Greater Manchester Green Summit: Nice headlines, tough messages

A couple of weeks ago External Affairs Consultant, Jo Caldwell, attended the Greater Manchester Green Summit.  In this blog Jo shares her thoughts from the event, and takes a look at Greater Manchester’s ambitions to go green.

Wildflower planting in the centre of Manchester

Grow Wild planting, Manchester ©Sean Harkin

‘Manchester to be plastic free by 2020’ was the local newspaper headline after the first Greater Manchester Green Summit, held on 21st March. It is of course is a significant, and eye catching, pledge. However, the bigger challenge, and ambition, was set right at the start of the Summit, when Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, asked us to consider the fact that if we are to meet our commitment to halting temperature rises at 2 degrees, we need to cut emissions at a much faster and deeper rate. In fact, we need to be carbon neutral by 2040, a decade earlier than the UK Government is currently proposing. This translates into city-region emission cuts of 10 – 15% every year, year on year. He asked if Manchester is up for the challenge?

When Andy Burnham was elected in May 2017, he promised a Green Summit and Environment Plan. In the event, over 600 delegates gathered to discuss the outcomes of a consultation carried out over the previous few months, including a large online survey (over 2,000 responses with over 20,000 comments), 42 public listening events, and specialist focus groups. The results are fascinating, and heartening, showing overwhelmingly that Manchester people care about their local environment, and are thinking about what they can do for the global community.

For me, the most interesting session came early on when Councillor Alex Ganotis, Leader of Stockport Council and Andy’s Green City Lead, shared the headlines from some innovative work funded by DBEIS, called SCATTER. Basically, this is the first city-wide ‘carbon budget pathway’ based on Manchester University Tyndall Centre’s work to create a carbon budget for the city region, using scientific data and technical feasibility to prioritise sector-based actions. It indicates that it is possible to reach carbon neutrality in Manchester by 2040 but it requires a revolutionary change in how we manage the economy and infrastructure, it cannot be done through iterative change to existing ways of working.

Of course, it also comes with a hefty price tag, though the long term economic benefits of decarbonisation and digitisation were much promoted. Some of the actions that may be taken forward include requiring zero carbon homes, an emissions-free bus fleet, doubling the provision of charging points for electric vehicles, a Greater Manchester energy company, and a plastic-free policy.

Indeed, Andy’s message to delegates was that Manchester has historically played the role of social disrupter and industrial innovator, and this is just the latest version of the city’s radical history.

I was left with many thoughts and questions from the day. Not least, an awareness of the amount of political will that is required take to achieve this level of change. It is clear that climate change is considered the most pressing environmental matter for the city, and that the natural environment will be seen through this lens. Despite this, comments from the surveys and events clearly demonstrated public concern about on the quality of local green space, green belt, and parks. I hope that this will be prioritised in the forthcoming Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and future activity flowing from the Green Summit.

National Trust has a positive role to play in supporting Greater Manchester’s ambitions. Our large estate at Dunham Massey is currently developing its Estate Plan, identifying how land management can deliver more environmental benefits. We can also reach out to a large number of members in the city-region to help them take action. We have innovative demonstration projects, such as our sustainable housing development at Stamford Brook near Altrincham.

As commented at the Summit, in the past Manchester was dominated by red, more recently by blue, now we should embrace the opportunity to turn the city green.

Find out more about the Greater Manchester Green Summit here: https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/greensummit

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