By Tom Hayes, deputy leader of Oxford City Council.

When we are living through the biggest crisis most of us have ever faced, why on Earth would you want to write about climate breakdown?

When we can’t hug or be with loved ones because of the pandemic, can’t we just tackle crises one at a time?

Certainly, that was my own mum’s reaction to the news that I would be marking World Environment Day today!

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We have to start with the reality of today, which means recognising the enormity of coronavirus.

It means recognising the enormity of climate breakdown, too.

How do we agree with the scientific consensus that warming has to be limited, and efforts to tackle climate issues don’t measure up against what the science says is needed, while ensuring that people don’t feel overwhelmed and powerless?

We’re all figuring out the answers to these questions together.

Nobody can possibly have all the answers, but between us, we do.

Oxford Mail:

Tom Hayes with Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds.

Increasingly, it’s starting to feel like some of the answers may lie in our response to the lockdown.

We would never have wanted to lockdown our city, but now that we have, we’ve noticed certain things which it’s worth looking at.

Since the start of lockdown, we have seen an extraordinary decrease in greenhouse gas emissions in the UK – with a 31 per cent reduction nationally.

Here in Oxford, the latest figures are showing a 65 per cent decrease in air pollution levels in the city centre.

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We now have air in Oxford that meets the legal limit, which means people can breathe cleaner air and enjoying health benefits as a direct result.

The reduction in vehicles on our roads in Oxford, particularly petrol and diesel vehicles, is making a big difference to our environment and air quality.

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As we emerge out of lockdown, I’m aware that we need to find a way to maintain these environmental and health benefits, while ensuring that our local economy can be restored and renewed.

We want to push up the boom in bike sales reported nationally to encourage much more cycling in Oxford, greater use of e-bikes – and of course more walking!

We’ve committed a £234,000 down payment to put in place the additional cycle routes and wider pavements that businesses and big employers like the University of Oxford are rightly crying out for to help reopen the city centre safely from June 15.

This sort of measures has long been needed and we’re working with Oxfordshire County Council to seek and invest more money from Government.

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With everything that we do, we must also of course ensure that the city centre is fully accessible to disabled people.

The council’s hands have been full dealing with coronavirus, and I want to thank our key workers for keeping the agenda going and replacing our vehicles, taking a delivery of the first electric vehicles to be procured as part of the Energy Superhub Oxford project, and working hard with partners on Oxford’s application to the Government’s All Electric Bus Town Scheme.

However, we know that the city council is responsible for just one per cent of emissions.

We know that the biggest reductions in our emissions can come from citizens, you and me, making changes.

We know we also need to work with the bigger pollution emitters in the city to reduce their carbon footprint.

We’ve never gone into a lockdown before to know how to come out of one successfully.

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We’re trying out new things, learning as we go along, always staying true to our values.

We won’t get everything right, some changes we make won’t stay the course.

However, this council wants to work with you and the organisations and businesses which are as much citizens of Oxford as you and I, to exit lockdown and beat climate breakdown.

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Together, we can all make a difference that will improve the lives of those we love most.

And the renewal of that spirit of solidarity and common purpose on World Environment Day feels as good a reason as any to write to you today.

Just don’t tell my mum!

Tom Hayes is deputy leader of Oxford City Council and also the council cabinet member for a zero carbon Oxford.