultaneously tackling issues of unaffordable housing and homelessness, street crime and the rising cost of living. He understands that you can clean up the River Thames and scale up charging for electric vehicles while also helping London be safer and more affordable for everyone.

Second, prioritise public health and safety

Early in his tenure, Khan smartly tackled London’s persistent and deadly air pollution by introducing creative and compelling anti-idling campaigns in highly visible ways on the streets of London as well as extending the Ultra Low Emission Zone to the whole of metropolitan London to begin chipping away at the 40,000 early deaths that annually result from the toxic air pollution in the UK.

Khan minced no words when doing any of this, calling London’s air “lethal” and naming the city’s air pollution as a “national health crisis”, saying that he refused to “stand back as thousands of Londoners breathe in air so filthy that it shortens our life expectancy, harms our lungs and worsens chronic illness”. This is how you make the climate all about public health and safety.

London now has more electric buses than most Western cities, a third of its taxis are already electric and half of the black taxis are zero-emissions capable – all of which is helping protect Londoners by reducing toxic air by 50% from the city centre.

And yes, there’s a carbon and climate win here, too, but the big visible win for voters is fewer deaths, less asthma and fewer respiratory infections and problems. Those are tangible and concrete benefits for people. It’s clear Khan has their back. And it’d make sense they’d want more of that kind of leadership.

Third, go big and go global

Khan’s climate leadership style understands that everything is interconnected, that it takes all of us to fight climate change and that no one can be left behind. Khan could’ve kept his sights on London only but smartly seized the global stage at the UN climate talks and more, co-chairing the environmental non-profit C40 and leading initiatives to call for 50 million good, green jobs by the end of the decade.

By going global, Khan illustrated his leadership mettle. In addressing the climate-related needs of the Global South, Khan simultaneously signalled to his constituents in London, some of whom hail from the Global South, that he understands their increasingly interconnected climate reality.

This is a lesson for all climate leaders to constantly connect the dots for people so that what’s happening to South Asians or South Americans, from a climate perspective, has clear relevance to South Londoners, for example. With climate, that’s infinitely possible; it just takes some clear communication and dot-connecting. Khan understands that.

There’s always more for mayors to do, of course, like prioritising critical structural changes to reduce emissions and traffic and achieve large-scale retrofitting and that’s what a third term is for. And there’s more in here that can be learned from Khan’s win, but these three points are a good starting point. Be the green mayor, prioritise public health and safety, and go big by going global. We could use more of this among climate mayors around the world. Kudos to Khan for understanding and leading on this early and for securing a third term. We can’t wait to see what he does next on climate.