Greater Manchester’s Environment Plan: a truthful version.

A guest piece from Claire Stocks, Manchester Extinction Rebellion.  This is a commentary on the Greater Manchester Environment Plan 2019–2024 (see also Peter Somerville’s critique that we published before the recent Green Summit and the call from GM-CAN to do more faster).  Claire explains her piece like this:

What would it sound like if leaders in Greater Manchester declared a climate emergency? If they spoke with the tone and urgency this crisis calls for; the honesty citizens need to understand the facts; and the mass appeal for help required – for instance from the media sector in this region? This is my take  – part of an in-depth critique of the GM Environment Plan, which despite its good intent sadly fails us all. For instance, it sets out a pledge to for GM to be zero-carbon by 2038 but openly admits double permitted emissions will have been pumped out by then. It ignores aviation – making no attempt to halt a huge expansion of passenger capacity at Manchester Airport. Even so, it contains startling & sweeping changes – e.g. in housing (a mass retrofit programme in every house in the region including getting rid of gas boilers ), transport (a mass shift to electric cars) and energy (solar panels for all). Many of these changes require huge government subsidies if citizens aren’t to foot the bill. And yet there seems no plan or budget to inform & engage people – or facilitate us finding solutions together and ways to go further, faster.

Read the piece on Claire’s Medium pages, HERE.


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Open Letter from Climate Activists to Manchester City Council

Greater Manchester Climate Action (GM-CAN), today sent this letter to the leader and executive member for environment, Manchester City Council, with copies to the other councillors who attend the council’s Executive Committee meetings.  This coincides with the debate in the House of Commons called by the Labour Party, calling on the UK government to call a Climate Emergency.


Dear Cllr Leese and Cllr Stogia,

As Parliament today debates the global climate crisis, we the undersigned call on Manchester City Council to declare a Climate and Environmental Emergency at the soonest possible opportunity.

We note the council’s commitment to a science-based carbon budget of 15m tonnes (as its share of the Greater Manchester carbon budget) and that this requires Manchester to make 13% cuts every year for the next 19 years.

However, we also note that even under the measures outlined in existing plans, the city and region are set to emit twice the carbon allowed by this budget by 2038.

Furthermore it is also clear that the actions required, which will fall on a variety of sectors across the city not just the local authority, are not happening anywhere near quickly enough, with few businesses signed up and barely anything done to bring in citizens as partners to help own the problem and work up solutions.

In addition the funding required to help pay for much of this is still not in place.

Yet it is clear we need to go further, faster – which is why we are asking you to take this extra step to maintain the council’s leadership role both locally and nationally.

Because since Manchester announced its carbon target in December 2018, the full scale of this crisis and depth of change required has further emerged. For instance, the following things have happened:-

  • Dozens more councils across the UK have declared a climate emergency and a zero-carbon target of 2030
  • Many have set up Citizens’ Assemblies to plot how communities can work together to meet this challenging goal
  • The government has issued a report admitting the UK will miss its statutory carbon budget from the 2020s and beyond
  • Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated in the streets – hundreds of them from Manchester – and more than 1,000 have been arrested due to the strength of feeling that we need to go further faster
  • Hundreds of children have demonstrated in Manchester City centre, demanding further action here
  • Millions of people were shocked by a powerful documentary on BBC1 – ‘Climate Change the Facts’ in which David Attenborough issued a call to action with the following words: “If we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies”.
  • Parliament has today (1/05/2019) debated climate change – with both Michael Gove and Jeremy Corbyn and other party representatives agreeing we all face ‘a climate emergency’.

Furthermore, on May 6, there will be more shocking reading in the form of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, that will highlight the devastation to our natural world over the past 50 years, warn that tens of thousands of species are threatened, and highlight the risk to humans if this devastation continues.

We therefore believe Declaring an Emergency would signal the urgency and intent that is required for Manchester to come together to tackle this challenge, and is what citizens would expect of its leaders in a time of unprecedented crisis.

It will also help build the public support needed for the necessary actions by the council and its partners and beyond.

We therefore ask that Manchester City Council does the following:-

  1. Declare a Climate & Environmental Emergency at the soonest opportunity – we note MCC’s next full meeting is on 15 May
  2. Urgently review its ‘zero carbon by 2038’ pledge with a view to bringing forward to 2030 (but keeping the same cap of 15m tonnes), for instance by listening to the proposals we set out in our March 2019 response
  3. Take immediate action to further reduce emissions given the imperative to cut most of our emissions in the next few years
  4. Set up a Citizen’s Assembly to help advise on the action needed across all sectors to meet these goals.


The Greater Manchester Climate Action Network (GM-CAN)

(coalition of climate and environmental groups* in the city region)


* Members of GM-CAN:

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Let’s reclaim bank holidays: Introducing the climate holiday

by James Scott Vandeventer

Did you enjoy the record-breaking weather across the U.K. over the long weekend, despite a sneaking suspicion that this feels like accelerating climate change? With two four-day weeks, the pressure at work hopefully felt a bit lighter – if you’re lucky enough to have a job that give bank holidays off.

Soon enough, though, it’ll be back to full workweeks. Still, with two bank holidays in May, there’s hope on the horizon for a few more breaks from the steady drumbeat of work. I’d like to propose, though, that we reclaim these holidays, and that we go a step further: Let’s change how we act on bank holidays and make them for the people by renaming them ‘Climate Holidays.’ A climate holiday is a chance to slow down, embrace convivial experiences, and give the climate – and yourself – a break.

Why are they called bank holidays, anyway? Originating in an act of Parliament in 1871 and superseded by the Banking and Financial Dealings Act of 1971, the law presently states that ‘No person shall be compellable to make any payment or to do any act on a bank holiday under this Act which he would not be compellable to make or do on Christmas Day…’ Why, then, are the run-up to bank holidays dominated by retailers screaming discounts to try and draw people into their stores and onto their websites? Should we not be free from the consumption hysteria and enjoy our right to relax?

Instead of bank holiday buying mania, let’s embrace a day of calm from the busy world. Let’s spend time with family and friends; do a bit of gardening before the plants erupt in green splendour; volunteer outdoors with great local groups like The Kindling Trust or City of Trees; or just slow life down a bit. If hungry for activity, maybe we join in with an Extinction Rebellion protest to show your support for acting to address the climate emergency (did we mention a Manchester Extinction Rebellion organiser is coming to our AGM on 2 May? Get in touch for details!). Alternatively, maybe we take a train journey to a smaller town, go biking in the countryside, or find other brief respites from the city. Give the climate a holiday, too: don’t fly for a weekend getaway.

Perhaps in an ideal scenario would be that we have climate holidays once a month, backed by a new Act of Parliament. They would happen more frequently than bank holidays – once or even twice a month? – and address the urgent need to take national action about the climate emergency by lowering the amount of days we work. But of course, as the endless news cycle reminds us, the endless self-centredness of politicians quibbling over Brexit is set to continue for the foreseeable future. So instead, let’s take it into our own hands. Forget bank holidays; act to make it your climate holiday!

By making climate holidays about being and acting together, whether with those close to you, by volunteering, through activism, and by being conscious about our decisions about what we choose to spend time doing on climate holidays, we can take a bit of pressure off the planet and lessen the disruption human activity is causing to make the climate emergency worse.

A final thought: let’s not forget service workers, whether public transit drivers, shop workers or others that help make our convivial climate holiday plans come together. These workers deserve days off so they can enjoy climate holidays, too. Preferably ones where the sun is shining!

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Do More, Faster! Greater Manchester Climate campaigners call for serious climate action.

Climate campaigners in action in central Manchester last month – via

Today at Salford’s Lowry centre, Mayor Andy Burnham’s second Green Summit takes place.  It will launch the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s 5-year Environment Plan.  Climate campaigners in Greater Manchester have considered it and found it lacking.

GM-CAN, the umbrella grouping for GM’s climate action campaigners, is making a “helpfully impatient” call for more and faster action and will be making that call loud and clear at today’s event.  They call on concerned citizens to reiterate this message throughout the day.  Here’s their statement:

Do More, Faster!

Our Response to the GMCA 5 Year Plan

We’re facing a climate emergency.

The science tells us how much carbon we can afford to emit to keep the climate safe.  We need to live within this carbon budget.

But the GMCA 5 Year Plan fails to deliver, using up the budget twice over.

We have to do more, faster.  We therefore call on Andy Burnham and the 10 council leaders to:

In the next 3 months:

  • Declare a Climate Emergency and appoint a Climate Emergency Commissioner with the responsibility and resources to deliver rapid carbon reductions.
  • Accelerate the actions in the 5-year plan to deliver in line with the Tyndall carbon budget, and act now to deliver a 15% reduction this year.
  • Instruct the GM Pension Fund to sell all holdings in companies involved in the exploration, extraction, refining and distribution of fossil fuels within 2 years, starting with the most polluting (coal, tar sands and fracking).
  • Call on the Government to:
    • Make carbon reduction a statutory duty for local authorities and provide the powers and funding to deliver rapid action.
    • Accelerate grid decarbonisation by rapidly scaling up the deployment of renewable power.
    • Introduce an immediate ban on coal and unconventional oil and gas extraction (including fracking and coal bed methane), and end all direct and indirect subsidies for fossil fuel extraction
    • Reintroduce a zero carbon new build standard, and make retrofit of existing buildings an infrastructure investment priority.
    • Bring forward the date for phasing out the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to 2030, and introduce a scrappage scheme for the most polluting vehicles.
    • Scrap HS2 and the national road-building programme, and invest instead in walking, cycling, buses, trams and local rail services.
    • Announce an immediate moratorium on airport expansion, update aviation policy in line with the Tyndall Centre carbon budget, and introduce a Frequent Flyer Levy.

In the next 6 months:

  • In each local authority area:
    • Run a series of Carbon Literacy workshops to inform and inspire people to act on climate change, starting with all councillors and council staff
    • Collaborate with the public sector, businesses and community members (making particular effort to involve women and BAME communities) to develop local action plans
  • Set up the GM Environment Fund and provide initial funding to give communities the financial support they need to deliver their local action plan.
  • Accelerate delivery of high-quality walking and cycling infrastructure across the region.

In the next 12 months:

  • Re-regulate our buses to deliver a cleaner, simpler, more frequent and affordable bus network.
  • Implement a low-carbon Clean Air Zone as soon as possible, which covers all types of polluting vehicles including private cars.
  • Set a cap on flight emissions at Manchester Airport, supported by the introduction of a Climate Emergency Levy for departing passengers to contribute to the GM Environment Fund
  • Set up a Climate Emergency Capital Fund, funded by investments from the public, businesses and the GM Pension Fund, to finance a GM-wide programme of retrofit, renewables and energy efficiency measures.
  • Work with employers and education partners to deliver a Climate Emergency Skills Programme to enable the rapid roll-out of retrofit, renewables and energy efficiency measures.

This response has been drawn up by the Greater Manchester Climate Action Network (GM-CAN), a coalition of local climate activist groups.

Let us know your views by tweeting us @GMCAN3 or emailing
If you or your organisation would like to endorse our response, visit:


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CounterCoin and the Environmental Impact of Venues

by James Scott Vandeventer

This post originally appeared on the CounterCoin website here.

The recent report from Keele University, A Comparison of the Environmental Performance of Sports and Entertainment Venues for a Range of Percentage Capacities (first released here) opens the debate about how to make ticketing at sports and entertainment venues work better. The report, commissioned by CounterCoin, points to ways that CounterCoin and other alternative currencies can make such venues address their environmental impacts, with relevance for Newcastle, Stoke, and beyond. In particular, by helping venues approach full capacity, CounterCoin could help these venues avoid the unnecessary overuse of energy. The report begins to show the environmental benefits of CounterCoin, which are in addition to its clear social impacts. This piece reflects on the report and some of the implications it has for CounterCoin and other similar mechanisms for inclusion.

Alternative currencies like CounterCoin, which recognises volunteering with coins redeemable for discounts at local places like venues, can help lower the barriers that exclude people from participating in cultural exchange. In other words, CounterCoin promotes a more inclusive approach to local sports, entertainment and cultural events. The report makes an important contribution to how CounterCoin works by considering the environmental impact of sports and entertainment venues. It considers the energy wasted when those venues do not reach full capacity and leave seats empty. By equating empty seats to gas and electricity usage per seat, and then showing that having empty seats is equivalent to thousands of km driven or to entire forests of trees unplanted, the report demonstrates that including more people in events at sports and entertainment venues and striving for higher capacity is not only inclusive to more people – a key aim of CounterCoin – but also avoids some of the environmental impacts of unused seats. In short, by filling more seats through inclusive mechanisms like CounterCoin, sports and entertainment venues work better.

It is worth noting a few implications of this report. Firstly, while the report does not consider the social impact of including more local people in cultural events, an undoubtedly positive way of helping build stronger communities and a core emphasis of CounterCoin, it does reflect how the environmental and social benefits of inclusion in sports and entertainment venues are closely interrelated. This should catch the eye of those of us, including policy-makers, concerned about the environment and social justice.

Secondly, the report only briefly addresses the significantly different gas and electricity usage between large sports stadia and smaller entertainment venues. The authors mention economies of scale as an explanation of why smaller entertainment venues have a higher impact per seat. However, smaller venues that provide things like theatre, music, or childrens’ events are essential to strong communities and a more viable economy. So, there must be a balance between small and large venues, which may not be easily measurable based solely on environmental impact. In looking forward, both types of venues ought to be encouraged to seek to fill seats through CounterCoin and similar tools for inclusion. Third, the more radical implication of this report is that, by filling venues to capacity, it may be possible to have fewer events and thereby deliver a lower overall environmental impact while still ensuring cultural exchanges that promote stronger, inclusive local communities. This final point should receive further attention we consider a more viable future for Newcastle, Stoke and the U.K.

Overall, what the report makes clear is that CounterCoin and other mechanisms for lowering the barriers to inclusion for cultural events could help contribute to lower environmental impacts of sports and entertainment venues by addressing the wasted gas and electricity of empty seats. Despite its specific focus on environmental venues’ energy use, the report also reflects the need to better understand the close connections between environmental and social impacts for inclusion, which suggests an agenda for further investigation. Still, waiting for further research, and meanwhile doing nothing, is not an option. The time has come to take action toward a truly inclusive approach to our local communities that has environmental and social benefits. CounterCoin stands ready to make that a reality. Will policy-makers step up to embrace this new paradigm? Or will they remain spectators to this transformation?

Here again are links to the announcement of the report,
and to CounterCoin.

Thank you to Mark Burton for comments on an earlier draft of this post.

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GMCA’s draft Environment Plan for 2019-2024

Moorland Fire

Climate change comes home to Greater Manchester, 2018

GMCA’s draft Environment Plan for 2019-2024.
A guest commentary by Peter Somerville

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has published a Draft 5-year Environment Plan for 2019 to 2014. This is the first Environment Plan that the Authority has produced, and follows the first Green Summit on 21 March 2018, extensive consultations, and the Springboard to a Green City Region report in August 2018. This draft plan will be presented to the second Green Summit on 25 March 2019 (next week) for approval.

The plan sounds ambitious, with GM envisaged to be carbon-neutral by 2038, achieved by 15% year-on-year GHG emission reductions. Looked at more closely, however, it has some serious weaknesses and omissions, and in some respects is not nearly ambitious enough. The introduction to the plan states that it is expected to be finalised by 29 March, which suggests that there is little time to make any substantial changes, though these are sorely needed.

On clean air, for example, the plan refers to 152 stretches of road where concentrations of nitrogen dioxide exceed the legal limit. One might imagine that the GMCA would give the highest priority to obeying the law, particularly as this issue has been raised for some years now as one requiring urgent and immediate action, but actually the plan is for GMCA to be compliant only by 2030 (p14), which makes it look as though a further decade of law-breaking is acceptable to the authority. If these stretches of road have actually been identified, surely action to secure compliance should already be underway?

A general problem with the plan is that it is not based on any clear evidence about the sources of GHG emissions in GM. All we get is Figure 4 on p13, which tells us that the main sources of emissions are (in descending order) buildings, industry and cars, but these are not broken down in any way (e.g. by type or by area). We are told later on that commercial and public buildings account for 70% of the total emissions from buildings, which is helpful, but more detail would not go amiss. As with other statistics produced by Anthesis, however, one suspects that they are merely artefacts of disaggregation and not measures of the actual GHG emissions in GM (the stated large reduction in emissions from 2015 to 2020, for example, seems scarcely credible).

The plan identifies three priorities for energy supply: 1) increase local renewable energy generation; 2) decarbonise the heating of buildings; 3) increase the diversity and flexibility of electricity supply. It is not clear where these priorities come from or what evidence or argument they are based on. The summary of actions on p19 contains a number of worthwhile proposals, and there are elements of a plan to meet priority 1, but there are no clear plans for priorities 2 or 3. It would also be nice to have some idea of what effects the proposed actions would be likely to have on reducing GHG emissions. One problem here is that the decarbonisation of heat and of electricity are largely outside of local control and are dependent on decisions made at national level, e.g. on decarbonisation of the national grid and the availability of renewable alternatives to gas-fired heating. Given these constraints, I would have expected the plan to prioritise the sourcing of renewable energy from outside GM as well as inside: consider what the effects might be if all GM residents and businesses switched to renewable energy suppliers – wouldn’t this solve a lot of the other problems?

On travel and transport, the plan is flawed in two respects. First, instead of reducing the amount we travel as the SCATTER analysis suggests we should (p28), the plan envisages a 15% increase in journeys by 2040, with only a slight decline in those made by car (from 3.4 to 3.2 million) (p25, Figure 6). Second, the plan does not recognise that switching to electric vehicles makes little difference to carbon emissions unless electricity is decarbonised, but the need for electricity decarbonisation is not even mentioned in the list of ‘What we need from government policy’ on p32.

On buildings, the goal is for all new development to be net zero carbon by 2028 (p33) but arguably this is a policy that should be introduced immediately, if only to save on the cost of retrofit in the future. The priorities stated are all about reducing heat demand, so it seems logical that the actions listed on p35 are all about increasing energy efficiency. It seems to be assumed, again, that electricity is decarbonised, there are no actions on using renewable energy, and there is no clear plan for up-scaling retrofit.

On sustainable production and consumption, I was unable to find any clear proposals for action, but only well-worn thrift mantras and exhortations to cut waste and live more sustainably.

On the natural environment, no one could disagree with the ‘plan’ to plant a million trees by 2024 but I’ve been hearing this for over two years now but I don’t know if any trees have actually been planted. This section of the plan does not really address issues of rurality or biodiversity or the ownership and exploitation of land and material resources, and I am not convinced of the desirability of a natural capital approach to nature conservation.

I agree that ‘Sustainable funding and financing is key to delivery’ (p71) but there is no clear plan here to address this issue.

As with the Manchester Climate Change Framework 2020-2038 this plan has nothing to say about aviation emissions, nothing to say about divestment from fossil fuels, nothing to say about working with organisations and networks that are trying to challenge fossil fuel incumbency, nothing about what GMCA could contribute to achieving a just transition to a low carbon society (e.g. nothing about redeployment or retraining for fossil fuel workers), and nothing to show that GMCA recognises that a whole world exists outside its little bubble.

Looking back at my earlier comments on the GM Springboard Report in August 2018, I find that most of the criticisms made there apply equally to this plan, namely:

1) There is insufficient information about the main sources of GHG emissions in GM;
2) There is no substantive information about what has been achieved in GM so far in reducing GHG emissions (reference to earlier strategies or plans is lacking);
3) Key responsibilities for taking the various actions proposed are not assigned;
4) The plan does not recognise the crucial role of putting an end to the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, irrespective of whether this occurs in GM or not;
5) Priorities for action seem to be identified on an ad hoc basis rather than on a strategic basis such as in terms of how much a proposed action is likely to contribute to reducing GHG emissions.

Peter Somerville, 12.3.19


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Steady State Manchester’s response to the 2019 Greater Manchester Spatial Framework

Here is our response  PDF Download

To give a flavour, the consultation first asks this question:

Is the approach that we have outlined in the plan reasonable?

[We said that we] Mostly disagree

What is the reason for your answer?:

Our principal reasons are as follows. More detail to support our points will follow under specific topic questions.

  1. As a prospective strategic plan for Greater Manchester the draft GMSF begins from the wrong premises. In the publicity for the consultation, the question is posed: “What kind of place do you want Greater Manchester to be?”. It is a good question but not one that is answered by the document which is dominated by the economic perspective. Instead we propose that the plan starts from consideration of “retro-fitting” the city region [see ] as a network of localities that are relatively self sufficient (cf. the “20 minute neighbourhood” concept developed in Portland and adopted by Melbourne see ; and This would imply a highly polycentric conurbation, where citizens’ needs are mostly met locally, reducing travel and resource use, increasing local community ties and social capital, supporting local business and community enterprise, and protecting the natural world. Building on the new emphasis on town centres, the strategy would strengthen district centres throughout the region, putting most development there, utilising sites within the urban area, and making best use of existing buildings. The construction of “growth hubs” that pull people and resources into themselves would be resisted in favour of strategies for local community wealth building and plugging the leaks by which wealth and money leaches out of both the local community and the city region. Economic growth would not be sought in the aggregate although some parts of the economy would grow, just as others would shrink, so helping Greater Manchester to minimise its ecological footprint while improving population well-being.
  2. Economic growth projections are inflated. The consultancy used by GMCA, Oxford Economics, routinely makes forecasts at the upper level of the class of UK economic forecasters, as evidenced in their own paper on their GM Forecasting Model.
    GMFM 2018 baseline cumulative GVA growth 2017-2023 = 12.38%
    AGS 2018 scenario cumulative GVA growth 2017-2023 = 13.93%
    OBR forecast, (UK economy) applied to GM 2017 actual: 2017-23 =9.13%
    AGS forecast 2017-2038 is a 59% increase in the scale of the economy. This endless growth is not sustainable on a finite planet, nor in a Greater Manchester that aspires to be one of Europe’s greenest cities.
  3. Housing need projections are based (apparently at government behest) on outdated population figures (2014 rather than the latest, 2016 figures that take brexit into account).
    The Housing Minister, Kit Malthouse MP, stated in a Westminster debate on 22 February 2019 and reiterated in a letter to Jim McMahon MP, that the housing need target is not mandatory and an inspector would accept a lower number if there are constraints such as Green Belt. We do appreciate that the guidance from central government has been unhelpfully contradictory but propose that this means that it is inappropriate to attempt to plan for a 20 year period in these circumstances, given that a 20 year plan is not required by central government.
  4. The plan is not sufficiently explicit about the green space that will be lost, only quoting net Green Belt loss in its main document. We provide the full figures in our response to question 56.
  5. Identifying so much Green Belt allocation over a 20 year period is unreasonable, given the uncertainties: the danger is that once identified for building it will be difficult to reverse the allocations should building not be required.
    We recommend a 15 year horizon for the revised GMSF. Since there is sufficient land supply for this period this will be a win-win resolution. The plan can always be rolled forward with revisions as trends, needs and supply become clearer.
  6. There is no analysis of the carbon consequences (baseline and opportunity cost) of building on green land, nor of the preferred “Accelerated Growth Scenario”. We have made some estimates based on our own calculations and present these later on, but this should have been part of the integrated assessment or the supporting papers.
  7. There is only token reference to food production.
    Destruction of farmland for housing and commercial development increases reliance on imported food and destroys farming livelihoods. Leaving the EU, from where much of our food is imported, together with the looming threats of climate change and geopolitical supply chain shocks, mean that this is not a good time to increase our reliance on imported food by building on farmland.
  8. There is insufficient attention to housing types, in terms of design, mix, tenure.
  9. Carbon reduction and biodiversity still appear largely as after-thoughts – these sections are vaguer, more tentative than the “we will” language used for proposals such as roads, green belt allocations, and major industrial developments.

Read our full response here.

Video: Mark Burton asks Andy Burnham a question about the inflated economic growth projections at the SGMGB forum.  At 22:15 minutes in.

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What Kind of a Green Deal? The implications of material and monetary flows.

What Kind of a Green Deal? The implications of material and monetary flows1.

Mark H Burton                                                                       pdf version of the article


Introduction: the resurgence of New Green Deals.

With increasing momentum, the idea of a New Green Deal (or Green New Deal) has entered the mainstream of progressive political debate. While a group of British economists and campaigners promoted the idea more than ten years ago2, it didn’t take off then. Now, however, the seriousness of, and public attention to, the climate emergency has helped to revive the idea: an ambitious transformative programme is needed to decarbonise the global economy, not least in the rich countries. Almost simultaneously, a similar set of policy proposals have emerged in several places, including in the USA, with the (New) Green New Deal3 proposed by leftists in the Democratic Party (the “Justice Democrats”4) and adopted by some of the prospective presidential candidates, in the UK, with the Labour Party’s Green Transformation paper5, in Spain, with the PSOE’s Transformación Ecológica6, and in the programme of Yannis Varoufakis’s pan-EU party DIEM 25. These all share the idea of investing in the rapid decarbonisation of the economy, creating “green jobs” in sectors such as renewable energy and housing retrofit, and offering a Just Transition for workers in those industrial sectors (predominantly fossil fuels) that will have to be closed down and replaced.

However, these policy frameworks all have shortcomings: none is, as yet, sufficiently detailed, each leaves significant gaps in the areas that have to be addressed, and all are promoted by parties that have yet to gain power or (in the Spanish case, with a challenging general election imminent) regain it. Rather than go into detail about the precise content of such programmes, I want to identify two areas of uncertainty that any Green Deal will have to address: controlling overall material flows and financing the transformation. Both these issues raise a key question, is a Keynesian model7 adequate to the challenge?

Green Deals, Growth and Material Flows

Proposals for Green Deals vary in how much they discuss the growth of the economy. The original UK proposal makes little mention of GDP growth except to criticise the concept, yet the following passage would seem to implicitly acknowledge that the investment in the clean economy, would, through the multiplier effect, cause an expansion of overall economic activity, alias GDP growth.

“This government intervention generates employment, income and saving, and associated tax revenues repay the exchequer. This is the multiplier process, attributed to Richard Kahn, Keynes’s closest follower.
Any public spending should be targeted so that domestic companies benefit, and then the wages generated create further spending on consumer goods and services. So combined heat-and-power initiatives generate income for construction and technological companies, and then workers’ salaries are spent on food, clothes, home entertainment, the theatre and so on, creating demand for those industries.”8

This is the crux of the problem: investing in, and expanding the clean, the good, sectors of the economy is a specific intervention but it has non-specific consequences, spilling over into the expansion of the dirty and the bad sectors.

It is interesting that the proposal for the Green New Deal tabled by Alexandria Ocasio-Córtez doesn’t once mention economic or GDP growth. However, not surprisingly, given its evocation of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the idea is there implicitly (see my emphasis in the following quotation).

…a new national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization on a scale not seen since World War II and the New Deal era is a historic opportunity—

(1) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs in the United States;

(2) to provide unprecedented levels of prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; and

(3) to counteract systemic injustices ……
“It is the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal—

(A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;

(B) to create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States…”

It also mentions that investments will spur economic development” ……and calls for

enacting and enforcing trade rules, procurement standards, and border adjustments with strong labor and environmental protections—
(i) to stop the transfer of jobs and pollution overseas; and
to grow domestic manufacturing in the United States…”9

Other advocates of the Green New Deal are more explicit in embracing continued GDP growth. In a 2018 article in New Left Review, Robert Pollin calls for Green Growth, that will both require and cause expansion of the economy, measured via GDP. His article is explicit in its critique of degrowth and the idea of constraining the scale of the economy10.

As Robinson Meyer notes in an article in Atlantic magazine11, a prominent influencer for Green Deal thinking has been Mariana Mazzucato. Mazzucato’s almost single emphasis has been on the historical role of State investments in facilitating industrial and technological innovation. Her unit at University College London has produced a briefing paper on the New Green Deal and again adjectival GDP growth (green growth, inclusive growth) is a central assumption12. Mazzucato is one of a number of broadly post-Keynesian economists who have been influential, formally or informally on the UK Labour party’s economic policy. While Britain’s Green Transformation hardly mentions economic growth, the term crops up like a mantra in other Labour policy statements13.

The evidence is clear enough on “Green Growth”. Increases in the scale of the economy are associated with increases in the throughput of energy and materials. Green growth would require the decoupling of growth in the size of the economy (conventionally GDP but effectively the sum of exchange value) from the increase in material flows. In the case of carbon emissions, there is limited evidence that for some OECD economies this has been achieved for some years, but there are uncertainties in the data and its interpretation14, and when international shipping an aviation plus embodied carbon in imports is taken into account, the evidence of any decrease in emissions is slim15, so the decoupling has been only relative (increased efficiency not keeping pace with increased flows), or at best, barely absolute: insufficient to deliver the enormous cuts required, some 15% p.a. for a conurbation such as Greater Manchester. For other material flows, the evidence is that there is no decoupling16. Consider what this means: for each increment in the scale of the economy, there is an increment in the extraction of minerals, the number of mines, the extent of cultivated land, the extraction of water, the number of ships, lorries and planes carrying goods and people, and in the amount of waste that has to be disposed of, whether by recycling or dumping in the earth’s land, sea and air, its ecological sinks. As George Monbiot recently put it,

What we see is not the economy. What we see is the tiny fragment of economic life we are supposed to see: the products and services we buy. The rest – the mines, plantations, factories and dumps required to deliver and remove them – are kept as far from our minds as possible. Given the scale of global extraction and waste disposal, it is a remarkable feat of perception management.”17

When that reality is continually expanded, then we have precisely the problem that the Green New Deal, and Green Growth is supposed to solve. Now it will be argued that things will be different from now on: the New Green Deal is precisely the unprecedented transformation that will ramp up the decarbonisation of the economy. It is indeed true that a major transformation is required, on the kind of scale of the Marshall Plan reconstruction of war devastated Europe or of China’s conversion into a manufacturing power-house. Clearly, there is a need for huge investment in transformation, for example in the decarbonisation of the power grid, the conversion of transport, heating and manufacture to electric power, and massive increases in energy efficiency. But four problems have to be addressed, as part and parcel of any realistic New Deal.

1) The inherent constraints of renewable energy. So far, increases in renewable energy deployment have not led to a reduction in fossil fuel usage globally. Overall their deployment has been essentially to add to the global energy mix rather than replacing fossil fuels. Moreover, it is doubtful whether renewables can provide the scale of concentrated energy used by the current global economy: the constraints are less in the power that could theoretically be generated from natural flows than in the minerals needed to deploy them: minerals used in generators and motors, in batteries and in electronics, as well as copper for transmission of power18. These are finite and with limited substitutability. The revolution will be low powered, so the Green Deal has to factor in a plan for energy descent.

2) Control of the non-specific growth of the economy. As noted above, the multiplier creates a problem, in that the desired growth of the economy also calls forth undesirable growth. That is unless the expansion of commodities is controlled. It means a series of measures to constrain the manufacture of false desires through the marketing and sales operation of modern capitalism. More than this, it means imposing caps on resource and energy use. There are several proposals for how to do this, from what is essentially a consumption tax based on financial transactions, suggested by Richard Murphy19, one of the authors of the 2008 British New Green Deal, to the kind of Cap and Share scheme promoted by the Irish NGO FEASTA20. An ecologically feasible Green Deal would involve resource and energy caps, at source, effectively the equitable rationing of commodities (goods and services). Doing this would also incentivise the transition to less ecologically and resource intense offerings across the market, so long as emitting activities are not thereby driven underground.

3) Dealing with the non-energy constraints on growth. The non-energy constraints on renewables deployment have already been mentioned. Similar considerations apply to the economy in general. This is the finding of the Limits to Growth study which indicated that as resources become scarcer, their cost increases, undermining the stability of the production system21. Any expanding economic system has to grapple with this, even if it successfully exploits essentially free natural energy flows: you can’t create minerals from sunlight. These economic consequences of the increasing scarcity and inaccessibility of most minerals and metals need to be addressed in any credible Green Deal, yet there is almost no discussion of this crucial reality in any of the proposals, nor of the ‘hidden’ resource intensive activities of new technology.

4) Dealing with the non-climate consequences of economic expansion. Even if it were possible to mitigate the climate crisis through the kind of transformation proposed in the various Green Deals, there are other ecological crises to contend with. These can be understood in terms of the Planetary Boundaries framework proposed by Johan Rockstrröm and colleagues22. One of the boundaries is climate change, but this is just one. The others are, Ocean acidification, Stratospheric ozone depletion, Atmospheric aerosol loading, Biogeo-chemical flows (interference with Phosphorous and Nitrogen cycles, Global freshwater use, Land system change, Biodiversity loss, and Chemical pollution. As of 2015, the evidence available to the Planetary Boundaries investigators indicated that

“Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity:… climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen).
Two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are what the scientists call ‘core boundaries’. Significantly altering either of these “core boundaries” would “drive the Earth System into a new state”
Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to a deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries…”

It is unclear whether and how the various Green Deals propose to address these additional threats, especially if they rely on the notion of green growth.

Paying for a Green Deal: monetary flows.

Assuming, as I do, that some kind of a Green Deal is desirable (provided that it can address the material flow issues reviewed in the previous section), then how is it to be paid for?

The 2008 UK New Green Deal proposal was explicit about this. Its great strength was the integration of climate change, peak oil and the financial crash. It changed my thinking. To paraphrase Kant, it woke me from my siloed slumbers, indicating the need to connect spheres that I had hitherto regarded separately. It suggested a combination of measures:

1) Government funding: “in part from the increase in the Treasury’s coffers from rapidly rising carbon taxes and carbon trading” and “a windfall tax on oil and gas companies”.

2) Private sector funds: “Public funding could be augmented by encouraging the use of private savings from individuals, pension funds, banks and other savings vehicles”.

3) Private investment in government bonds: “… citizens and institutional investors can provide funding for the Green New Deal include investment in ‘green gilts’ (government bonds), guaranteed not just in terms of an interest rate, but also in terms of their use to reduce carbon.”

4) Redirection of current savings and investments: “There is a wall of money in pensions and other savings, plus a recognised need by the Government for people to save much more. Guaranteed investments via a Green New Deal programme will help provide the upfront funding needed for the low-carbon future.
“Local authority bonds could be the major vehicle for the funds raised for this programme. … this source of funding, and local democracy, could be promoted relatively easily if the returns on the money saved from the low-carbon investments, minus their cost, were used to repay such bonds. …. Local authority bonds could be an investment route for pension funds and even individual savings to help fund such a crash programme. …
… it seems a reasonable supposition that for the private sector, clean technology is going to be a relative safe haven.”

And these investments will realise their return from net savings from the transition: “It is the cost savings from moving out of intensive fossil fuel use, minus the cost of implementing energy-saving and clean-energy infrastructure, which will fund the repayment of loans made under the Green New Deal.”

This seems a reasonable set of proposals, at least within the terms of the capitalist system. Government and private sector will raise credit from other sectors of the economy, including individual and corporate investors, including public and private sector pension funds. These investors and savers will realise a return via dividends and interest, funded by the net saving from the energy transition23 (assuming of course that there will be a net saving, and this is not a foregone conclusion). Since private venture capital tends to seek relatively short term returns, the State-brokered forms of “patient capital” are likely to be more important24. Essentially this relies on the value generated from harnessing free flows of natural energy (renewables) in substitution for the value generated from monopolised stock energy (i.e. fossil fuels reserves). The nature of this “value” will be returned to.

However, other commentators have suggested alternative funding sources, typically drawing on another variant of post-Keynesian thinking, Modern Monetary Theory. Ocasio Córtez released a FAQ25 with the legislative proposal. The original version included links to two articles, that set out the MMT thinking. The most significant of these was by leading MMT academic Stephanie Kelton and colleagues26. It explained that governments never have to raise money before spending. Instead they spend, thereby creating money, and that money is re-couped from the economy later, as taxes, essentially a portion of the economic growth so generated. Interestingly, Ocasio Córtez’s team withdrew the original version of the FAQ, replacing it with a version that left out these MMT links27. There were political reasons for this that need not concern us here. What is interesting is the question as to whether MMT, or crudely, the government printing money, is necessary.

The question of how Green Deals (and indeed other policy alternatives that end austerity) should be funded has also been debated in Britain too. Richard Murphy, another of the 2008 Green Deal’s authors has proposed People’s Quantitative Easing28, an idea in that Jeremy Corbyn initially endorsed in his first leadership election. It is not unlike the concept of Green Quantitative Easing proposed by Green Party economists Victor Anderson and Molly Scot-Cato29. The chartalist NGO, Positive Money, are keen on this family of ideas and have produced a helpful comparative guide to them30. However, Murphy himself has also stated that MMT is not necessary for the New Green Deal31. Ann Pettifor has argued against these approaches in her book, the Production of Money32, arguing like Wren Lewis, and it seems also McDonnell now, for more conventional government borrowing.

The Marxist economist blogger Michael Roberts has, in a series of three pieces, dissected MMT33. He points to the similarities between MMT and Marx’s understanding of money creation in the capitalist economy, but highlights the essential difference: exchange value is created in the labour process (by the exploitation of labour, the taking of surplus value by the capitalist) and not by the creation of money. Bankers, capitalists and governments can create money, as credit, and do so but if that money is to have exchange value, it has to be underpinned (sooner or later) by value creation in the labour process34. Credit is no more than a promissory note for expected surplus value. Paul Mason explains the problem like this:

For many people on the radical left, MMT has become a new panacea – a get-out-of-jail free card for Keynesian economics in a world of highly indebted and stagnant capitalism. Unfortunately, it is not.
While it’s true there is a lot more tax and spend capacity in a modern economy than the free-marketeers admit, it is not infinite. Nor is it possible to infinitely expand the money supply without collapsing the value of money towards zero. MMT gives no account of where economic growth or profit comes from other than within the monetary system itself. Unlike Marxists, who believe value is created in the production process, the MMT crowd believe it can be created by the interplay of fiscal and monetary policy.35

But luckily, Green Deals do not require this kind of large-scale creation of money by governments. Roberts puts it like this36:

“Actually, it is not necessary to adopt MMT to deliver the GND programme.  There are many ways to meet the bill.  First, there is the redistribution of existing federal and state spending in the US.  Military and defense spending in the US is nearly $700bn a year, or around 3.5% of current US GDP.  If this was diverted into civil investment projects for climate change and the environment, and those working in the armaments sector used their skills for such projects, then it would go a long way to meeting GND aspirations.  Of course, such a switch would incur the wrath of the military, financial and industrial complex and could not be implemented without curbing their political power.

“Then there is the redistribution of income and wealth through progressive taxation to raise revenues for extra public spending on the needs of the many.

“… it will be an illusion to think the GND can be implemented, even in just economic terms, simply by following MMT and printing the dollars required.  Yes, the state can print as much as it wants, but the value of each dollar in delivering productive assets is not in the control of the state where the capitalist mode of production dominates.  What happens when profits drop and a capitalist sector investment slump ensues? Growth and inflation still depends on the decisions of capital, not the state. If the former don’t invest (and they will require that it be profitable), then state spending will be insufficient.”

But Roberts then goes on to argue that, under capitalism, only increased economic growth can finance the Green Deal, i.e. pay back the investment made. This is close to the position of the Green Growth advocates. This seems a reasonable position, within the parameters of capitalist growth economics. But is an alternative possible?

This is something that ecological economists need to focus on. There are some indications that,

  • The creation of credit can fund necessary investments without creating an imperative for economic growth.37

  • The redirection and re-prioritisation of undesirable economic activity could fund the necessary investments.38

But as we have seen, there are dangers in a Green Deal that does not deal with the material flows that are destroying the earth’s biophysical systems on which life depends. It will be necessary to design a green deal that

a) constrains material flows of the economy as a whole. This will prevent the necessary investments from creating unwanted multiplier damage, but it will constrain the economic growth (i.e. profits, based on expropriation of surplus value) that will recharge the public and private investments that have been made.

b) directs expenditure to the needed areas, without relying on unconstrained material growth of the economy to back it.

It is perhaps hard to see that happening within a capitalist system which, by definition is one founded on the self-expansion of capital, invisibly resting on labour exploitation39. As Lange concluded in his examination of the parameters of a successful economy without growth,

“Many of these policies stand in conflict with the interests of strong social groups. In particular, they contrast [with] the interests of the capitalist class …. or the oligarchy. These groups40 would lose major parts of economic wealth and income and the ability to accumulate capital.”41

It seems that once New Green Deals are seriously considered, in terms of material and monetary flows, then both degrowth and socialism of some sort42 come onto the agenda too. Both imply fundamental changes in culture, values, expectations and in our relationships with the wider globe, both its peoples and its natural systems.



1 Thanks to Peter Somerville, Carolyn Kagan and James Vandeventer for helpful comments on an earlier draft.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. See

7 That is, one based on government-led investment to stimulate demand in the economy.

10 Pollin, R. (2018). De-Growth vs a Green New Deal. New Left Review, (112), 5–25. See our response to Pollin: Burton, M., & Somerville, P. (2019). Degrowth: A Defence. New Left Review, (115), 95–104.

13 See my blog pieces on Labour and the question of degrowth, indexed at and also my article, ‘Degrowth: the realistic alternative for Labour’, to appear later in 2019 in Renewal.

16 Wiedmann, T. O., Schandl, H., Lenzen, M., Moran, D., Suh, S., West, J., & Kanemoto, K. (2015). The material footprint of nations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(20), 6271–6276.

17 See also Brand, U., & Wissen, M. (2018). The limits to capitalist nature: theorizing and overcoming the imperial mode of living. London ; New York: Rowman & Littlefield International.

18 García-Olivares, A. (2015) ‘Substitution of electricity and renewable materials for fossil fuels in a post-carbon economy’, Energies 8: 13308-13343.

19 Murphy, R. (2015). The joy of tax: how a fair tax system can create a better society. Bantam Press.

20 Davey, B. (Ed.). (2012). Sharing for Survival. Dublin: FEASTA.

Also see

21 Jackson, T., & Webster, R. (2016). LIMITS REVISITED A review of the limits to growth debate (p. 24). London: ALL-PARTY PARLIAMENTARY GROUP ON LIMITS TO GROWTH. Retrieved from

Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., & Behrens, W. W. (1974). The Limits to growth : a report for the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. London: Pan Books. Retrieved from

Meadows, D. H., Randers, J., & Meadows, D. L. (2005). Limits to Growth : the 30-Year Update. London: Earthscan.

Turner, G. (2008). A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality. Global Environmental Change, 18(3), 397–411.

Turner, Graham. (2014). Is global collapse imminent? Melbourne: University of Melbourne. Retrieved from

Homer-Dixon, T., Walker, B., Biggs, R., Crépin, A.-S., Folke, C., Lambin, E. F., … Troell, M. (2015). Synchronous failure: the emerging causal architecture of global crisis. Ecology and Society, 20(3).

22 Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S. I., Lambin, E., … Foley, J. (2009a). Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity. Ecology and Society, 14(2), no page number: digital journal.

Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S., Lambin, E. F., … Foley, J. A. (2009b). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(7263), 472–475.

Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockstrom, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., … Sorlin, S. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), 1259855–1259855.

23 This approach is reiterated by both Ann Pettifor, one of the authors of the 2008 Green Deal and by the Keynesian economist, Simon Wren Lewis
Pettifor, A. (2018, September 21). To Secure a Future, Britain Needs a Green New Deal. Retrieved 22 September 2018, from
Wren Lewis, S (2019). How to pay for the Green New Deal

24 Mazzucato, M., & McPherson, M. (2018, December). The Green New Deal: A bold mission-oriented approach. University College London. Retrieved from

28 Initially proposed with Colin Hines, another 2008 Green Deal author, as Green Infrastructure QE: Murphy, R. (2015). ‘How Green Infrastructure Quantitative Easing Would Work’. Tax Research UK. Available at:

29 Anderson, V. (2015). ‘Green Money: Reclaiming Quantitative Easing’. The Green EFA group for European Parliament. Available at:

32 Pettifor, A. (2017). The production of money: how to break the power of bankers. London: Verso.

34 S Mavroudeas and D Papadatos (2018). Is the financialization hypothesis a theoretical blind alley? World Review of Political Economy 9, (4).

37 Berg, M., Hartley, B., & Richters, O. (2015). A stock-flow consistent input–output model with applications to energy price shocks, interest rates, and heat emissions. New Journal of Physics, 17(1), 015011.

Jackson, T., & Victor, P. A. (2015). Does credit create a ‘growth imperative’? A quasi-stationary economy with interest-bearing debt. Ecological Economics, 120, 32–48.

Lee, K.-S., & Werner, R. A. (2018). Reconsidering Monetary Policy: An Empirical Examination of the Relationship Between Interest Rates and Nominal GDP Growth in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan. Ecological Economics, 146, 26–34.

This is a topic discussed in my critique of Positive Money’s proposals for “sovereign money” as a way of stemming the growth imperative.

38 See the quotations above from the 2008 Green New Deal and from Roberts.

39 Not just accumulation of surplus value from waged workers but also on “primitive accumulation” from unpaid labour in the home, the pillaging of natural assets and commons, worldwide. See for example Moore, J. W. (2015). Capitalism in the web of life: ecology and the accumulation of capital (1st Edition). New York: Verso.; Moore, J. W. (n.d.). World accumulation & Planetary life, or, why capitalism will not survive until the ‘last tree is cut’. Retrieved 18 January 2018, from

40 Which also include institutional, collective investors, such as pension funds: in a green, equitable economy, there would have to be a different model of pensions from that based on stock market returns.

41 Lange, S. (2018). Macroeconomics without growth: sustainable economies in neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian theories. Marburg: Metropolis-Verlag.

42 For me that is a socialism of the alternative, anti-productivist, tradition, seeking a fundamental escape from commodification of nature and labour, rather than a Statist way of running that process more benignly and effectively. See Burton, M. ‘Degrowth: the realistic alternative for Labour’, to appear later in 2019 in Renewal, or

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