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

Posted in Climate Change, economics, energy, investments and finance | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

…. and the environment? Greater Manchester Spatial Framework – the remix

GMSF projected green Space loss from all sources

GMSF projected green Space loss from all sources (except brownfields that have returned to nature).

At last, the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework has appeared following Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s electoral promise for a radical rewrite.

It’s an enormous document, more than 1,000 pages, with many more than that in the various supporting documents. This puts quite a burden on those who will want to respond to the consultation, now open until Monday 18 March, 2019 (at 23:59).

We’ve been working our way through it and will certainly be responding to the consultation.  Meanwhile we have two pieces for you, an article by Mark Burton that appears on the Greater Manchester Housing Action website (also reproduced below), and a presentation that covers similar ground but with a number of diagrams and graphs that underpin that analysis (with one of these above).  These aren’t the last words and we’d also make the following points:
The new GMSF is an improvement on the previous draft.  The Combined Authority has an unenviable task of planning for the provisioning of its population (jobs, houses, employment) while also keeping within the demanding carbon budget proposed for the region and protecting and enhancing and area as a liveable and viable space and society.  It’s hard to fit all that together – our fundamental concern is that the assumptions made (housing growth, economic growth) are fantastic and there is insufficient attention to the ecological and climate crisis and the contradictions of the global economic system that all herald a likely contraction not expansion of economic activity in the years to come.  But we’ll have more to say on that in subsequent pieces.

Meanwhile, here the GMHA article is reproduced below.  Thanks to Isaac Rose for commissioning it. And the link to the presentation again, is HERE.

Greater Manchester’s plan for jobs, homes ……. and the environment?

Mark H Burton
first published January 30th, 2019 by Greater Manchester Housing Action

Steady State Manchester

After several delays the Greater Manchester Combined Authority has published the new draft of its Spatial Framework. The previous version, published in late 2016 met considerable criticism, especially from groups campaigning on green space but also from other quarters, including our own critique of its assumptions of accelerated “economic growth”. On the other side the developer lobby suggested those assumptions were timid, arguing for even greater expansion of the economy, and with it building for industry, warehouses and homes.


Before looking at the redraft, we should ask what the Spatial Framework is for. It is both an attempt to produce the first plan for the city region since the 1980s and a way of dealing with pressures from central government. Local authorities have to produce local plans and consult on them, and to ensure a 5-year pipeline of land for new housing, in line with the government’s imposed targets. Through GMSF the 10 councils in Greater Manchester are approaching these problems together, aiming to avoid a situation where penalties are applied due to the lack of plans and a housing land supply, with “the spectre of moving from plan-led development to a developer-led process of planning by appeal, which would be costly for all”. However, the Spatial Framework aims to be more than this, a “plan for jobs, homes and the environment”.

How many homes?

In September, the Office of National Statistics published its projections for household numbers. For Greater Manchester, this was 141,034 new households by 2035. If that translated into new homes, then that number could have been accommodated without building on the green belt. But the government then confirmed that it was not going to use those projections, but instead a formula that used the 2014 ONS population projections (since superseded with lower population growth estimates). It is reasonable to be cautious about the ONS projections since they do not translate directly into actual household formation, which depends on factors such as prosperity and housing availability and affordability. But as Andy Burnham has noted,

“ The truth is I would have liked to go further and get closer to the aim of ‘no net loss’ of greenbelt.

“That was under active consideration but effectively made impossible by the government’s insistence on us using the old population and housing figures, which are significantly higher than the most recent ONS projections.

“It was decided that our plan would be at considerable risk if it diverged from the methodology and the greatest risk of all to our greenbelt is to have no plan in place.”

GMSF 2016 was criticised for its bias to small flats. This aspect is even stronger now, partly as a result of a plan to increase still further the building of flats in the Salford and Manchester urban centres. Together these will account for 4,590 units per year, that’s 43% of the GM total. The overall average occupancy will be just 1.28 people per home, down from 1.3 in the 2016 plan. We have previously questioned the ecological and social desirability of this model of super-concentrated, high rise urban living. And others have argued that the country’s housing crisis will not be solved by building new homes.

Brownfields, Greenfields, and Green Belt

Since the last version, the local authorities have worked behind the scenes to identify more brownfield land for new developments, using the brownfield registers that they now have to hold. Assumptions on the level of economic growth and population have been revised down, largely in the light of brexit. This means that fewer new homes are now planned: 200,980 by 2035 compared to 227,200. There will also be less building on green belt land. The net loss is quoted as 2,419 hectares, compared to 4,900 in the 2016 version. However, the “net loss” figure is a bit disingenuous since is presumably subtracts the new green belt additions (960.5 ha). But that land is already green space: it is good that it has new protection, but it shouldn’t be used to obscure the gross loss. Moreover, analysis of the supporting papers indicates what non- Green Belt green space will be used for housing (1037.7 ha), industry and warehouses (567.51 ha) and offices (272.93 ha). That means a total loss of green space of 5257.64 ha, or 20.3 square miles. This is considerable and it does not include those brownfield sites that have reverted to nature.

Given the Mayor’s aim for Greater Manchester to have net zero carbon emissions by 2038, one might have expected to see an assessment of the loss of this natural “carbon sink”. I asked the GMSF team about this, having raised the matter during the 2016-7 consultation too. I was referred to the background topic paper on Carbon and Energy but there is no such audit there. I therefore produced my own ballpark estimate, using figures from the scientific literature on carbon sequestration by various landscape types, applied to the mix of green space in the city region. I estimated a total of 43,250 tonnes of avoidable carbon emissions from land use change by 2038, and that is not including the emissions from all the building, associated transport, and the energy use of the buildings in operation. This is perhaps small in comparison to the 67,000,000 tonne Greater Manchester carbon budget for the period 2018-2038. However, also foregone will be the possibility, on some of those sites, of considerably increasing the rate of sequestration by conversion to woodland. There is also a proposal for development on Carrington Moss: there will need to be a thorough assessment of the special environment and climate consequences of that proposal.

Fantasy economics

Housing is just one element of the plan. The other big demand on green space is for warehouses and industry. Assumptions here are based on the use of consulting firm Oxford Economics which produces economic forecasts. They produce a baseline assessment and an accelerated growth scenario. The baseline forecast is for an overall growth in the GM economy of 39.65% by 2037. The accelerated growth forecast “reflects a future where the city plays a lead role in driving forward growth ambitions for the North of England… [and] is consistent with the long-term ambitions for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. It has the economy growing by 58.72% over that period. Did someone say “finite planet”? no, I thought not. Let’s be charitable and not say this is pure fantasy, but instead just note that Oxford Economics consistently produces higher estimates than the majority of other economic forecasters, all of whom share that belief in the possibility of endless economic growth. It has one of the lower estimates of the impact of brexit. This would not be a problem were not decisions being made on its basis. It means that the region will be speculatively allocating land for industry, warehouses and offices, in the hope that “if we build it, they will come”. This is not the way to plan a resilient future in the era of financial shocks, geopolitical surprises, and collapsing climate and ecological provisioning systems.


The new GMSF is an improvement on the previous version. It does a better job of integrating other policy areas into a cohesive whole. It includes a presumption against fracking and the aim of getting to net zero emissions. It considers transport and other infrastructure more thoroughly (though still celebrating our climate-toxic airport and its expansion plans). It has managed to reduce the destruction of green belt but it still quietly envisages at least 20 square miles of green space being built on. And this is in large part because of being forced to adopt the government’s housing targets and choosing to go with Oxford Economics extremely “optimistic” forecast.

What we really need is an entirely different model of what our city region could be.


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Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy: All CO2 and mirrors?

Manchester’s Climate Change Strategy: All CO2 and mirrors?   

pdf version

Mark H Burton

Steady State Manchester.

The City of Manchester has one of the most ambitious Climate Change Plans anywhere. But does it really add up? In this article we explain where we are now and what’s been achieved since Manchester started Climate Change planning back in 20091, what’s planned, and most important, we offer some ideas on what needs to happen now.

Because this is going to be a critical analysis, it is necessary to say that Manchester is to be commended for trying to take climate change seriously. It was one of the very first local councils to put together a plan and that plan was the result of a collaboration with a variety of experts, activists and stakeholder organisations. However, the effort has never had the resources it really needs. The, now free-standing, Manchester Climate Change Agency (“the agency”, from here on) has just three staff. It is supported by a board and also has a number of volunteers. In 2017, it had income of around £32,000 per year but also received unspecified services in kind of some £112,000 from the city council2. Given the scale of the task – reducing the city’s carbon emissions to near zero (“mitigation” in the jargon)and readying the city for the climate change impacts to come (usually called “adaptation”), this is pretty insignificant. It is therefore impressive that the agency has done what it has. But as we will see, the challenge is very great, and its work is, effectively, in contradiction with what most of the city and its commerce are otherwise trying to achieve.

The agency’s new report, whose recommendations have been accepted by the city council, begins to set out a plan for these tasks over the next 20 years.

Quite rightly, the agency emphasises that effective action on climate change will require action from all organisations, and indeed citizens, in the city. Hence the title of its forward plan report: Playing Our Full Part How Manchester’s Residents and Businesses Can Benefit from Ambitious Action on Climate Change3. But we do question whether it has the capacity to make this happen to any serious degree.

But hasn’t a lot been achieved already?

Since the development of the city’s first climate change strategy in 2009, Manchester: A Certain Future, climate action has been a collective, citywide effort. This approach has resulted in an estimated 34% reduction in CO2 during 2005-17. It has come about from the actions of local residents, private sector businesses, local charities and not-for-profit organisations, universities, schools and colleges, Manchester City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, other local public sector organisations and decarbonisation of the National Grid through Government policy.4

Effective action on climate change means reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, the largest part of which is produced by the burning of fossil fuels. We’ll come back to this question to look at some of the difficulties involved.

As noted, the city has been working on this agenda for more than 10 years (if we count the lead up to the A Certain Future report of 2009). So it is reasonable to asses its track record.

In its annual report for 2018, the agency says,

“Our analysis of the latest Government figures shows that over the last year the city’s carbon emissions have fallen from 2.2 million tonnes in 2016 to 2.1 million tonnes in 2017 – a 2.7% reduction. To date the city has achieved a 34% reduction against the 41% target and is projected to achieve a 38% reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.”5

Yet the government has not yet produced figures for 2017. The latest are for 2016. The reduction appears to be an estimate, based on recent trends. The figure of 34% is accurate though, on the basis of the government’s figures. However, what are these figures? It is important to understand that carbon emissions for Manchester are not measured directly, but are instead estimated. The data are taken from tables supplied by the Office of National Statistics. They summarise the methodology like this:

“The dataset provides a spatial disaggregation of CO2 emissions from the UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GHGI), part of the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI), on an end user basis. This means that emissions from the production and processing of fuels, including the production of electricity, are reallocated to users of these fuels to reflect total emissions for each type of fuel consumed. The disaggregation methodology is complex, and different approaches are used to make best use of the quantity and quality of suitable data that are available for each sector.

The activity data used to produce these estimates come from four main sources:

  • BEIS sub-national gas and electricity consumption statistics;
  • Point source emissions from large industrial installations;
  • High resolution emissions distribution maps developed under the NAEI programme; and,
  • Land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) regional data supplied by the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), under the NAEI programme.

National end user emissions data are used to calculate emission factors for each activity. Local authority activity data are then multiplied by the relevant emission factor to generate an estimate of emissions in each LA.”6

To take an example: suppose Greater Manchester’s Clean Switch was highly successful in getting people to change from standard tariffs to renewable ones. That is to say (simplifying somewhat), the electricity the household purchased would be matched by renewable energy supplied to the grid and purchased, in turn, by the household’s supplier. Suppose also that in Manchester, we thereby ended up using twice as much renewable energy as elsewhere. It would make no difference to the emissions attributed to city, except insofar as it reduced the hydrocarbon mix in the national supply. The same goes for other aspects. So the first problem is that the data used are, at best, an imperfect proxy for what’s going on with the city’s emissions.

It turns out that reductions in emissions from electricity generation account for 60% of the reduction in the city’s emissions, reported above, in the period 2005-17. On looking at Manchester’s data we find that emissions from electricity generation fell by 46.56% (using 2005-2016)7: nationally they fell by 45% between 2005 and 20168 (the mix of domestic versus industrial electricity in Manchester vs. nationally probably accounts for the difference). Conversely, increases in coal use for electricity generation in 2010 and again in 2012 led to Manchester’s estimated overall emissions increasing temporarily.

So the changes claimed for Manchester are to a large extent outside its control and even where changes in emissions are under its control they are not necessarily reflected in the figures. This makes it difficult to assess Manchester’s ability to make the changes required, at least on the basis of performance so far.

Graph Manchester emissions, by source: 2005-16

Sources of Manchester’s estimated greenhouse gas emissions over time. The two thick
lines are for domestic and industrial electricity consumption which account for the largest
share of reductions. See note 6  for source: graph by the author.

We’ve a carbon budget, so SCATTER!

The agency understands these problems. So they, along with Greater Manchester (via Mayor Burnham’s Green Summit initiative) are using an approach called SCATTER ((Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction), provided by a company called Anthesis9, with input from the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre on Climate Change. The Tyndall Centre has proposed a carbon budget for the city, in effect our share of the national carbon budget, which is, in turn, the country’s share of the global carbon budget that is required for a good chance of keeping average temperature rises within 2 degrees C. This sets a limited carbon budget of 15 megatonnes of CO2 for 2018-2100; 13% annual reductions in CO2 from 2018; leading to zero carbon net emissions by 2038. We will return to this budget and its implications shortly, but note here that the city council Executive adopted it at its meeting on 14 November, 201810.

SCATTER aims to improve the approach to emissions accounting by means of a greenhouse gas inventory for the city, aligned with “a globally recognised and credible reporting standard”11. While it draws on the national dataset discussed above, over time it is designed to become more reflective of the actual emissions from Manchester.

SCATTER also provides a methodology for exploring scenarios for carbon reduction, making various assumptions about the rate with which different sectors reduce their emissions and the role of land (trees, soils, wetlands, grasslands, etc.) to capture and lock up carbon (or conversely to release it).

Manchester’s new carbon budget: what it means.

A carbon budget is a statement of how much CO2 can be emitted for a defined chance of keeping warming within a specific limit. For Manchester, Tyndall say,

Based on our analysis, for Manchester to make its ‘fair’ contribution towards the 2°C commitment enshrined in the Paris Agreement, Manchester would need to:

1) Hold cumulative carbon dioxide emissions at under 15 million tonnes (range of 8 to 24 MtCO2) from 2018 onwards. To give a sense of the scale of the challenge, at current (2015) CO2 emission levels, Manchester would use its entire budget within 4 to 10 years.

2) Initiate an immediate programme of mitigation delivering an annual average of 13% (range of 8% to 20%) cuts in emissions in order to remain within its fair 2°C carbon budget. The 13% [it’s actually 13.2% – SSM] annual average reduction in emissions combines both national and local action and would be part of wider collaboration with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) on meeting its emissions reductions goals. The recommended pathway, 13% per annum reductions, is similar to the annual rates of reduction achieved by Manchester in 2014 (18.8%) which was primarily driven by a change in the fuel mix for electricity; it is important to note that this reduction occurred over a single year only.12

They also say that “Manchester needs to begin a rapid programme of reducing emissions from Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF)”. Since that is a relatively small part of the city’s emissions (see above graph), that will not be explored further in this article although it is relevant both to the city’s continual in-filling of green spaces and to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework and the wider question of land use in the city region.

A carbon budget is actually a rationing tool: it aims to keep our carbon emissions within a fair share of what is permissible for minimally safe climate safety – minimally, since with just over 1 degree of warming we are already witnessing severe impacts on the climate, impacts that have reached us too as we have seen with recent floods and fires.

It is worth exploring the scale of the challenge of this carbon budget in some more detail.

First the basic figures for Manchester’s 2 degree carbon budget and its current emissions.


Manchester 2 deg budget


Manchester annual emissions 2015


Manchester annual emissions 2016


The current rate of emissions gets us into trouble very quickly.

years left at 2015 rate of emissions

2015 annual emissions as per cent of budget



It is important to note that all this is only considering the emissions that take place in Manchester (scope 1) and as a result of Manchester’s electricity use (scope 2). Emissions from the production of all the things brought into the city, flights from the airport, shipping to bring things here, land use change as a result of our food consumption, emissions as a consequence of all our investments (including the Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s huge holdings in the fossil fuel industry), emissions caused by driving using petrol purchased outside the city, emissions from the waste we export for “recycling”all these things are excluded (scope 3). The reports and appendices are clear about this noting that these issues (including that elephant in the room, Manchester Airport) do need addressing – but when and how?

Definitions of scopes 1, 2, 3.


Let’s look at the impact of various rates of emissions reduction for those scopes 1 and 2 (using, like Tyndall / Anthesis the 2015 baseline figure).

Graph: Manchester's cumulative emisisons at various rates of reduction.

The grey dotted line represents the 2 degrees carbon budget for Manchester. The other lines represent a variety of theoretical emissions reduction trajectories. Note that they are theoretical in the sense that they do not fluctuate from year to year: in reality emissions will reduce in irregular amounts from year to year. The curves, however so illustrate the scale of the problem. Only one of those curves keeps the city within the budget. In this case, emissions are reduced in the first year by 10% and then in each following year by the same number of kilotonnes, 230. The Tyndall 13.2% annual reduction gets close but it overshoots, that is, it exceeds the carbon budget by 2030. However, by front-loading higher percentage reductions in the earlier years it would come in under budget (the average annual figures is perhaps not very helpful since it is applied to a diminishing annual level of emissions).

This modelling demonstrates how difficult it is going to be to stay within our fair share of the global carbon budget. When SCATTER modelled some emissions reduction scenarios, all of them overshot the budget of 15 megatonnes. Here is the graph from the relevant appendix13:

Graph: scenarios from Anthesis and carbon reductions over time.

This leads us onto the question: what concrete actions will be required to stay within budget?

What must Manchester do to to play its full part?

Reducing emissions.

The Playing our Part report made the following proposals which have also been accepted by the council:

  • Manchester accelerates its efforts to mobilise all residents, businesses and other stakeholders to take action on climate change, starting in 2018.

  • Manchester puts in place an action plan and the resources needed to stay within the proposed carbon budget, starting in 2018.14

With the new target endorsed by the council’s Executive, the Manchester Climate Change Board will now develop a draft action plan by March 2019, ahead of producing a final plan by 2020, detailing how the city can stay within its carbon budget.15

So far, so good, but what should be in this plan?. The technical report from Anthesis gives some clues but is actually rather sketchy.

It breaks down the emissions into a number of key areas16:

detailed table from Appendix 1 of Playing Our Full Part

Click image for a larger (pdf) version – opens in new tab/window

This is not a bad start but, as we’ve noted:

1) Even the “ambitious” Level 4 scenario (the last column) fails to keep the city within its scope 1 and 2 carbon budget.

2) These actions apply to the city’s territorial emissions. If we are to really play our full part then we need to also programme actions that cover the totality of the emissions we are causing (scope 3 as well). Moreover,

3) The climate change agency and council have limited powers to make these changes happen. They are clear about this but will need a real strategy for bringing the other sectors on board.

In what follows we’ll look at each of these issues in turn.

What else needs to be considered to bring the actions in line with the city’s share of the global carbon budget?

We’ll take each of the sectors and proposals (from scenario 4), in turn, as listed by Anthesis (see above table) and comment. We do acknowledge that at this point the plan has yet to be prepared. So what we are doing here is, building from the information that has so far been provided, to suggest critical areas for attention.

1) Energy supply: Significant increases in local renewable energy generation.

This is fair enough but Anthesis then say, “100% of Greater Manchester’s electricity supply comes from renewable sources by 2050”. Why 2050 when the aim is to be carbon neutral by 2038? They add, “(with a view to maximise the proportion of renewables in-boundary or owned & controlled by the City); Solar PV on 50% of domestic properties plus over 100 football pitches[ on commercial roof space and ground mounted sites; 10x more biomass generation capacity; 10x more onshore wind generation capacity.” Increasing the supply of energy from locally owned and controlled renewable sources is to be welcomed of course, but where do the figures come from? Why only 50% of domestic properties? Where does the 100 football pitches” figure come from? What kind of biomass, sourced from where and burnt where? Where is the tenfold increase in onshore wind generation to go? But above all, what is the quantitative target in terms of units of electricity generation? Does this include increased demand for transportation and space heating? Does it include reductions or increases in consumption for other uses?

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Spatial Energy Plan, 2017 (GMSEP)17 stated that, “…up to 9 % of GM’s electricity could, technically, be generated locally using renewable sources. It is likely, however, that only a small proportion of this will be economically viable.” However, the parameters that determine what is “economically viable” are not fixed and likely to shift in further favour of clean energy (not that clean generation for Manchester needs to be locally based).

The GMSEP report points out that,

“Any wind farms built within Greater Manchester can be expected to feed energy into the National Grid. This means that, whilst they will contribute to reducing the carbon content of the electricity that is imported into Greater Manchester, their total output is unlikely to be allocated to GM in terms of carbon accounting.”

The same goes for any local energy generation that is fed into the grid.

With regard to biomass, the report noted that,

“Growing biomass in the UK could increase energy security and complement imports. However, UK land available for biomass production is finite so any large scale deployment of biomass will be dependent on imports. These are likely to have emissions associated with their production and transportation such that they may not be ‘low carbon’ over their entire life cycle. These factors combined with the versatility of biomass mean that future supplies are likely to be highly valued and so may not be economically viable to deploy at a large scale for domestic heating where cheaper options are likely to be available.”

Clearly, the Manchester plan will need to utilise the kind of detailed work that has been carried out regionally, building on it in detail and ambition. The recently released “Local Area Energy Planning” approach from the same consulting organisation that provided the GMSEP appears to offer a comprehensive framework for doing this18.

2) Domestic buildings: Large scale domestic retrofit and significantly more energy efficient new builds; Energy demand reduction for heating lighting and appliances; A shift away from natural gas as primary home heating source;

Smart temperature controls. And the scenario 4 proposals are, 75% reduction in thermal leakiness of 60% of all homes; 80-100% of homes using electric (or zero carbon); heat source; Average temperature (across the whole home) reducing to 16°C from 18°C via smart thermostats. Again these proposals are sound, so far as they go, but why only 60% of homes? Perhaps this comes from the slightly under 60% of Manchester homes that have EPC ratings of D or worse? But how then is the target of 75% improvement for these decided? Moreover, an increased level of ambition would be needed, given that in Manchester, home heating is a major contributor to the domestic 30% share of carbon emissions. We have also noted above the interdependence between decarbonisation of heating and increased electricity demand.

Improved levels of domestic insulation are a critical element in enabling a lower overall energy input (of clean energy) to keep houses warm enough. How are radically improved levels to be achieved? How are they to be financed? We suggest that one model would be to establish a revolving retrofit fund, replenished by a share of the achieved reductions in energy costs and in the case of the private sector, from a share of any house price rises (improved EPC ratings increase both the saleability and value of homes).

As in other areas, it is essential that policies join up: proposals for a regional community bank, or for a regional green investment fund, are relevant, together with divesting local anchor institutions’ holdings in fossil fuel companies and re-investing in local energy reform. Beyond finance, there is a need to develop cost-effective ways of conducting retrofit: for example, where possible, by working on neighbouring homes and combining retrofit with other home improvements19. Incentivising home sharing is also relevant, especially for older people living in larger houses but with spare rooms.

Projected increases in housing are materially relevant to domestic energy demand for both heating and other uses (previous section). At the time of writing, the Office of National Statistics projections are at odds with central government targets and those of the discredited 2016 draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework20: it is difficult to plan with this uncertainty but it is likely that the city will see a greater density of housing units, if only due to the rising cost and inconvenience of commuting into the area.

3). Commercial buildings: Large scale commercial retrofit and more energy efficient new builds; Significant energy demand reduction for heating, cooling and hot water; lighting and appliances; A shift away from natural gas as primary heating source; Smart temperature controls. Scenario 4 assumes that Space heating demand drops by 40%, Hot water demand by 30% and Cooling demand by 60%.

This is fine in outline, but again, detailed proposals are required. Moreover, as we will discuss later on, the critical question is “how are the relevant organisations going to be encouraged, enabled, and let’s face it, made to make these changes?

4) Transport: 100% shift to zero emission passenger vehicles; Significant reduction in distance travelled per passenger; Passenger modal shifts from car to walking & cycling and increased public transport; Freight modal shift from road to rail & water. And scenario 4 suggests 100% zero emissions cars and buses by 2025; Complete railway electrification by 2035; 25% reduction in passenger Km by 2035; Significant modal shifts in walking and cycling (+4%), bus and train (+15%) and reducing car travel (-19%).

Transport accounts for 29% of Manchester’s direct emissions. A significant reduction in distance travelled per passenger is a great aim but contradicts the city’s emphasis, in its economic strategy, of getting people to travel to the places where the jobs are supposedly going to be created, in the “growth hubs” of places like the airport city, and the warehouse sheds around the conurbation, as well as the expanding city centre. As we continue to argue, you can’t reduce carbon emissions while promoting economic growth21.

Some of the other proposals, from this, still budget busting, scenario sound implausible given current policies and trajectories: for all cars and buses driving round the city to be emission-free in just 7 years is, however desirable, just not likely. And while rail electrification by 2035 is achievable, the present government has cancelled plans for electrification of routes, though an alternative government could put this right22.

street crammed with carsThe target for car travel reduction is woefully insufficient. Our city is infested by the private motor car: we need to make it the exceptional way to travel, not the dominant form. That will be difficult because so much of the population uses cars, but it must be done. Moreover targets need expressing more clearly – is the 19% about a reduction in passenger miles, number of cars on the road, or number of journeys. There needs to be an assertive policy framework, with punitive charges for high emission vehicles23 and for road use in the urban area24, in concert with the provision of adequate alternatives, both active travel and public transport. Buses in particular are the most relevant area for investment but without re-regulation we will not achieve a rationally planned network25. Finally the question of freight needs further analysis: reductions in the volume of goods being transported are going to be required but will also occur with the impacts of climate change, energy descent and geopolitical shocks. Shifting the remaining freight from roads will require significant investment in the alternatives, rail and water and this will look quite different from the inter-city mobility and high value passenger focus of the current rail investment plans and proposals (HS2 and HS3).

5) Natural capital: Tree planting and peatland restoration. And the scenario suggests: 3m trees planted by 2030, 5m by 2050 75% peatland restoration (across various bog and land types). This is very welcome but vague. Again it would be helpful if these figures were explained, in terms of what they mean for our green spaces (including those whose natural ecosystem is not woodland), who will plant the trees, how they are to be sourced and what the carbon metrics are likely to be. Otherwise it is hard to evaluate them. However, while valuable, it is outside the city where most of the battle over land-based carbon sinks is to take place.

6) Waste & Industry: this part of the table is particularly vague, only mentioning carbon capture in relation to power generation, and waste disposal (and only setting woefully inadequate indicative assumptions that “ Waste decreases by 20% and recycling hits 65% by

2035”). Industry, even in our post-industrial city still accounts for 41% of greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore concerning that the report and its main “technical appendix” remain almost silent on what must be done. Data on industry for the city is hard to find. For Greater Manchester as a whole, the breakdown of the larger sectors is as follows. They are listed in order of their share of the total city regional Gross Value Added (GVA) which gives an idea of the price of their products but not of their carbon intensity:

Industry (by SIC07 code)

% of Greater Manchester total GVA in 2014.

Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles




Real estate activities


Human health and social work activities


Professional, scientific and technical activities


Financial and insurance activities






Administrative and support service activities


Information and communication


Transportation and storage


Public administration and defence; compulsory social security


Accommodation and food service activities


Other service activities


Food products, beverages and tobacco


Arts, entertainment and recreation


Electricity, gas, steam and air-conditioning supply


Basic metals and metal products


Rubber and plastic products


Water supply; sewerage and waste management


This would give some clues as to the key areas for action but needs supplementing with at least an estimate of the carbon intensity factor for each sector prior to identifying priority actions. We know that carbon intensity is high for areas such as construction and the motor trade, for instance, yet both will present challenges should serious action be taken on emissions.

7) Storage. The final row of the Anthesis table is about energy storage. There is a lot of interest in electricity storage at present to smooth the peaks and troughs of renewable energy supply and demand and also to convert flows of energy into more portable stores. At present this relies on a) pumped hydroelectric storage schemes (and potentially at a smaller scale, compressed air), b) electrical batteries (including vehicle batteries as a buffer store), c) conversion of surplus energy to hydrogen gas. All involve losses of energy. Battery storage relies on mineral extraction (for example Bolivian lithium) so has an embedded hydrocarbon cost, and social and environmental consequences where extraction takes place. However, there is not a direct relevance to Manchester’s carbon reduction plans. The table lists as its scenario 4 assumption, the figure of 84MW of storage capacity within Manchester (equivalent of a 4kW battery in 10% of homes). It is unclear why this figure should have been chosen and just what is being proposed.

Playing our part means reducing our total carbon footprint

The Board also recognises there are areas of the city’s activities that generate CO2 indirectly and, whilst currently difficult to measure, the city still needs to address these emissions. We expect it will be possible to include them in future definitions of zero carbon when data and monitoring processes improve. 26

The above quotation is welcome insofar as it recognises that non-territorial emissions are relevant. But the statement is misleading for two reasons. Firstly, it is misleading to label them as indirect. They are the direct result of our activity. Every time we buy something made outside the city, every time we watch a video on the internet, every time we go on holiday, and for every mouthful of food or drink, we are pulling the lever of demand that uses materials and energy and causes carbon emissions at every step of the way from resource extraction via manufacture, processing, transportation, storage and consumption, to the finality of waste. That is pretty direct. These emissions, though they might happen in Brazil, in the mid Atlantic, in China, or in a field in Cheshire, are all our responsibility. The test of that is that we can reduce them by changing what we do here. To say they are indirect and thereby to leave them for another day – that’s not playing our full part.

Secondly, it is a bit of an evasion to imply that the (real) difficulty in measuring these scope 3 or consumption emissions justifies leaving them until another day. That’s not playing our full part.

It so happens that we know quite a lot about our total carbon footprint.

The government issues statistical tables for the UK. We can apply these to our territorial emissions to arrive at a rough estimate. For the UK, in 2015, the total carbon footprint was 1.72 times larger than that for the territorial emissions, or put another way, the scope 1 and 2 emissions accounted for 58.16% of the total27. A study conducted in Greater Manchester in 2011 made detailed estimates of the total carbon footprints for each of the local authorities in Greater Manchester28. It estimated Manchester’s total carbon footprint as 7,134,675 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. At the same time, the direct emissions were estimated at 3,200,000 tonnes. So the total footprint was approximately 2.23 times higher than of the scope 1 and 2 figure. Nationally at that time, the ratio was approximately 1.81. The methodologies differed somewhat between the national figure and the local study. If we apply the national reduction 2011-2015 in the share of consumption emissions to the 2011 Manchester figure, we arrive at a ratio of 2.12. Erring on the generous (to Manchester) side, we could say that the scale of our total carbon emissions is likely to be around twice that of our territorial emissions. The conclusion is clear. To play our full part, we do need to consider all our emissions. That means identifying actions that also bring down those extra-territorial emissions, the ones that we essentially outsource to other economies and populations.

The study on Greater Manchester’s total carbon footprint also made a number of suggestions about reducing consumption-based emissions. It makes interesting reading, firstly for the areas covered (e.g. reducing food waste and more careful driving – both of which have had policy initiatives addressed to them, but also the reduction of leisure flights, which has not). Secondly, though, the proposals were for a modest 1% emissions reduction per year. Having collectively delayed doing anything serious about our emissions, over the intervening 7 years, that looks small indeed. We now need to consider reductions in the order of 13 per cent per year in our consumption emissions, collectively, if we are to seriously “play our full part”.

Given the following breakdown (from 2011, but based on data a couple of years older) of our total carbon footprint in Manchester, the areas for action should be clear enough. Note that this is the total footprint, which includes the direct emissions already discussed. But obvious candidates include sectors such as personal flights (and yet the city council is still paying for officers to fly to other UK cities), “other non-food consumption” and “construction” (let’s end the construction frenzy in the urban core). When considering consumption footprints, though, we must not forget that many people in Manchester do not have high carbon footprints (while many others do).

Estimated Total Carbon Footprint of Manchester and Greater Manchester, 2009-201029


Greater Manchester


per cent


per cent

Food and drink from retail





Household fuel





Personal flights





Other non-food shopping





Domestic vehicle fuel





Public admin. And other public services





Household electricity





Eating, drinking and staying away





Car manufacture and maintenance





Other bought services (inc. financial)















Water, waste and sewage





Travel by train, bus and other










Electrical goods










food and related



personal transportation



public services






Subtotal for food, transport, public services and utilities



Other sectors



All sectors



Towards a strategy for collective action

A little frustration, even cynicism, is understandable here since we have now had nearly ten years of hearing that all organisations in the city need to be encouraged to get on board with these climate mitigation plans. In 2009, the City’s first Climate Change Action Plan, Manchester a Certain Future, stated as the second of its two overall aims,

To engage all individuals, neighbourhoods and organisations in Manchester in a process of cultural change that embeds ‘low-carbon thinking’ into the lifestyles and operations of the city.”30

But where are the detailed plans and proposals, even from some of the bigger players that routinely work in partnership with the city council? And what is the strategy for actually making this happen this time? The table in the Anthesis report that we have reviewed is followed by a rather scattergun tour of possibilities (and promotion) for some key organisations in the city but as the report acknowledges, these only account for approximately 20% of the city’s carbon footprint (based on building-based emissions). The other 80% will be critical but much harder.

So, if a collective, shared response is necessary if Manchester is to “play our full part”, but relatively little has been achieved yet in building this alliance of actors, then “what is to be done”?

The Playing Our Full Part report states that “Manchester Climate Change Board wants all organisations in the city to help realise this vision.” It’s third proposal, adopted by the council’s Executive is,

“Manchester accelerates its efforts to mobilise all residents, businesses and other stakeholders to take action on climate change, starting in 2018.”

However, there is not any clear suggestion, yet, as to what an adequate strategy might be. There is a form for organisations to fill in and express their support, but that is all. It will be argued that the approach will be integrated within the Our Manchester Strategy, the overall strategy that the council leads with other key organisations. But other than asking organisations to pledge and make plans, there is little here that is recognisable as a political strategy for building the kind of change coalition that is going to be needed.

Indeed it is not easy to produce such a strategy but let’s take the risk of suggesting a few pointers.

1. Tell it like it is. The Playing Our Full Part report makes the strong suggestion that everyone will benefit from climate change mitigation actions. Certainly, as the report suggests, it will be better to live in a warm house that is cheaper to heat, a neighbourhood that is not enveloped in traffic fumes, and to eat a healthy diet. These co-benefits are well established but there is a danger that by spinning such a positive tale, the public, and organisations are not confronted with the absolute necessity of taking action, not so much to create a better life – that is highly uncertain as we face collapsing economic, social and environmental systems – but to prevent things getting much worse. Manchester could make a declaration, like Bristol council31 and the London Assembly32, and others worldwide, that there is a CLIMATE EMERGENCY. This would underline the urgency of the situation, signalling to all stakeholders in the city how it is. An emergency requires emergency action. There will be hard choices to be made: our council (and the other Greater Manchester ones) receives income from the Manchester Airport Group, for example: with council finances squeezed between government austerity and rising population needs there will need to be serious consideration as to how it can be weaned away from what we have called “aviation dependency”33.

2. Bring the public in. In addition to seeking pledges from organisations (which the climate change agency has tried before with limited success), the city could far more proactively use its convening power to create climate emergency summits in each ward and for each business sector. These would combine crash briefings on carbon literacy, explaining the crisis, and participative planning to establish local action plans for individuals, households, neighbourhoods. Key ideas and proposals could then be scaled up for city and region-wide action. The British like to refer to the spirit of collective action, of being in the same boat, that characterised the last great war. The stakes here are, if anything higher: a climate emergency could galvanise public participation, rebuilding community across the many divides, on a shared civic project of survival and regeneration. There is plenty in the report on actions individuals can take and this can be built on, very much with a view to supporting both collective action and institutional supports for individual behavioural change. Just leaving things to individual conscience is insufficient, as we are sure the authors of the reports understand.

Moreover, widespread public action not happen without resources. One idea would be that each ward has a climate animator – someone to lead, galvanise, inform, facilitate, organise, plan, monitor, etc. at local levels, involving not just citizens but traders and businesses. At the city level, a team of climate animators could work with business sectors. But it’s going to require more than the modest funding the agency currently has to work with. Why not use some of the considerable revenue from the airport to fund such a scheme in the short term (pending the city weaning itself off aviation dependency)34?

3 Establish a media strategy. In hand with bringing the public in, there will need to be an effective media strategy for explaining the problem that we share and motivating people to get involved. A balance between frightening people (some anxiety will be necessary to the process – too much will freeze people) and encouraging them to take positive, collective action, will be needed.

4. Recognise climate action and shame climate destruction. This needs to be relentless. The city is good at spinning the positives, promoting a culture of celebration, not always justified by the facts on the ground. We know, however, that some key players and sectors will drag their feet. They should be exposed, particularly where their inaction (or worse, damaging activity) contributes to a worsening of climate damage.

5. Produce regular, accessible updates. People and organisations will need to know where we are. A publicly accessible dashboard could be constructed. It would have top level data on emissions (courtesy of the SCATTER tool for making visible the greenhouse gas inventory) and, through a set of traffic light indicators, on the status of the multiple actions that will be designed to cut emissions. This will make it clear where we are on target, where we are not, and who is accountable. It could be boosted by having competitions and awards for the neighbourhoods, businesses and other organisations making the greatest contribution to emissions reductions (think Britain in Bloom, or the Spirit of Manchester awards).

6. Lobby for change at the superior levels. As we have made clear, radical reductions in emissions will require regional, national and international level actions. Having a coherent strategy for emissions reduction will enable the blocks and barriers to be identified. Where these lie at other levels (for example, the UK government is committed to the expansion of fossil fuel extraction) then Manchester needs to use its existing and future networks to lobby, and lobby hard, for change.

7. Shock-proof the city. It is going to get ugly, however well we perform on emissions reductions. There will be extreme weather and supply shocks that will affect our population. The city will need a very public and assertive programme for building community resilience – shock proofing our people, our neighbourhoods and their supply systems, particularly give nthat many companies are laggards in their assessment and management of climate change impacts and risks35. This will not start from a zero base: the city is already experienced in disaster planning and response, but rather than responding to single events, it will be necessary to develop capacity for responding to threats of longer duration and greater impact. Climate change jargon calls this adaptation: we call it shock-proofing.


Manchester has good intentions on climate but these need a step change if they are to become a reality. This article has analysed the nature of the problem and, without prescribing what, after all, has to be a plan by and for the people and institutions of the city, we have outlined some of the key dimensions of an adequate approach. The city has to get serious about this agenda and built an effective alliance to realise deep cuts in our total greenhouse gas emissions: that’s what “Playing Our Full Part” means.

Note: I am grateful to Carolyn Kagan and Peter Somerville for comments on an earlier draft and for some of the ideas presented here.

Some rights reserved: Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Steady State Manchester, December 2018.


1Manchester City Council (2009). Manchester: A Certain Future.  Our co2llective action on climate change. Manchester: Manchester City Council. Retrieved from

2Manchester Climate Change Agency CIC (2017) Report and unaudited accounts, 30 September, 2017.

3Manchester Climate Change Agency. (2018). Playing Our Full Part How Manchester’s Residents and Businesses Can Benefit from Ambitious Action on Climate Change. Manchester. Retrieved from

4See note 3 (page 11).

5Manchester Climate Change Agency (2018). Annual Report, 2018.

6Pearson, B., Joe, R., & Tsagatakis, I. (2018). Local and Regional Carbon Dioxide Emissions Estimates for 2005–2016 for the UK (Technical Report No. GA0216) (p. 57). London: BEIS. Retrieved from

8See note 6 (page 6).

10Report to council (agreed by Executive on 14 November, 2018).
Video of the discussion at Council Executive:

11The World Resources Institute. (2014). Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories.

13Playing Our Full Part: How Manchester’s Residents and Businesses can benefit from ambitious action on climate change. Technical Appendix by Anthesis (UK) Ltd.

14See note 11.

17The Energy Technologies Institute / Catapult Energy Systems. (2017). GM Spatial Energy Plan (evidence base study).

18Catapult Energy Systems. (2018). Local Area Energy Planning: Supporting clean growth and low carbon transition.

19See Carbon Co-op’s evidence to BEIS for helpful pointers:

21For a recent analysis, see Kuhnhenn, K. (2018). Economic Growth in mitigation scenarios: A blind spot in climate science (p. 25). Berlin: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. Retrieved from

22Labour’s current policy framework proposes ramping up rail electrification. Labour Party. (2018). The-Green-Transformation: Labour’s Environment Policy. London. Retrieved from

23Madrid, for example has banned all petrol vehicles registered before 2000 and all diesels before 2006 from its central districts. (in Spanish).

24There are a number of examples in European cities, including Milan, Stockholm and Oslo

26Playing Our Full Part. See note 3 p. 9.

27For the direct emissions: Final UK greenhouse gas emissions national statistics: 1990-2016. (n.d.). Retrieved 8 December 2018, from For the consumption emissions:

28Berners-Lee, M., Hatter, W., & Hoolohan, C. (2011). The Total Carbon Footprint of Greater Manchester: Estimates of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Consumption by Greater Manchester Residents and Industries. Small World Consulting / Lancaster University. Retrieved from

29Table from Steady State Manchester (2012). In Place of Growth. Data from Berners Lee et al. (2011) see note 25. Data used in compiling the estimates is largely from 2009 and 2010 (see methodology section of their report).

30Manchester a Certain Future. (2009) page 5, see note 1.

31Bristol has also set 2030 as a deadline to go carbon neutral. This is 8 years earlier than Manchester but so far it is only an intention: the Mayor has been mandated to produce a detailed plan.

34Manchester recently received a profits windfall of £39.3M, just part of the total income for this financial year.

35Goldstein, A., Turner, W. R., Gladstone, J., & Hole, D. G. (2018). The private sector’s climate change risk and adaptation blind spots. Nature Climate Change.

Posted in Climate Change, explainers, Manchester, Manchester City Council | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Retrofitting suburbia

Retrofitting suburbia

by Charlotte Allen

A recent session of the SSM Reading Group discussed two articles by the Australian author and permaculture pioneer David Holmgren: ‘Retrofitting the suburbs 1and A History from the future2. Although we were a small group, we had a good discussion.

Suburban dual carriageway with green area and houses

South Manchester suburbia: near an area with the interesting name, “Fallowfield”.

In ‘Retrofitting the Suburbs’, Holmgren argues that the suburbs are ideally adaptable living spaces for life in what he describes as the ‘Energy Descent Future’3. They can easily be gradually transformed into low-energy use, agriculturally and economically productive areas with home-based lifestyles and strong communities, following the holistic approach of permaculture.

In ‘A History from the future’ Holmgren illustrates how humanity could get from the present ‘golden age’ of consumption to a culture of ‘Earth Stewardship4’, demonstrating a ‘prosperous way down5’ to low-energy use future shaped by behaviour change at the household level.

We discussed how far Holmgren’s vision, grounded in the sunlit low-density suburbs of Melbourne, is relevant to, or replicable in British suburbs, in particular in Greater Manchester.

We found that although GM is much denser than, for example, Melbourne (43 people per Ha compared to 26, on a population weighted basis6), it has a lot of green space, in both public and private hands (e.g. back gardens). Generally English cities have much lower residential densities than continental European cities. However, excepting the very dense building in Manchester city centre, most residents of GM live at relatively low densities in houses with gardens – this includes large areas of social housing pre-war and from 1970’s. Flats are not the norm. Houses can be retrofitted by public and private owners and gardens could be more productive. But access to land is a barrier for future suburban expansion (if this is desirable); in Australia there are wide open spaces which don’t exist in the GM region.

The problem with GM at the moment, and with current planning policies, is that people overwhelmingly have to travel from all over GM to work in central Manchester or sites such as the airport (very often by car), leaving houses unoccupied during the day, equivalent to almost 50% of the time. And most workplaces (offices) are empty more than 50% of the time – isn’t that crazy? So much energy is consumed by people travelling to work, instead of being able to work close to home.

Obviously Holmgren is writing from different socio-cultural perspective in a different physical environment (climate, housing types and density). A key difference between GM and Victoria is the climate – we need heating and we can’t grow so many crops. However, we found it strange that he doesn’t mention public transport in his writing.

We also felt that his suggested bottom up approach might not be successful in GM. There is not the same pioneer spirit nor the availability of land for suburban / rural settlement. There is a much tighter regulatory framework, which is largely accepted – we have learned that lowering regulatory standards many not be a good idea. We felt that an approach based on partnerships/joint activities between grass roots and local government or social housing providers could be more successful – local authorities might support community ideas because they are desperately looking for new ways to provide services etc.

We concluded that we should look at Holmgren’s list of bottom-up activities and, for each one, find out whether there are any relevant activities in GM and map/investigate these. One possibility will be to prepare a paper on possible future scenarios and trajectories for change in GM in the face of climate change, energy descent and economic collapse, similar to Holmgren’s ‘History from the future’7.

Update: this recent article, by Samuel Alexander and Brendan Gleeson, also covers the same theme, arguing that the suburbs could be the site of a degrowth transition.


Our next reading group session “What will it take to keep global warming within safe limits?” is on 23 January. More details:


Notes Holmgren has also written a substantial book on the subject, “RetroSuburbia” a kind of permaculture manual for the coming energy descent. Holmgren, D. (2018). RetroSuburbia: the downshifter’s guide to a resilient future. Hepburn Springs; Victoria.: Melliodora Publishing. UK supplier:

3 For an exploration of energy descent in the context of Europe, and the brexiteing UK, see

One of Holmgren’s 4 Future Scenarios: Holmgren, D. (2008). Future Scenarios: Mapping the cultural implications of peak oil and climate change

The term comes from the book, Odum, H. T. O. and E. C., & Odum, E. C. (2001). A prosperous way down : principles and policies. Univ. Press of Colorado.

6 Comparing the densities of Australian, European, Canadian, and New Zealand cities. (2015, November 26). Retrieved 11 December 2018, from

7 Some dimensions of such a future scenario in post-industrial cities and towns can be found at the end of this presentation:

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