Will anyone ever scrutinise the 98% of the emissions that isn’t the Council’s?

On Thursday 14th October the currently empty ritual of “scrutiny” continues. The all-Labour scrutiny committee will discuss four reports, one on waste (see here) and three which purport to be about the climate emergency (the first two really are not). Crucially, at no point in the 196 pages of the agenda pack does it state “in the last three years the city has burned 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, leaving only 9 million tonnes for the next 80 years if Manchester wants to stay within its carbon budget.”

There is no report on this failure, or how to get on track. Just… silence. As if pretending a problem doesn’t exist will make it go away.

So, regardless of what gets said of these following three reports, the fundamental victory for those who want to see no meaningful action on climate change is complete…

The first of the three reports claims to be the “Climate Change Action Plan quarterly report”

The tl:dr is this – this is NOT a quarterly report even on the Council’s progress (or lack of it). More importantly, it is absolutely NOT a quarterly report on the emissions of the CITY. The Council’s emissions are only 2% but they seem to take up 100% of this report. Why? Where and when will the City’s emissions be properly examined, if not by this committee? What is this commitee FOR, given that in the last three years the city has burned through 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, and only has 9 million left for the rest of the 21st century (80 years).

Here’s the boiler plate blurb, with comments, then read on for a bellow(-of-)pain-by-bellow(-of-pain) account of what is missing.

At the beginning of the document itself we’ve got this

On page 57 we learn that emissions from Council buildings are UP on last year (so, what action has the council taken to stop a post-COVID bounce back? It’s not clear if they have even tried anything, if that worked/didn’t work.
Also, they are silent on whether there have been any further building sell-offs. A large part of the emissions reduction of the Council between 2010 and 2016 or so was simply because council buildings were being sold off (how much we will never know, since the Council refused to say, back in the mid-2010s, despite FOIAS). The emissions didn’t disappear (unless the new owners were luddites), but they moved OFF the Council’s books, which was counted as “success.”

On page 59 we learn that “business travel remain much lower than preCOVID-19 levels but are showing an increase as we move out of lockdown.”
Again, what actions have been taken, if any, to reduce, remove a “bounceback”?
We learn that “six domestic flights were taken by Social Services for client work.” Where to? Were less carbon intensive modes of travel even considered? If not, why not? If they were rejected on this occasion, for whatever reasons, will different provision be put in place in future? If not, why not? Is Manchester City Council going to lead by example, or is it just going to keep talking?

By page 60 they’ve already run out of things to say about the Council.
But NOWHERE are they talking about progress against the 23 specific elements of the Climate Emergency declaration of July 2019. There is no simple table (and never has been) of which actions are completed, which behind schedule. By now, climate was supposed to be embedded in ALL ward plans. By now, ALL councillors were supposed to be carbon literate, and all staff too. The Local Plan was supposed to be well underway. Etc etc.
Why no table? Could it be that the officers and Executive don’t want councillors to be able to see what has not been done?
On page 64 we learn

That is LOWER than in July 2019. Let that sink in. Since voting for a Climate Emergency Declaration that included a commitment that all elected members would be carbon literate by the end of 2020, numbers aren’t static, they’re LOWER. And of course, the promises of getting everyone carbon literate (to show, you know, leadership) have been going back to 2012-3. As late as 2016, Labour were promising this in their manifesto-

On the following page we learn, that, two years after declaring a climate emergency, the Council is now hiring a copywriter for “content creation” (a tacit admission that nobody in-house has the skills? Or can be bothered?)

Even though the city has burnt through 40 per cent of its carbon budget in the last 3 years, they still fill up a page and a half (p66-7) with examples of press coverage. To puff it out, they even include one of their own facebook pages. Two things here
a) this is really needy and feeble
b) it’s thickening the report to make it seem more than the candy-floss it is.
d) (I lied again). If we’re talking about press coverage, surely letters in the Manchester Evening News count? And they have not been quite so complimentary, now have they? Or does the Council only count applause, not criticism? (That’s a rhetorical question, btw).

Overally,there is a lot of activity, but it’s mostly bids and proposed bids, proposed scoping and proposed pilotting. So, pretty much like the last 10 years. Or it’s community fridges and poorly-attended feel-good events for a photo-op to take to Glasgow. All activity, no action.

But again, crucially. The Council’s emissions are 2 per cent of the city’s. Where is the report about the 98%? Why didn’t Councillors insist on this, months ago? Why didn’t they insist on it last month? Will they insist on such a report this month? Will they insist that future quarterly reports tabulate progress on the Climate Emergency Declaration and, far more importantly, ON. THE. CITY’S. EMISSIONS? Watch this spine. Sorry, “space.”

(1) Quarterly plans were first agreed after persistent lobbying by citizens (actually, one citizen), back in 2015. There was then a long delay before they began to be actually produced. This required lobbying of Jeff Smith (now an MP) when he was trying to look good on his way to selection as a parliamentary candidate. The reports were under-utilised by the Scrutiny Committee, and then, unilaterally abolished by the Executive Member for the Environment in 2018. (It is not, in a functioning Westminster System, actually within the power of an Executive to abolish such reports. We do not live in a functioning Westminster system). After intense pressure from beyond the council and within it, quarterly reports have been re-instated. They are still woeful, but, full of meaningless diversionary pap. Only ongoing scrutiny by councillors and citizens will make them clear, consistent. If you want to help be part of CEM’s “Team SF”, email contact@climateemergencymanchester.net

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