From Puddings to Pea Wet and Oatcakes to Lobby: Ctrl SHIFT and social change


Several members of the Steady State Manchester Collective attended the Ctrl SHIFT summit in Stoke back in May.  We didn’t get around to writing anything about the event which brought together a wide variety of campaigners and social innovators at Pot Bank , the former Spode pottery works.  However Nickala Torkington from Flourish Together CIC has written the following piece.  The title might puzzle you: Pea Wet is a traditional food served in chippys in Wigan (where the first Ctrl SHIFT took place) and Staffordshire Oatcakes are yeasted oatmeal pancakes, traditional fast food served to pottery and other workers in the Stoke on Trent area and beyond.  These are towns with their own particular challenges, but as local speakers made clear, they are much maligned and CTRLSHift logogreatly misunderstood with many local “endogenous” developments responding the real challenges of post-industrial and austerity-hit settlements.  Here, then, is Nickala’s piece.

From Puddings to Pea Wet and Oatcakes to Lobby – what can we learn from Ctrl SHIFT and the ingredients for consistent social change?……

A short summary of this year’s CTRL Shift Conference which took place in Stoke, including a focus on the Women as a Force for Social Change ‘Solutions Session’ and reflections on future links and considerations for Greater Manchester.

For the second year in a row, the CTRL Shift team brought together their unconference style 3 day event, where grass roots activism, meets public and private sector decision makers. The location moved from Wigan in 2018 to Stoke and built on core themes including: tackling the climate emergency, permaculture, building resilient, innovative and connected communities and sharing models from across the country of people who act – not just for one or two days, but constantly to seek to create a fairer, greener, inclusive and sustainable future which we all have a stake in and a part to play.

The team behind CTRL Shift believe ‘A better future already exists’, they seek to bring together individuals, organisations and networks across the UK who are already creating a future that’s more inclusive, collaborative, and aims to benefit everyone. The aim is to shift political, economic and cultural power away from the status quo and involve diverse communities in intelligent systems change that works.

Throughout the conference there were a mix of discussions, critical thinking and mapping sessions alongside ‘Solutions sessions’ highlighting good practice already happening which can catalyse solutions for change. Space and time was created to have wider thematic and co-working sessions where deeper collaboration and strategy development starts to turn into action through people finding their voice, common ground and creating increased co-ordination and connection to act.

Solutions sessions and themed conversations at Ctrl Shift 2019 combined an eclectic mix seeking to address a range of social and environmental challenges: Wellbeing, Citizen Action Networks, Citizen-led Economic Transition, Mutual Credit, Local Food, Students as change agents, Regional Networks, Women as a force for Social Change, Climate Conversations, Creativity, Participatory Budgeting, People Powered Money, Regenerative Business, Systems Thinking for Connected Action, Shared Governance, Transformative Economies or Community-led Housing. Something for everyone you might say – or a lot of issues to try and do something about!

As co-founder and director of Flourish Together CIC, which is based in Greater Manchester, but operating across the North, we’re a pay it forward consultancy which invest its surplus resources and profits in supporting more women to create the change they see needed in communities and society at large. I convened the

‘Women as a Force for Social Change’ session where we leveraged our time, networks, experience and brainpower to hold 4 conversations in our 50 minute slot.

The need for our session was clear, with evidence ranging from Caroline Criado Perez’s new book ‘Invisible Women’ highlighting the extent to which women’s voices, experience and intelligence is missing from so many elements of decision making from our research and technology industry, to local politics and business growth and development. Plus the fact that for every £1 of private investment only 1 pence (yes that’s right 1p) goes to women led businesses and organisations. This rises to 11p if you look at companies with a mixed board resulting in 89p per pound going to the remainder – the men, to lead and spend resources as they see fit. All of the women involved in leading the session would identify as social innovators and entrepreneurs and could bring strength from the knowledge that the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector is already creating a shift with over 40% of social ventures led by women. Plus the organisers of Ctrl SHIFT snapped our hand off when we said we’d run it.

A summary of our 4 action orientated discussions to build connections are below along with links on how to follow up for more information:

NICKALA TORKINGTON ( mapped and discussed over 50 examples of women as a force for social change as well as networks/ activities supporting progress – we looked at everything from who is excelling, what sectors are they operating in, current energy and strength

PATSY CORCRAN ( & MONICA CRU HALL ( discussed enabling inclusion and the role of advocacy for women influencing and leading change. They shared good practice examples and major gaps in enabling women to have a voice and be represented. Giving concise examples of how to support more women with disabilities and learning difficulties and also more women from from Black, Asian, Minority and wider Ethnic groups including Refugees to feel compelled to speak, be heard, get involved, take action and bring real and authentic diversity to influencing and decision making. Sharing learning from lived experience and the work of Asist.

INDRA ADNAM ( looked at ‘What is the new politics for the future to enable women to act as a force for social change?’ Discussing how to create a new landscape, structures, language to enable politics and democracy to be fit for purpose and relevant for the future.

ALEX PHILLIPS ( held a conversation looking at the characteristics and behaviours of women innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders reflecting whether there are ways in which women bring something different when fostering, innovating, designing and implementing change? Especially given 40% of social enterprises are led by women and only 1-11p per pound of Venture Capitalist funds are invested in women how do we support more social ventures to be taken seriously and scale?

Our group and the diverse people who joined the discussions found this a great space to learn, debate, map what is happening and to help give a platform to new voices

as well as improve how we start to co-ordinate ourselves for impact– two of the key goals of Ctrl SHIFT.

In many ways the Ctrl SHIFT model isn’t that unlike any other conference, however the format and style, the mix of people, the venue they choose (towns with industrial hearts finding ways to keep beating and innovate social and environmental change) and the legacy they try to build in the places are they run – considering the conference themes through towns in need of regeneration and testing actions in these localities, has the potential to make these conferences and the network stand out and be a gamechanger in shifting control….. The proof of the pudding though, is always in the eating and making sure there is genuine, consistent and connected action. With 10-20 such towns across Greater Manchester and a track record of having run one in Wigan, there is certainly momentum to build on. We have many of the right ingredients, solutions working now in pockets and smart people across all walks of life across our communities taking action day in day out – whether we can agree on what pudding or cake stall to create in Greater Manchester in another matter, however the tools, networks and principles of Ctrl SHIFT make us natural allies of this work well into the future and discussions following the conference are warming up nicely.

For more information on elements of this blog email Nickala or organisations highlighted. For more information about Ctrl SHIFT 2020 see:


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Six problems for Green Deals

by Mark H Burton

A talk given as part of the panel session on The Economics of Climate Emergency, at Manchester Metropolitan University’s launch event for the Future Economies Research Centre.  Also available here at

Spanish translation here /Traducción a castellano-enlace

If nothing else, the last few months have heightened awareness of the desperately parlous predicament that now faces humanity, with an accelerating climate and ecological crisis. So attempts to design assertive policy proposals are very welcome. The Green New Deal is the one that currently is getting the most attention and perhaps traction. So I want to ask some critical questions that generally seem to be ignored in the infectious enthusiasm for the idea. In doing that I’ll also be rehearsing some insights from the degrowth perspective.


All this is about the relationships among three spheres, exchange value, use value and (physical) materiality.

Diagram with three sphere, Exchange Value, Use Value and Materiality

  1. Our fundamental problem is a material crisis -of carbon pollution and its impacts on our ecosystem, and of resource extraction that is devastating ecosystems and livelihoods.

  2. Policy proposals are concerned, at root, with ensuring human populations can access use values, derived through human labour acting on the world’s material reality.

  3. But our economic system, which mediates the relationship between use values and matter, is based on exchange values, the monetisation of goods and services.

With this terrain in mind, let’s look at the 6 problems for Green Deals.

1) Material flows and extractivism

In one of the clearest statements on the theory that underpins the GND idea, the original UK GND team explained that:

… 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.” (New Economics Foundation 2008, p. 27)

For more on the Keynesian thinking that underpins Green New Deals see this article.

But here is the problem. Increases in the scale of economic activity (as conventionally measured in terms of GDP) are associated with increases in the throughput of energy and materials, and these increases have involved increased emissions of greenhouse gases, resulting primarily from the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. Green growth, requires that this association between GDP and GHG emissions must cease to exist: this is known as ‘decoupling’. It is doubtful whether any developed country has achieved this at the scale and permanence required (Burton and Somerville 2019, pp. 99–101), especially when international shipping and aviation plus embodied carbon in imports are taken into account (Anderson 2019).

Irrespective of the levels of GHG emissions, the material flows that underpin the current scale of the economy already involve problems with extractive industries (located largely in the global South) and land use change more generally. For these material flows, the overall evidence is that there is no decoupling from GDP growth, with the (international) material footprint increasing by some 6% for each 10% in GDP (Wiedmann et al. 2015).

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 by dumping it in the earth’s land, sea and air, its ecological sinks.

2) The multiplier doesn’t care about the climate.

The multiplier effect, referred to above, creates a problem because it is non specific: other things being equal, there is no control over where the multiplier effects have impact. So the desired, clean, growth of the economy has undesirable implications in terms of additional resource and energy use. Clean begets dirty.
Read more about this problem.

3) The inherent constraints of renewable energy.

Graph showing growth of renewable energy sources versus bigger growth in other energy sources

GNDs emphasise switching to 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 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 power (García-Olivares 2015). 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.

4) Diminishing return on investment due to resource scarcity

The well validated, and landmark, Limits to Growth study modelled the impacts of resources becoming scarcer and their cost increasing. This undermines the stability of the production system well before the resources are near exhaustion: inexorably reducing returns on investment lead to an economic collapse (Meadows et al. 1974, 2005, Turner 2008, 2014, Homer-Dixon et al. 2015). 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 demands of new technology.

Read more about the Limits to Growth and the EROI problem.

5) The other planetary boundaries.

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 Rockström and colleagues (Rockström et al. 2009a, 2009b, Steffen et al. 2015). Climate change is just one of these boundaries. 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:… …
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…”
    Read more about this.

It is unclear whether and how the various Green Deals propose to address these additional threats, whether or not they rely explicitly on green growth.

I should note that the newest, and very comprehensive set of proposals, from the Green New Deal for Europe grouping, does acknowledge and attempt to address all these questions, although not necessarily altogether convincingly (Adler, Wargan, & Prakash, 2019).

But it is in the political economy of the GND where we have a fundamental contradiction that will not be easily resolved.

6) The GND and the capitalist growth imperative.

Paying for the GND has attracted a lot of debate and I don’t propose to go into the intricacies. Broadly, it is suggested that this be done by Government and private sector, raising credit from other sectors of the economy, i.e. individual and corporate investors, including public and private sector pension funds.

The problem is that this all assumes a return on the investment.

For the private sector, this is via interest or dividends, based on the profits from the new activity.

Some advocates suggest that the GND be funded through money created by government especially for this purpose – by electronically printing money.

In all these cases, the advance of money for investment ultimately requires ongoing expansion of capital, the modus operandi of the capitalist system, founded on the expropriation of surplus value in the labour process, which we know as economic growth. Without expansion, there is no, or insufficient, return on the outlay.

Despite the claims of some GND advocates, Green Deals are predicated on the expansion of GDP and as we saw, we can’t rely on that to decouple from material impacts.

read more about this

Mitigating the growth imperative

That is, unless another way can be found. There are some indications that this might be possible.

  1. Resource and energy caps.
  2. Review evidence that credit needn’t imply growth.
  3. Take production out of private ownership.
  4. Redirect unnecessary expenditure.
  5. Substitute material production with social & environmental stewardship / “dépense”.

Firstly, an ecologically feasible Green Deal would entail some way of capping resource and energy use at source, effectively the equitable rationing of commodities (goods and services). Doing this would also incentivise the transition to less ecologically and resource intensive offerings across the market, so long as emitting activities weren’t driven underground.

Secondly, a number of studies show that the creation of credit could, under certain conditions, fund necessary investments without creating an imperative for economic growth (Berg et al. 2015, Jackson and Victor 2015, Lee and Werner 2018).

Thirdly, if the industrial sectors of the new economy were taken out of private capitalist ownership, then the motor of capital self-expansion need not necessarily be required, though this would, I think imply a trajectory towards a steady state, at least for that part of the economy.

Fourthly, some of the expansion could conceivably be funded by the redirection and re-prioritisation of undesirable economic activity – though much of that still requires profitability.

Fifthly, as the latest of the GND papers suggests, aggregate energy demand must be reduced by scaling down material production and throughput. That would entail shifting income and welfare creation from industrial production to social and environmental reproduction: maintenance, recycling, repair, and restoration of environmental and infrastructural resources, as well as education, culture and care for people and environment. But that, idea, close to the dépense favoured by some degrowth theorists (e.g. Kallis, 2015), besides sounding like pie in the sky under capitalism, ignores the massive, neocolonial, outsourcing of industrial production to other economies.

Done in a managed way, that would be a lot better than the unmanaged periodic destruction of value that is a feature of capitalist cycles, but how do we get it to happen?

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September Newsletter from Steady State Manchester

Click here for SSM’s September update newsletter.  It covers,

Fossil Free Pensions?    Local action on climate change

Revising the Viable Economy   Degrowth 2020

Future Economies launch event    Better Buses    Deansgate

You can sign up to get these direct to your inbox HERE.

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Local action on climate: Whalley Range Climate Action Group

A guest post by Avril Danczak

Climate change is a tricky subject. Some people deny it, are ignorant about it or think it is nothing to do with them. On the other hand, many are terrified by what a globally heated world will hold for them, their children and for the future of millions of our fellow humans. The Guardian newspaper suggests we intensify the very language we use with phrases like “climate emergency”, “climate crisis” and “global heating” instead of “climate change” and “global warming”.

However, both denial and terror risk confining us to a similar, paralysed, state of inaction, so that nothing changes. What are the paths out of this immobilisation?

A tiny group of residents in Whalley Range got talking about climate change. While we fully support the national and international actions of Extinction Rebellion/Friends of the Earth/Climate Justice and all the other efforts being made to promote real change, the phrase “Thinking globally and acting locally” also spurred us to think about what we can do right now, right here, in our own locality of Whalley Range.

We started locally and small, using word of mouth to find fellowship, trying to remain humble and open to ideas. The group, Whalley Range Climate Action Group (WRCAG), grew in size steadily and we now have dozens of interested parties. Initially, I thought we would be a kind of retrofit support group, trying to help each other get properly insulated, reduce our energy usage, become car free and work out better ways to have flight free holidays. It has become a lot more than that.

Conversation triggered us to act, and we began by extending those conversations into our community. We listened to each other and to the residents we met at our simple stalls at community events. In no time we had a presence at Celebrate, (an annual local festival), at Ecofest, an event run by a local church, at the Windrush event in a local park

We also joined in an inspiring “Clean Air Day” action, when streets were closed around schools to enable pollution free walking and most joyously of all free street play for the children. The sounds of birdsong, children playing and people chatting rose out of the car free silence. What used to be taken for granted, safe walking and children playing out, has become a privilege. It took us a huge amount of organisation and preparation to bring about and lasted for less than half a day.

This has also reinforced the value of the kinds of conversations we are aiming to have. We do not instruct, but rather, ask “Where are you up to with the climate change thing?” and “What would make Whalley Range a climate safe, buzzing, good place to live?

These discussions are interesting, challenging and produce actionable ideas about what is important here in our own community. Many people in Whalley Range are thinking about climate change, environmental degradation and pollution. They are fed up with the noise, danger and pollution from cars and the life-limiting effects this has. They feel the constraints: unsafe walking especially for children, asthma increased by pollution, litter everywhere. People were outraged by the plastics they feel they cannot escape, wrapped around everything, all the time. We found much common cause with many other local organisations such as the Whalley Rangers and local wildlife support groups. Many organisations whose prime purpose is not about climate change, for example, Age Friendly Manchester or the local Park support and Heritage groups, joined us in thinking that climate change is their business too and that they can act on it here in Whalley Range.

It has been exciting to hear these perspectives, to “take the street” on Clean Air Day, and to discover that residents are willing to discuss these issues. It has made me a little braver to speak about climate change. This week, my lovely neighbour was in the street with two young relatives showing off their new cars. The cars were idling in the street, doors open, he showed me the clever seats. We had met on many occasions, so I felt able to turn the ignition key off and say…idling cars are not good for us. I had the same conversation with the man sweeping the street who left his vehicle idling for 30 minutes while he had his lunch break.

Our next meetings will be opportunities to reflect on what we have heard, what our priorities are and to decide what our main actions should be. We think it is likely that not everyone in the group will want to work on the same things. Some will be interested in schools, educating parents and pupils, others in taking the streets away from cars, others in building consensus against plastics in supermarkets, schools and our shopping bags. Connecting with other organisations that work in our area including the National Health Service has been highlighted as a way to make our work more effective locally.

WRACG does not have a manifesto; our first leaflet explains who we are…local residents working on what we can do about climate change, with a simple list of suggestions to help anyone reduce their impact on the planet. Reducing energy use, going flight free, consuming less, walking, cycling and using public transport, eating a mainly vegetarian diet are all important actions. Having a group of like-minded people around empowers us, to tell others what we are doing and to explore ways we can reduce our carbon emissions.

Another key action is to make our voices heard on this issue, wherever possible, in whichever organisations we are in contact with. Building connections between people will make Whalley Range an “Abundant Community”, where we know and value our neighbours through shared events and conversations. Then we will have a good life that is also a climate friendly life, here and now.

Massive policy change is needed, for sure, and governments must lead on the bigger changes. But if 10% of people get behind the need to reduce emissions drastically, that’s a massive opinion former and a strong message to local and central government, that will be hard to ignore. In the 18th century, rich landowners planted trees that they knew they would never see to maturity, but which are still enjoyed by many of us today. We can take a leaf out of their book and start planning for our descendants instead of just thinking about today and this week.

WRCAG has only been active for a few short months. We will continue to reach out to all the members of our community…different ethnicities, religions, ages, interests. Climate change will damage all of us…we need to work for change together, here, where we live.

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Manchester City Council declares a climate emergency!

Update:  Manchester council unanimously passed the climate emergency motion. Watch the discussion HERE.  As cllr. Wright notes, this is not just a declaration but also a plan.

UpdateSalford council will also be discussing a motion to declare a climate emergency on Wednesday 17th July.   9.30 am


While not so comprehensive as the Manchester motion, it is another step forward and Salford citizens will want to encourage their councillors to support it.

At next Wednesday’s full council meeting, (10th July) Manchester City Council will consider a backbench motion to declare a climate emergency.  The motion is detailed, with specific actions that go well beyond the council’s climate strategy to date. These include considering an earlier zero carbon target date, devising a strategy for public participation in working for climate solutions, taking account of aviation emissions, and calling for divestment from fossil fuels by the council’s pensions provider, the GMPF.  It has a good chance of success since it has the support of Executive members, including the leader.  However, it would do no harm for citizens who want this to go forward to let their councillors know they’d like them to vote for it.
Of course climate activists will want to continue to encourage the council to do more, and do it faster, and we will, but getting this motion agreed is likely to be a significant step, maybe a game changer, due its proposals for embedding climate action in all aspects of the council’s work and establishing a structure of open accountability through regular reporting.
The text of the motion is below, copied from the council’s website.  Members of the public have the right to attend the meeting.

“This Council notes:

    • The serious risks to Manchester’s people, of climate change/global heating affecting economic, social and environmental well-being, supply chains – including food security, financial systems and local weather, among many others
    • That in 2008 the ‘Principles of Tackling Climate Change in Manchester’ were agreed as a call to action to engage people from all walks of life in climate change action and, build support for a new way of thinking about climate change.
    • That Manchester leads the way, with an agreed Paris compliant carbon budget set in December 2018 and an acceleration of the target for becoming a zero-carbon city by 12 years, setting 2038 as the new target for the city, based on research from the word-renowned Tyndall Centre for Climate Change.
    • The recent and welcome upsurge of action by the young people of Manchester, exemplifying the radical traditions of which Manchester is proud.

This Council agrees (or to the extent that the below concern executive functions, recommends to the Executive) to:

    • Declare a Climate Emergency
    • Continue working with partners across Manchester and GMCA to deliver the 2038 target, and determine if an earlier target can be possible, through a transparent and open review. Become carbon neutral by the earliest possible date.
    • Encourage involvement in all wards by April 2020 through meetings as part of the Our Manchester strategy, to identify residents and partners who want to be actively involved in achieving the target, with provision for those who cannot attend. Ensure ward plans contain specific, measurable, achievable steps
    • Review all policies, processes and procedures to ensure the council can become carbon neutral. Present an action plan by March 2020 detailing how the city can stay within its carbon budget. Report back regularly to the NESC. Review the corporate plan
    • Work with the Tyndall Centre to review the actual emissions from aviation. Investigate the best way to include aviation in our overall carbon reduction programme in the long term
    • Make climate breakdown and the environment, an integral part of activity throughout the Council, including all decision making, ensuring key decisions take into account the impact on achieving the zero-carbon target and including an environmental impact assessment in all relevant committee reports
    • Ensure that everyone in the council receives carbon literacy training by the end of 2020. Make attendance easier by varying times and length of sessions
    • Encourage all staff on council business to use the lowest carbon, appropriate, travel
    • Investigate measures to ensure future procurement is carbon neutral. Increase the percentage of social value with an additional environmental element
    • Work with suppliers to green their supply chains, and support local production
    • Work with training providers to ensure Manchester residents can take on green jobs
    • Investigate and introduce measures to help reach domestic zero carbon levels including addressing fuel poverty and retrofitting existing homes
    • Investigate ways to ensure that future local plans place a mandatory requirement for all new development to be net zero carbon by the earliest possible date
    • Push GMCA to decarbonise public transport, heat and energy as early as possible
    • Through our role on GMPF, encourage divestment in fossil fuels as early as possible
    • Call on the government to:

–   provide powers and resources to make the zero-carbon target possible including funding for big capital projects

–   accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions from aviation

–   accelerate the decarbonisation of the electricity grid, funding low carbon energy generation

–  ensure that the UK prosperity fund focuses on enable the transition to a low carbon economy

Proposed by Councillor Annette Wright, seconded by Councillor Eve Holt, also signed by Councillors Jon-Connor Lyons, Yasmin Dar, Madeleine Monaghan, Emily Rowles, Angeliki Stogia, Nigel Murphy, Richard Leese, Mandie Shilton Godwin, Joanna Midgley, Marcus Johns, Williams Jeavons, Carl Ollerhead”

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Zero Carbon UK ….. by 2050? A commentary on the new CCC report.

A gas boiler

A domestic gas boiler: these will all need replacing if the UK is to get to zero carbon emissions.

Comments on the CCC (2019) Net Zero Report: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming.

A guest article by Peter Somerville

This report is a significant improvement on previous reports from the UK government’s independent advisory Committee on Climate Change. It recognises that net greenhouse gas emissions must reach zero by 2050 at the latest, instead of being reduced by only 80%, and it now includes emissions from aviation and shipping in this target. It also provides numerous suggestions for improving policy and practice. However:

Although the report recognises that consumption-based emissions are considerable (69% greater than territorial emissions – pp. 105,163), and consequently that measures have to be taken to make consumers buy or use low-carbon products, the calculation of such emissions still does not include those that are embodied in imported products. So unless countries exporting to the UK make similar reductions in their emissions, the UK will not be net zero GHG by 2050. Given this context, statements such as that the UK has reduced its emissions by over 40% from 1990 to 2018 (p20) are disingenuous and misleading – the truth is that they have hardly reduced at all.

Although the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels is mainly responsible for GHG emissions, this report does not tackle the issue directly but only makes assumptions about the extent to which they will be reduced. Notably, in the section in the Executive Summary on policies to reduce emissions (pp32-5), phasing out high-carbon power is not even mentioned. Currently, the UK government provides huge subsidies to fossil fuel industries, encourages fracking, approves new coal mines, and so on, and finance companies, pension funds and other institutions continue to invest heavily in fossil fuels. This report, however, says virtually nothing about any of these things – just one mention of an inquiry into UK Export Finance investing in and subsidising fossil fuel industry in developing countries (p118). Perhaps we should not be surprised by this because one member of the committee is a senior manager at Drax.

The report states that reducing emissions to net zero ‘would end the UK’s contribution to rising global temperatures’ (p16). This is a common misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the situation. Basically, global temperatures depend on the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (the stock, not the flow), and this carbon dioxide continues to absorb infrared solar radiation for 100 years after it has been emitted, resulting in continuous temperature increases. So, unless it is sequestered in some way, the carbon dioxide emitted up to 2050 will continue contributing to increasing global temperatures for a long time after 2050. A similar misunderstanding appears to occur on p26, where it is stated that ‘minimal residual emissions can be tolerated in most sectors’: this can be the case only if the land-based removals and CCS outweigh these residual emissions, which seems unlikely (the report provides no convincing argument on this point).

Given the extent of change now required to avoid climate catastrophe, it is frankly ridiculous to compare it with the natural gas switchover in the 1970s or the switch to digital broadcasting in the 2000s (p21). What is needed now is not a mere technical switching but a new industrial and social revolution, a radical change in how we live and work. Here, in spite of the increasing sense of urgency and crisis (to which the CCC pays lip service), the report seems to reflect and reinforce the complacency that is still widespread among the general population.

The report sees carbon capture and storage (CCS) as ‘a necessity not an option’ (pp23, 34, 178, 197). Indeed, the report seems to see CCS as a bit of a panacea, mentioning it no less than 273 times. Admittedly, CCS may well be necessary in the future because even if net zero GHG is achieved we will still have to find ways of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The problem here, however, is cost, with the report recognising that CCS is ‘expensive’ (pp131, 253). However, the report does not seem to appreciate just how expensive CCS is likely to be or that long-suffering citizens would have to foot the bill for it. The report acknowledges that ‘global progress has been slow’ (p12) but does not ask why that has been the case (answer: because there is no profit in it!). When it comes to CCS, the CCC’s claims to being conservative seem to be abandoned – for example, ‘the amount of CCS for energy generation from fossil fuels could be significantly lower than we have assumed’ (p197). Although it acknowledges that direct air CCS requires significant energy input (p149), the implications of a large energy input being required for CCS generally are not considered anywhere in the report. One might conclude that it would be more sensible to focus on eliminating GHG emissions in the first place, but that would mean confronting the likes of Shell, Exxon and Drax. So, rather than preventing the horse from bolting, the CCC would seem to prefer to close the door afterwards, thereby assuming reversibility of climate impacts.

In the Technical Report that accompanies the main report, there is further detail on technologies for greenhouse gas removal (pp275-286). Here afforestation and peatland restoration are no-brainers, and timber-framed construction also sounds eminently sensible, provided that the wood used does not entail further GHG releases. However, the discussion of bioenergy doesn’t really explain where the bioenergy is to come from, so the reader is entitled to be sceptical. Again, there would appear to be an over-reliance on technical solutions, with little thought given to the social and political implications of what is being proposed (e.g. changes in land ownership, land use planning, changes in farming practices, and so on).

The report is ambiguous or ambivalent on aviation. For example, it sees a scenario for net zero as involving ‘more limited aviation demand growth’ (p23). So the CCC still envisages increasing aviation demand, just not at the same rate as now. The emissions resulting from this increased demand will have to be offset by reductions elsewhere – there is a suggestion on p29 and p35 that the aviation industry could pay for the removal of all its emissions, resulting in a corresponding increase in air fares. So presumably the CCC envisages that demand will fall (or grow more slowly) as prices rise. However, it seems clear that the government is already committed to significant aviation demand growth, what with the agreed third runway at Heathrow and the expansion of provincial airports, so the government must be making a big mistake here, which the report does not recognise.

Given the recognised high costs (p179) of building wind and solar farms, and of building and running CCS (estimated at £10-20 billion in 2050 – p29) and hydrogen installations, it is difficult to understand why the CCC can have ‘reasonable confidence’ that ‘costs are likely to be no more than a very small fraction of annual GDP’ (p26). Costs could of course be lower in the future – but they could just as well be higher.

Nuclear power is hardly mentioned at all but I would assume that the statement that ‘overall [electricity] bills need not rise as a result of climate policy’ (p29) rules out the possibility of relying more on nuclear power because it is clearly more expensive than either fossil fuels or renewable energy (see p253). Notwithstanding this, the government is ploughing ahead with Hinckley Point C, and more nuclear power plants are still in the pipeline at Sizewell C and Bradwell B.

P26 states that diet change and major land use changes are needed for a net zero target. But what, exactly – and what part can government play in this?

Overall, in spite of much rhetoric about developing ‘stronger approaches’ (p34), the report’s substantive recommendations to government could be (and need to be) a lot stronger.

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Greater Manchester’s Environment Plan: a truthful version.

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

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

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


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Open Letter from Climate Activists to Manchester City Council

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


Dear Cllr Leese and Cllr Stogia,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Greater Manchester Climate Action Network (GM-CAN)

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


* Members of GM-CAN:

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