Important business but no sense of urgency at climate scrutiny

As world leaders were copping out in Glasgow, November’s Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee gave a similar vibe closer to home.

Cllr Flanagan (Miles Platting and Newton Heath) raised some urgent business – the ongoing drought and famine in Madagascar. Linking Manchester’s partial responsibility for the climate emergency, he said that all budget papers should have an environmental impact assessment on the front sheet.

It’s an interesting take, and there does seem to be a role for this committee to audit the coverage of the environment in other scrutiny meetings, to maintain standards, join up thinking and remove any blockers.

Reviewing last month’s minutes, Cllr Wright (Hulme) still hasn’t seen the list of organisations that Manchester Climate Change Agency (MCCA) have failed to sign up. To be fair, she’s only been waiting for 2 months and it’s not like it’s urgent or anything!?!

Approach to Flood Prevention and Management

This report included representatives from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities, the Environment Agency, and MCC’s Head of Compliance. Cllr Andrew Simcock also joined, to describe the experience of his Didsbury ward in the drama early this year.

Storm Christoph hit in January 2021, causing three major incidents at the same time, in Manchester, Warrington and Northwich. With 256 reservoirs near our boundaries, Greater Manchester needs to be on the ball when it comes to flood defence and management.

Councillors raised the importance of timely and accurate information, modelling flood risks (including due to insufficient/blocked drainage), and the need for more education on the dangers of contaminated water.

Peter Costello (Environment Agency) described how rain in the Pennines takes just 2 hours to reach the city centre. “We’ll never build our way out of flooding” he said, stressing the need for natural management techniques.

Cllr Simcock (Didsbury East) recalled Storm Christoph, how rumours spread like wildfire and how the flood response must be able to manage the narrative better.

Neighbourhood Teams in Developing Local Climate Change Activity

In spring 2021, the council recruited three Climate Change Officers, responsible for engaging neighbourhoods in the climate emergency and feeding back where council policy needs to change. Activities ranged from theatrical performances and craft days, environmental film screenings and climate literacy training.

Head of Neighbourhoods, Shefali Kapoor praised the work of the officers, stressing how difficult it is to quantify and measure carbon reductions.

Though understandable, it is important to prioritise measurable activities. MCC should make these roles permanent, and recruit more. Yet, they must keep their eye on the prize. At their best, they can grow the impact of residents’ actions whilst bringing in the council where more significant project backing is needed. Without a bigger team, and measurable impacts, I fear this programme of work may be reduced to a mass greenwashing exercise.

Manchester City Council Estates Decarbonisation

The council has prioritised its own direct emissions and reports to be on track to reduce 4,800 tCO2 annually through the Carbon Reduction Programme.

Cllr Holt (Chorlton) asked for more information on what wasn’t being done, and why.

Unsurprisingly, there was no mention of CEM’s recent parody video or MCC’s response, which made it clear that the council doesn’t see itself as having a leadership role when it comes to the wider city’s carbon budget, despite agreeing it in the first place.

Beyond its direct emissions, the next step for council officers is to consider Scope 3 (indirect) emissions. These will be vast and interconnecting. An example would be all the buildings leased from the council by community organisations.

A renewed focus on Scope 3 emissions, matched with an ambitious approach to ward plans, could be a big step in tackling the city’s emissions, which have largely been ignored by the council to date.

Summary

COP26 is done, and so is scrutiny for this month.

In December we see a new leader take the helm at Manchester City Council. Hope abounds – but you can’t eat hope or use it to heat your house.

Manchester City Council has six scrutiny committees, which are supposed to be a watchdog on the bosses. These committees meet, in public, monthly to “scrutinise.” But it usually doesn’t work out like it should. CEM’s Team Scrutiny Fabulous is trying to change that, and we could use your help. You can read more here.

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