Marion Smith of the CEM core group reports on the Manchester City Council climate subgroup’s meeting of Thurs January 23rd… (additional snark by Marc Hudson, esp in the footnotes.).
Council subgroups (1) aren’t the most joy-inspiring places at the best of times, but the second Manchester City Council Climate Change Subgroup meeting of the Thursday 23rd January raises serious concerns of the level of understanding of some councillors over the concept of a “carbon budget” and the necessary implementation measures of the council’s unanimously passed climate emergency declaration of July 2019 (2)
The meeting (you can see the agenda and download the papers here) was attended by around twenty people, including Executive Member for the Environment (3) Cllr Angeliki Stogia (Labour, Whalley Range) and another council executive, as well as members of the public from various climate activism groups across Manchester. The first item on the agenda was a discussion of the deferred report from Fiona Worrall, head of Neighbourhoods directorate (4), relating to the engagement of residents and communities on issues of climate change within the city. This was a report which largely placed the responsibilities for environmental improvements in Manchester on its citizens, rather than on local government policy- as well as providing little insight into how the information the report is concerned with would be accessible to hard-to-reach communities, such as those with low levels of reading. Despite our concerns, the report was mostly well received and congratulated by the subcommittee.
There were councillors who provided criticisms of the report- Cllr Richard Kilpatrick (Liberal Democrat, Didsbury West) raised concerns that there is a lack of coherency between the different actions of the report present at neighbourhood level, and called for a “cultural shift” in the council’s attitude towards climate breakdown, and a “top down” approach of tackling these issues- other members of the subcommittee were in agreement with this.
Another considerable part of the meeting featured a presentation by Dr Chris Jones from the Tyndall Centre, which is a cross-university-organisation for climate change research. He spoke on the updated approach to the carbon budget and MCC’s 2038 zero-net target. Jones posited that the budget’s update using the IPCC SR1.5 report demonstrated that the budget may be 18MTCO2 rather than the previously calculated 15MTCO2., At its most basic level, this update advises that in order for the council to meet their target, there needs to be a greater reduction in emissions per year than previously thought. This presentation was both complicated and dense, and was definitely not accessible towards those with less of a scientific backing- I’m a Music student, not a carbon emissions expert, and there were definitely moments of the report where I was lost and confused. That being said, the level of understanding of members of an environment subcommittee was worrying- questions from the councillors indicated confusion over the concept and trajectory of a carbon budget, with the city treasurer and deputy CEO, Carol Culley, having to explain the budget using the analogy of a bank account, with a set amount of money within it that can only be withdrawn. This illiteracy over even the most basic details of a carbon budget from those directly concerned with its impact is honestly frightening, and seems unjustifiable in light of the council declaring a climate emergency in July last year.
The response of the members of the public in attendance at the meeting was not reserved- there was laughter at the ignorance of some council members, heckling over issues raised, and impassioned speeches from concerned citizens over the council’s lack of action that has been representative of their attitudes towards climate concerns over the last decade. These people are angry, and we all should be too. It’s worth saying that within the chaos of this subcommittee, there were those present with good intentions of environmental measures, but these are just drops in the ever-rising ocean of issues that Manchester City Council are yet to tackle when it comes to climate breakdown. This was not a meeting that made for hopeful viewing.
The subcommittee next meets on the Thursday 18th March. We will be there, and we hope that you will be too. We will also be at the next meeting of the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee, on Weds 5th February from 2pm to 4pm. That’s because the long-awaited “Zero Carbon Framework 2020-2038” is up for discussion. We are meeting at the Waterhouse pub 67 Princess St) from 1pm – do join us if you can.
(1) Manchester City Council has 6 scrutiny committees, which are there to make sure that good policy is both made and, well, implemented. Subgroups and task and finish groups are set up occasionally, to deal with issues that are too big, unwieldy or behind. They can also be where good ideas go to die, or – sometimes- be very slowly born. The Climate Subgroup was set up, over some opposition, in late 2019, after the July Climate Emergency Declaration. Its meetings are NOT webcast or archived, but we (CEM) have FOIAed for the video footage and hope to post it soon.
(2) In July 2019 all 96 councillors voted for a Climate Emergency Declaration, including an amendment which called for an open and transparent process to look at if the zero carbon date could be brought forward. Yeah, um…. Meanwhile, despite rhetoric, look-a-squirrelling and protestations, very little has been achieved. Yet. See CEM’s two Hung Drawn and Quarterly reports for gory details.
(3) The Westminster system would really suggest that a member of the Executive is only present if specifically asked to address a specific item. But this is Manchester, apparently we do things differently here. For now.
(4) The bureaucracy of Manchester City Council is divided into seven directorates. Neighbourhoods does what it says on the tin, and is responsible for ward plans, which are entertaining in their virtual impossibility to find or influence. More of this another time.