This post is by Councillor George Duggins, the leader of Coventry City Council.
After months of anticipation, the UN climate change conference finally got underway in Glasgow this weekend. After the strategies and the speeches, the endless media briefings, the crunch meetings between No 10 and the Treasury and the chancellor’s budget announcements, it remains to be seen whether COP26 will be quite the turning point it should be.
But we have to seize the moment. This fortnight is our opportunity to go further and faster towards net zero. It’s our chance to take global shared ambition and translate it into meaningful action. It means committing to transforming our economies to make them cleaner and greener through tangible, measurable action.
This has to happen at all levels, from the global to the individual. In Coventry, we know that tackling climate change and delivering sustainable growth go hand in hand, because we know that bold action can yield economic gains. We can create skilled, well paid, low carbon jobs and reduce air pollution to improve health outcomes and cut healthcare costs. And we can still grow our economy while cutting emissions.
Coventry is demonstrating what local action can do
We have not waited for COP26 to demonstrate our leadership and investment. As one of the UK’s fastest growing cities, we have a sizeable climate programme and we are working towards a greener, sustainable future for those who live here.
Coventry has more electric vehicle charging points than any other city outside London. We are on course to have the UK’s first all-electric bus fleet by the end of 2023, with another 297 electric buses on their way. The city has more than 25 kilometres of purpose built cycleways. Almost 50 schools and council buildings will have taken advantage of solar power to become more energy efficient by the end of next year, and we are replacing our street lighting with energy efficient alternatives. With our partners at Act on Energy, our residents are getting home insulation schemes, which is definitely the right thing to do now given how quickly domestic fuel bills are rising.
Using our leadership position in the city we are making the meaningful, tangible and visible changes that communities can understand and relate to. And we stand ready to go further and faster, with the bold and ambitious vision of our new Climate Change Board.
Coventry has long been the home of the automotive industry and a new gigafactory, building car batteries, will ensure we remain at the heart of it. Our plans for the UK’s biggest gigafactory are essential to our city, our region, as well as for the future of the automotive industry across the UK. Based at Coventry airport, the gigafactory will be adjacent to the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, part of the UK’s Faraday Challenge. It will inject £2.5 billion investment into the region, making it the largest new industrial facility of any kind in the UK, and it will be within reach of almost every car manufacturing plant in the UK.
Very light rail (VLR) is a research and development project, using the latest automotive expertise developed in the West Midlands, to deliver an innovative and affordable light rail system. A growing city like Coventry needs an environmentally and financially sustainable mass transit system, capable of supporting urban and economic development and helping to improve air quality. VLR will provide a solution that is comfortable, efficient, reliable and low cost. These vehicles will have low floors to enable passengers to embark and disembark from the pavement. They will be lightweight, self-propelled and battery powered, and will run on a lightweight track laid closer to the surface than conventional tram track, and thus will be considerably cheaper than traditional light rail solutions.
The city is supporting businesses to change
We are also using our convening powers to support and encourage the hundreds of businesses across the city to take definitive action. Through a programme of grants and support, we are helping businesses with fewer than 250 employees to save money on energy, waste and water bills and maximise low carbon opportunities. Several local businesses are signed up to UK Business Climate Hub’s ‘Make the Commitment’ initiative and, during COP26, we will be urging companies to take action to cut their carbon emissions and develop a climate transition plan.
These programmes demonstrate the appetite we have, along with other local authorities, to meet climate change targets, while delivering economic prosperity for local people. But central government needs to help by committing more capital investment for innovations such as VLR and gigafactories. The government needs send the right signals to the market on where to innovate and where to invest. Ending traditional gas boilers, for instance, will offer new opportunities for existing manufacturers, likewise cleantech and fuel for aviation.
At Coventry City Council, we sit at the heart of our ecosystem of business, academia, the local enterprise partnership and the combined authority, ready to capitalise on all these exciting, emerging opportunities. The government should engage local councils early to make it happen. For example, if it is planning more work on heat network zoning, it will need pilots which local councils can facilitate. I hope that COP26 will be the spur to greater dialogue and partnership between central government and local councils.
The next fortnight has to demonstrate our shared determination to succeed. Local authorities, such as Coventry City Council, are doing what we can to force the pace, and it is imperative that the government works with us on this journey.
Follow what Coventry is doing at @coventrycc and @CCCLeader.