What can national government learn from the Greater Manchester Green Summit?
“Manchester is the place where people do things,” said Edward Abbott Parry, judge of Manchester County Court. “Don’t talk about what you are going to do, do it. That is the Manchester habit.” A love of Manchester and its new city region (including towns like Wigan, Oldham and Bolton) was on full display at the second annual Greater Manchester Authority Green Summit earlier this month. I don’t claim Manchester as my home town (I’m a ‘Woolyback’, a non-scouse Merseysider) but I did go to University there, lived there in my early twenties and have a deep love of the city.
As Judge Parry says, it’s a place where things happen. And that can’t be said of all political hubs at the moment. Despite the young climate strikers in Parliament Square and Extinction Rebellion shutting down roads (and putting on an interesting show in the Commons), there has been little parliamentary response. The business of the UK parliament has been brought to a halt by the yoke of Brexit.
So how refreshing it was to attend an event with energy, brimming with ideas and unashamedly facing the future, launching Greater Manchester’s five year plan for the environment up to 2024. I left inspired but concerned about how this could be replicated in other regions and at a national level. Here are some of the learning points I took away:
Start with a clear pathway
Climate strikers and the poet Lemn Sissay, both intimidating in their eloquence, opened the summit, but it was Alex Ganotis, leader of Stockport Council and head of the Green City Region, that showed real bravery, coming on stage to present a technical and robust carbon reduction plan to a hall of 2,000 people before many had even had a coffee. Greater Manchester wants to be carbon neutral by 2038 and has used the Tyndall Centre to set out a clear pathway for its carbon reductions. Admittedly, all the policy isn’t in place yet but the gaps have been identified with what needs to be done.
Although the UK government has a clear pathway with its climate budgets covering 2023-32, it does not currently have the policies to meet them. Green Alliance has previously proposed four straightforward solutions.
Link to other strategies
Alex Ganotis was clear that the five year plan for the environment could not be delivered in a silo. Instead, it is implicit that this decarbonisation strategy has to be linked to other Greater Manchester plans: the clean air plan, the waste plan, the natural capital plan and the spatial framework, as well as being a central plank of the overarching vision for the city region.
This approach is not replicated at Westminster. Whilst BEIS continues to be a champion for a clean growth economy, major players who will have to act to get us there, such as the Department for Transport and the Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government, continue to be completely disengaged on the issue.
Get business buy-in
The Green Summit was filled with businesses and at the ‘innovation zone’, hosted by the North West Business Leadership Team and the Business Growth Hub, hours were spent identifying roles for business in achieving the vision. Some concerns remain regarding the policy gaps that still exist with businesses asking for more long term certainty, but the recognition that nothing could be achieved without the business community onside was core to all the discussions.
Give it figurehead leadership
Whilst Alex Ganotis received recognition for the five year plan, the summit was very much metro mayor Andy Burnham’s day, darting from zone to zone to speak to different audiences. Although not known for his green credentials when an MP, he seems to have recognised that the future of Greater Manchester is green. Leading an area of ten local authorities, and an accompanying budget, means he has some punch (though perhaps not enough) to enact real change on the ground.
At the national level, the climate spokespeople of both the Conservative and Labour parties seem to be sidelined. Claire Perry remains a climate champion within the government but, even though she attends cabinet, she is not a fully-fledged member. And BEIS Secretary of State Greg Clark remains aloof on climate. There has been some recognition by Number 10 that the climate crisis and environmental decline are becoming increasingly important and relevant to future governance but there is no real energy to deal with it.
Have a good narrative
Manchester had the country’s first passenger railway; it was the birthplace of the suffragette movement; it invented the computer. Even if you didn’t know these claims at the start of the day you wouldn’t forget them afterwards, having constantly been reminded. Mancunians are proud of their history and their heritage and that’s exactly how this strategy was presented.
Not only does a clean growth economy benefit the city. As the city that introduced the first industrial revolution to the world, Manchester sees its responsibility at the spearhead of solutions to the problems it has subsequently caused. A just transition is vital to this. It was made clear that, to be successful, the plan had to be equitable at a local and global level. It aims to be locally inclusive, ensuring policies do not disproportionately impact the poorest on society, whilst also being globally just, recognising the need to act urgently to protect those around the world most affected by climate change.
Despite being positive overall, there are still big questions to be answered if the mayor is to deliver on his vision. City regions are still limited by the powers they actually have and the money to implement what they want to do. Many of the intended actions rely on the UK government granting more powers or providing more funding. Likewise, more explanation is needed for those policies that rely on behaviour change, such as the idea that Mancunians should be more responsible consumers.
The summit didn’t get much coverage in national media last week but I guess that doesn’t matter much if the plan is not to talk about it but just to do it.
[Image: Manchester city. Courtesy of Filip Patock via Flickr]