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London Leads By Example to Curb Pollution, Climate Change

New York is hosting a Climate Change Summit next week (May 14th to 17th). Leaders from the world's largest cities will discuss how to reduce pollution. London will likely be held up as a role model in cutting back carbon emissions. The British capital is on the forefront in fighting climate change.

London has declared war on climate change.

It is boosting bio-fuel in buses, charging cars that come into town and making 4x4 drivers pay even more. Pass the “big C” and you are in the congestion zone. Anyone who drives into the city gets slapped with a daily fee of around 16 dollars.

Gas guzzlers have been singled out as public enemy number one. The mayor branded those who drive SUVs as "idiots" and plans to punish them with a higher toll of roughly 50 dollars a day.

The current charging scheme has been in place for four years now, but the zone expanded further in February to nearly double its original size. The city says the larger area will reduce traffic by 15 percent by encouraging public transport.

But Roger Lawson from the Association of British Drivers says the toll system is failing to cut carbon emissions. "Both buses and taxis are typically diesel powered and their emissions are nowhere as clean as private cars. And if you get the average loading of about 10 people, which is what it is in London, then the pollution per person is actually similar, if not worse, than a private car."

The city mayor admits pollution from buses is a problem, but he has a plan for that, too.

London is trying out a handful of buses fueled by bio-ethanol.

If successful, double-deckers will be powered by the clean fuel made from Brazilian sugar cane.

That is on top of a fleet of hybrid diesel-electric buses already running in the capital. And there is also a low-tech solution -- get people riding their bikes to work. Seventy-two million dollars is getting spent this year to promote it

But Londoners are divided on the city's tough approach to traffic.

"London is one of the most expensive city's in the world to live in. It's making it more expensive, more difficult and harder to live,” said one Londoner.

"Prior to the Congestion Charge if you owned a car it was cheaper to travel into central London by car then by public transport,” said another person. “And I think that doesn't offer an incentive not to use their cars so introducing the congestion charge redresses that balance and potentially it offers a subsidy for people who want to go into London in the most eco-friendly way."

Transport is just one part of the mayor's climate change action plan. He wants to cut London's carbon emissions by 60 percent in the next 20 years.

The plan suggests that London should produce a quarter of its electricity from local, low carbon power generators.

And it also wants to use household waste to produce power. Experts estimate garbage could create electricity for two million homes and heat for more than 625,000 houses.

Doug Parr, an environmentalist with Greenpeace, says the new initiative is radical but necessary. "Reputable people are saying this is the biggest threat that the world faces, above and beyond terrorism. Now we got to have serious political concerted responses to drive the technology and behavior change, to change our climate emissions and put them on a downward track. We cannot bet that this tiny percentage of scientists who deny global warming are right. It's too big a risk for the rest of us."

Cities produce 75 percent of global carbon emissions, according to British government scientists.

The world's big urban centers are the future battlegrounds in the fight against climate change and London is leading the charge.