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Greater Manchester’s zero-carbon by 2038 pledge: a disappointing start?

Over a year ago, Manchester City Council announced plans to become a zero-carbon city by 2038 – 12 years ahead of the UK’s national target of 2050. Last summer, Manchester also joined multiple other UK cities in declaring a climate emergency. One year into the 18-year plan, the council’s self-titled ‘radical plan’ is being scrutinised for having a rather lacklustre start.

The year 2038 was arrived at based on Greater Manchester’s current use of its allocated carbon budget; 15 million tonnes of CO2 between 2018 and 2100. If the city continues with ‘business as usual’, Manchester will tear through this carbon budget in just 7 years.

Speaking to the Mancunian Matters, the Programme Director for the Manchester Climate Change Agency, Jonny Sadler, likened the current scenario to “getting paid your salary on Monday 1st of the month, and then spending it all by 2 o’clock on Wednesday of the first week”.

To achieve the task in hand, substantial revisions to the city’s current way of life will be needed. This will require substantial reductions in energy use and a swift move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. However, what changes, when, and what they will mean for Manchester’s residents, visitors and workers remain somewhat dubious.

A key area of transformation will likely be in the transport sector: greener transport systems, investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, and the remodelling of the city’s buses. Akin to Transport for London, the operation of bus services could be handed over to Greater Manchester and the combined authority, allowing for services that serve more people and the removal of profit as a driving force for decisions.

Other likely initiatives could include utilising Manchester’s expanse of rooftop space for solar panels and wide-scale retrofitting of properties to increase energy efficiency. Alongside planning city-wide initiatives, the council has also created plans to cut its emissions which account for roughly 2% of the city’s annual emissions.

The council has already boasted substantial progress in emissions reductions, claiming to have halved annual emissions between 2009/2010 and 2018/2019. However, this claim has been challenged by Climate Emergency Manchester (CEM) who suggest that such changes are largely the result of a national switch from coal to gas and renewable energy alongside government cuts to council workforces as opposed to any wildly successful changes made by the council.

CEM has also highlighted hypocrisies within the council. Through a freedom of information request, CEM found that council staff have taken short-haul flights to Southampton, Exeter, and Edinburgh since the climate emergency was announced. In response, the council has stated that flights are only taken when no other feasible option is available.

After reviewing the council’s draft plan, CEM highlighted the council’s lack of ambition. For example, the council has set a target to plant 1,000 trees annually. Yet, when averaged out for each ward in Greater Manchester this would see just 30 new trees popping up across the likes of Withington and City Centre every year.

Further criticisms lie in the council’s zero-carbon plan conveniently excluding Manchester Airport, which currently has plans to build a new 7,500 capacity car park. CEM also voiced frustrations with the council’s apparent lack of emergency planning, particularly for areas at risk from flooding.

Chloe Jeffries from CEM said: “A year ago the council promised a comprehensive plan to 2038. Instead, the citizens of Manchester have been given uncosted and unquantified aspirations for the next 5 years.”

Activists who initially campaigned for the council to declare a climate emergency also called for a 2030 zero-carbon target. Other councils such as Birmingham and Leeds have committed to 2030 zero-carbon targets and Nottingham City Council have recently unveiled plans to become zero-carbon in 2028, a decade ahead of Manchester, placing Manchester’s 2038 zero-carbon target as perhaps a rather conservative, unambitious goal.

The council’s official plans are expected to become clearer and more detailed over the coming months as the official Climate Change Action Plan for 2020-2025 documents are released. In the meantime, environmental groups encourage residents to maintain pressure on the council to deliver their promises and be ambitious as possible in such a crucial commitment.

The council says it is, “100% committed, as a matter of urgency, to get to a position where the push for zero carbon is at the heart of both the Council’s day-to-day operations, and its decision-making.”

Tags: carbon neutral, Climate change, climate emergency, manchester city council

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