February’s Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee discussed budgets and the mysterious refresh of the Manchester Climate Change Framework – deemed unfit for purpose barely one year into its sorry existence.
The overview of budgets proved short if not sweet. Councillors again requested that MCC’s three climate change officers be moved onto permanent contracts and (again) received an inconclusive response. Surely climate change is the shining example of a long-term issue – why rise to the challenge with short-term contracts? Precarious posts hardly encourage retention and learning. Requests came in too for the remaining monies in the Neighbourhoods Directorare budget to be earmarked for active travel and school streets. As we highlighted in our report Health and the Climate Crisis, the roll out of school streets has been patchy. If the scheme relies on parent volunteers, it will only reinforce inequalities.
The budget item also included questions about how the Council monitors the effectiveness of the Climate Change Agency. Yes, you heard that right. We had not reached the Manchester Climate Change Agency item, for Councillors now know that representatives from the ‘external body’ have no obligation to provide full information. For any hope of a straight answer, questions on MCCA must be squeezed into other items and addressed to the council officers. Even this approach did not yield anything satisfactory. Annette Wright (Hulme, remarkably persistent) was told twice that the council holds the Agency to account by…sitting on its board. Day 1 of governance training should teach you that’s not the same thing.
We then moved onto the refresh of the Manchester Climate Change Framework 2020-25 by the Manchester Climate Change Agency and Partnership. Redoing this exercise struck everyone as strange. It’s not just us – we asked around in advance of the meeting for wider views on the progress report of the refresh and this is some of the perplexed feedback we got:
Refreshing a 5-year framework is odd and it has not been made clear why it needed updating so soon after release. Section 1.3 of the report to scrutiny gives some reasons, but are these valid? It says that the Framework is being updated to:
- Ensure it remains a live document (fine to be a live document, but why refresh it so soon after it was published?)
- To be responsive to a changing city (the city hasn’t changed THAT much in a year!)
- To be responsive to increasingly urgent climate emergency (a recognition that the first framework was not fit for purpose?)
- To provide more information on the scale of action needed for the city to stay within its carbon budgets (a big criticism of the first framework was that it was not clear enough on what needed to happen each year on the pathway to net zero by 2038).
Beyond this, what is now going to change in the refresh is not clear. The report to ECC Scrutiny Committee is more of an announcement than a plan or progress report. The timetable for the refresh has slipped several times (now scheduled for ‘summer’). The note to ECC contains further worrying signs, worth highlighting here:
- 2.10 – mentions appendix 2 of the framework, which sets out what each Partnership member is doing. But none of the partner organisations’ plans are ambitious enough. There need to be actions on renewable energy, on heat decarbonisation. Also using their reach to engage the public. For example, why hasn’t ‘partner’ Manchester City FC suggested putting videos about net zero action on at half time in each match?
- The graph in 3.3 is sobering. The dotted line seems to be provisional data for 2020 but it is not clear where MCCA got this data from. Not surprising to see that emissions dropped, due to lockdowns. But even the fall in emissions in 2020 is not sufficiently rapid for emissions to ‘catch up’ with the pathway.
Above all, the revised framework needs to get across a much greater sense of urgency. For example, lifespan for condensing boilers is around 14 years. This means within 2 years, Manchester should be aspiring to not have any new gas boilers installed in existing homes. If they are, it just means that these boilers will need to be replaced before they reach the end of their lifespan, which will be politically difficult.
There needs to be SO much more visibility of this work. The answers given at the meeting were confusing for those of us who (for our sins) follow this closely and already take any interest. Is any of this work and the messages coming out it reaching most people? The scale of change needed is equivalent to what happened during the pandemic – visible signs everywhere of action being taken by the Council, businesses, schools.
Based on what we and councillors observed at this meeting, we’re a long way off that.