Replying to the Council’s reply on #climate emergency inaction

In response to the revelation that Manchester City Council has assigned no new staff, and sought no new resources, to deal with climate change after declaring a climate emergency in July, the Executive Member for the Environment, has given a statement  to the online publication Northern Quota.  The statement, which is in italics and block quotes below,

  • contains condescension,
  • fails to contend the basic facts we reported, and then
  • consumes people’s time by providing a very partial picture of what has been going on.

In this reply I (Marc Hudson, co-founder of Climate Emergency Manchester)  respond.  There is a much longer story to be told, and some of that can be found in the Deeds not Words report mentioned below. A longer project, which details the failings in Manchester (and not just of the City Council) and what is to be learnt from these failings, is underway. For now, this –

“While we understand and welcome the passion people have about the issue of climate change, it simply isn’t true to say that the council doesn’t share their sense of urgency. We do.”

The condescending term “passion” does not capture people’s anger, dismay and despair at ten years of empty promises. It also ignores the fact that as well as forensic analysis of the Council’s many failings on climate change, individuals and groups have been making concrete specific proposals from 2009 onwards (In that year the ‘Call to Real Action’, which forced the Council to increase its ambition and change its policymaking process, albeit briefly). The latest of these proposals, a 43 page document produced by Climate Emergency Manchester and allies in July 2019 called ‘Climate Deeds not Words’ lists things the City Council could do in the short-term to build trust and momentum.  It has, of course, been ignored.

Let’s also examine the claim that the Council leadership  “welcome passion”.

In late 2018 many Manchester Labour Party members worked hard to include detailed proposals in the Party’s manifesto for the May 2019 local authority elections.  To their dismay and bewilderment, the actual manifesto contained little of this work, and made no mention of a climate emergency declaration.

More recently, elected members on the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee were extremely passionate (exasperated) about the extremely low quality of the consultation over the Great Ancoats St redevelopment.  The Executive … ignored them.

“That’s why we declared a climate change emergency. That’s why we are committed to a goal of Manchester becoming carbon neutral by 2038,12 years ahead of the national target.

Actually, as the Executive Member knows, the amended climate emergency motion, passed unanimously, calls on the City Council to examine whether the zero carbon date can be brought forward to 2030, with a report to come to Executive by the end of the year. It is fascinating that the Executive Member has not mentioned this in her reply to the Northern Quota, given that during her re-election bid as a councillor earlier this year she told Friends of the Earth

“there is a strong argument that the target should be 2030, and I would like to see Manchester aiming for this, but of course we need to bring our partners in the economic activity of the city and above all the people we represent along with us as well”

As will be revealed on Thursday in our first Hung Drawn and Quarterly report, no meaningful action has been taken to holding an open and transparent review (the truth may be even worse – we’re not entirely sure yet).

“And that’s why a huge amount of initiatives already underway with extensive work being done to establish how this radical reduction in the city’s carbon emissions will be achieved.

Many of these initiatives are simply old failed initiatives  reheated. Every two or three years the Council and its dependent bodies such as the Manchester Climate Change “Agency”  rebrand or refresh.  Action is always just about to be taken, after the next plan/review is complete…

“We aren’t starting from scratch. The council has reduced its own carbon emissions by almost 50 per cent since 2010 – exceeding our 41 per cent reduction target. “

Sadly the Executive Member has chosen not to include a little relevant information: that the Council staffing numbers are at 6000 now, down from 10000 in 2010, and that many buildings have been sold off (how many is a mystery- FoIA requests have been blocked).  So, of course there has been a steep reduction in the council’s own emissions. Any honest account of the council’s emissions profile has to include this.

Also, it was revealed in November 2018 that the Executive Member had unilaterally cancelled the quarterly carbon reports to Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee that had been initiated (under activist pressure) years earlier. When asked if she thought this sent the right message, she said yes, it did.

“We’ve already got a huge range of relevant initiatives underway, from replacing street lights with lower emission LED ones to tackling single use plastic at events in the city and powering our buildings with cleaner energy through the Civic Quarter Heat Network. But clearly we can and will do more. Tackling climate change isn’t something we can do on our own, it’s a responsibility for everyone in the city – indeed the council’s direct emissions only account for around two per cent of the city’s as a whole – but we are determined to show real leadership.”

In 2009 the City Council committed to getting 1000 organisations to endorse the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan. These endorsers would then write and implement their own plans.  In the event they got 200 or so endorsers (after sending out one email) and quickly gave up.  The City Council also allowed the Steering Group it dominates to a) cancel elections to the group and b) cancel the day-long stakeholder conferences which were supposed to galvanise action.  That’s their version of real leadership.

“This means putting the push for zero carbon at the heart of everything we do – both our day-to-day operations and our decision-making. We are working intensively on a bold zero carbon action plan, due to receive final approval in March, which will set out in detail how Manchester can achieve the city’s zero carbon target, with a strong focus on the things which will make the biggest difference.

“We will provide an update on this later this month. Realistically, the scale of change we are trying to achieve cannot be achieved overnight and needs to be carefully thought through rather than a knee-jerk reaction.”

Nobody is calling for knee-jerk reaction. That is just a smear and a straw man, and indicative of desperation.  We are calling – as some of us have been calling for a decade – for real action, taken openly in a spirit of learning and humility, and with an understanding of how leadership comes with the expectation that actions will indeed be scrutinised, something that some people seem to struggle with and even resent.

“But we are balancing this against the need to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible as soon as possible. 

“We will keep the resources we need to achieve this under constant review but to some extent this is a red herring. Everyone in Manchester, both inside and outside the council, has a role to play and it’s about embedding the drive for zero carbon in everything we do,  not having distinct teams and funding pots which are solely responsible for delivering it.”

Very repetitious here, and again a straw man.  The inconvenient Truth remains that the Council is responsible for the Council’s actions. Since declaring a climate emergency it has

  1. Seconded no additional staff
  2. Located no internal resources
  3. Failed to seek external resources.

These truths remain, despite all the bluster and vague promises.