In an interview with The National, the son of a Pakistani-born bus driver said preserving the capital’s status as a global city was key to attracting international students after cycle of lockdowns forced many to return home .
Five years after the Brexit referendum in 2016, the man who campaigned on the slogan ‘London is open’ said the slogan remains vital as the UK seeks to reopen its borders.
Referring to the image of the red double-decker bus synonymous with London and a major draw for tourists, Mr Khan said that even during the lockdown, the city was transforming. The challenge is to get visitors who once flocked to the British capital to return once the Covid restrictions are completely lifted, he said.
“Double-decker buses are close to my heart, dear to my heart. My father was a bus driver, ”he said at a ceremony to introduce 20 new environmentally friendly hydrogen public buses to the city’s fleet.
“When I first became mayor, I realized that the diesel in our buses carried toxic air into our city – nitrous oxide particles but also, of course, carbon emissions. And over the past five years, we’ve grown the number of electric buses in London by more than twenty times, so now we have more electric buses and hybrid buses than any city in Western Europe.
London’s Climate Action Week begins on Saturday, designed to help raise awareness of the UK’s role in promoting carbon-friendly policies ahead of the crucial Cop26 international climate summit in Glasgow in November.
Mr Khan said he sees the United Nations conference as a lifeline to transform London as he launches the new fleet of hydrogen buses.
“Unsurprisingly, people from outside London don’t want to come to the West End,” he said.
“When crossing our country, people don’t want to come to London. All over the world people don’t want to come to London. In fact, some cannot because of the pandemic. We therefore encourage a quick return.
He said international visitors were vital to London’s recovery from the pandemic.
“We desperately need the return of tourists to our city,” he said. “We launched the largest home marketing campaign in London history. And I think that first experience of returning will engender the confidence of people to come back.
“My position is pretty much the same [as the slogan]. We will continue to be open-minded, outward-looking and pluralistic.
“And one of the key things I need to do in the next term is help take over our city. It means hitting the drums for trade, investment and for tourists to London, both from the European Union, but also from around the world. “
He vowed to make London a destination of choice for international students after many were forced to leave their jobs when shops and restaurants were forced to close.
“We are going to make sure that we do not lose our place as the number one city in the world to attract foreign students,” he said.
When asked how this would be achieved with border restrictions still in place, the mayor said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new deadline to end social distancing restrictions on July 19 and this week’s review of the traffic light system were essential.
He said the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines was vital for returning international travel to pre-pandemic levels.
“In the future, because many of us have now received at least one jab, maybe two, which will also allow us to think about travel abroad,” he said.
“It’s really important that international partners talk to each other about how we can make international travel safe, recognizing that for any virus there are new variants. But I think the vaccine has so far shown that even with a new variant… the consequences are less severe.
Addressing the need to “re-prioritize our energies towards a green recovery,” Khan said the Cop26 summit was an opportunity to show London’s green agenda to the world.
Mr Khan, who declared the climate change emergency in London in 2018, said the environment should be a priority in the post-Covid world.
“What is the future of our economy after Brexit? I don’t want to do low-skilled, low-paying jobs, ”he said.
“I want us to have high-skilled, well-paying jobs – jobs that we can export in terms of skills, expertise and knowledge. “
He urged world leaders to set ambitious carbon emission reductions in November, warning that the current generation must do better than the previous one.
“What we need from Cop26 are commitments from the very big economies – China, the Americas, the Indies – on what they are going to do to ensure that we tackle the problem of climate change,” he said. he declared.
“What we need to do is make sure we’re the first generation that understands the solutions, rather than the last generation that doesn’t. “