Carbon Budget Blowout in the Age of Consequences

The Manchester Evening News recently reported on the fact that Manchester has essentially no chance of staying within the 15 million tonne CO2 budget, set in 2018 for the entire 21st century, and will in fact have consumed it by around 2027. And yet the Council (both in scrutiny committees and the ‘Executive’), signed off a framework that doesn’t even attempt to raise the level of ambition to what is needed, relying as ever on some sort of fairy dust that will appear in a few years time, oh yes.

The historical trend in Manchester in recent years has been a reduction of about 5% per year, in line with the decarbonisation of the National Grid, as we derive an increasing amount of our electricity from low carbon sources. 

The 2018 budget needed to see city wide reductions of 13% every year from 2018, so every year that this is not achieved needs steeper reductions thereafter. To be specific, 18% per year from 2022, or 31% per year from 2025 (1

As the Climate Change Agency’s own 2021 report (2) admits:

Notably the estimated 11% drop in emissions due to COVID-19 restrictions do not match the rate of mitigation needed to get Manchester onto the emissions pathway to stay within the carbon budget. An average reduction rate of 16% per year would now be required to stay within the budget based on an even distribution of the budget.

At some point playing with the numbers becomes futile, because you can always plot graphs that show your emissions getting to zero at some suitably distant future date, and keep everyone “happy” until next year’s report is due.

And yet, wasn’t Manchester meant to be “playing its full part”? Don’t we “do things differently here?” 

At CEM we scrutinise the activities of the Council, because we believe it could (and should) have a pivotal role in how the city responds to the climate emergency. It’s a member of the “Manchester Climate Change Partnership”, and looks to the “Manchester Climate Change Agency” to define the framework through which it looks to achieve the necessary carbon emissions reductions. 

The last of this Framework was scrutinised at the end of July, which CEM reported on then – a finalised version was examined and approved by the Environment scrutiny committee in September. To summarise – the Council, the Agency (and by extension, the Partnership) appears to have formed a cosy talking shop, incapable of self-examination as to why the previously announced reductions targets have not been achieved. The reaction in the framework is to effectively shrug and say “don’t worry, here are some more implausible reductions in emissions”, particularly in the later years of the plan. To quote my CEM colleague Robbie Watt:

Cllr. Nunney (Woodhouse Park) asked why the Framework proposes just 10% emission reductions in each of the next few years, which would leave 29% annual reductions needed each year later. What makes this feasible? 

If we cannot do 16% now, why does anyone think we’ll manage 29% later? The answer, apparently, is that between now and a few years time, some magic might happen. Since miracles are on the agenda, and 10% reductions could (maybe, at a stretch) happen without a radical overhaul, then nobody has to declare the carbon budget dead, and nobody has to change too much. The message: Avoid grief. Avoid overhaul. Avoid accountability. DON’T PANIC. Pretend it’s fine.

This year we have seen the impacts of Climate Change hit harder than ever. The UK saw temperatures above 40C for the first time in recorded history. Historic droughts, in China, Europe, the US and Africa, and much of Central and South America. Now is the time for serious questions to be asked of the way emissions reductions are being “managed” in the City. Many councillors seem unwilling to ask awkward questions of those responsible. And the report from the MEN doesn’t seem to have sought opinions from anyone outside of the Council itself. 

We at CEM know that the Council isn’t all powerful, and the approach of forming partnerships with organisations across the city is in principle, the right one. But to deliver the drastic changes now needed more than ever, there needs to be willingness to examine past failures, to honestly admit what hasn’t worked, to make clear the scale of action needed, and to acknowledge the scale of the dangers posed by accelerating changes to the climate.

It isn’t until we all admit the depth of the hole we’re in, that we can begin to discuss plans to climb out – or at least try to stop it caving in on top of us.


  1. Manchester Climate Change Framework 2020-25.pdf, page 16
  2. MCCA Annual Report 2021 Final.pdf, page 20

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