Comments on Manchester – A Certain Future; Refresh 2013
1) There is a great deal to agree with in many of the specific actions, and the review of progress seems honest. Our comments therefore focus on the silences of the report and the question of the overall coherence of the refresh.
2) There is acknowledgement that economic growth led to increased emissions in 2010 but no overall acknowledgement of the informed consensus that growth is in fact the central problem.
3) There is no other mention of the linkage between economic growth and emissions, nor of the evidence against the likelihood of an economy being able to de-materialise while it is growing. SSM’s In Place of Growth1 report reviews this evidence in some detail.
This is especially relevant in relation to the total carbon footprint of the city. Adopting a total carbon footprint approach is to be welcomed, although progress has been slow and targets are not yet expressed in these terms. There does, however need to be awareness that the total carbon footprint dictates an unprecedented de-materialisation, not just of Manchester’s economy but also of the economies on which we rely, having outsourced so much of production from here. An adequate response to this will require detailed analysis of where Manchester’s consumption is sourced from, together with strategies for radically reducing the most emission-intense elements.
4) Aviation is put aside pending international agreements on climate, and this is a dereliction of responsibility for the people of Manchester and the world, especially future generations. This is especially so given the likely scenarios of either a continued impasse or a woefully inadequate accord that could even paradoxically increase emissions through the financialisation and marketisation of carbon emissions and ecosystem services2. In its place there is what we can only describe as the bizarre notion of a zero carbon airport. Let us be be clear: this means an airport whose flights contribute at present more than 15% of the city’s total carbon emissions3 but whose ground operations are carbon neutral. And that does not take into account either people’s emissions getting to and from flights nor the official strategy of the city region to continue the growth of aviation from Manchester airport. Deckchairs on the Titanic may be an overworked metaphor but it seems pretty apt here.
5) We welcome proposals (and progress to date) on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. However, there is no mention of the rebound effect. Without a clear-headed appraisal of the likely rebound in energy use and consumption from energy savings, and a strategy to lock in the savings to carbon reduction deliverables, the strategy will not work and indeed could fuel a net increase in carbon emissions4.
6) There is no overall framework that links the proposed actions to emissions reductions. This is potentially dangerous since it means there is no basis for prioritisation, and no way of checking whether these actions make sense. It might help to commit to material flow analysis in order to model and monitor the strategy and its real impacts. In the absence of such practical theory-building the report appears to be a collection of fragmented proposals, many of them sound, but as a whole lacking coherence. So there is a lack of real measurable and accountable targets; for instance, what is the target for renewable energy generated locally, the % decrease of car travel in the city, the number acres of land that will be set aside for food growing? It all remains vague in too many instances, and it will be easy to self-congratulate on low attainment: “we have achieved our objective to… increase knowledge about renewable energy”.
7) There is some helpful treatment of the Greater Manchester dimension. However, we have argued that a truly green strategy requires a bio-regional (or eco-regional) dimension, that goes beyond the urban area and includes the material relations with the city region’s rural hinterland both in terms of carbon sequestration and other ecosystem services but also in terms of the relocalisation of the economy.
Further comments in response to consultation questions
- Is it clear what the document is trying to do? Yes but because there is a lack of an overall model of the relationship between economic activity, emissions and climate, there is a significant danger that the authors are navigating without a map.
- Does it provide an overview on progress to date, and set out priorities for 2013-15? Yes, the review is thorough and honest. There are priorities set but they lack overall coherence for the reasons stated above.
- Is it clear what will have been achieved by the end of 2015? To some extent.
- Is the action plan sufficiently ambitious, yet deliverable? In the context of a climate and ecological emergency, No.
- Will it get us to where we need to be by 2015, on the way to our 2020 targets? No.
Steady State Manchester, December, 2012