The city’s carbon budget is blown. Not that you’d notice.

Back in September, we reported on how the Council approved a revised Framework that didn’t move the needle on the city’s ambition to lower emissions. 

Now, we have confirmation that the Council’s leadership has reviewed the situation and the governance arrangements that lead to it, and thought “eh, why change what clearly isn’t working”.

(Arrangements that, by the way, have cost MCC around 300,000 pounds in the last two years).

In a FoIA submitted by a former CEM member, the Council explains at great length what the pre-existing arrangements are to ‘scrutinise’ the cosy talking shop that is the Council’s relationship with MCCA and MCCP.  

They mention the fact that “global environmental consultants” Anthesis were employed “to support the development of the Framework refresh (including engagement, consultation, data review and design work)”. Notably missing from the list of things Anthesis were asked to do is anything that could be called ‘evaluation’ or ‘recovery’ – ie what needs to be done differently to at least understand how the huge mismatch between how fast emissions should be falling, and how fast they are falling, came about.

What’s most damning here though is what the Council Leader and Exec for the Environment apparently didn’t do:

 3. Has an external analysis for the cause of this failure been commissioned? If so, by who, when, how much were they paid with what result – please provide a copy of any documents that are relevant (requests from the Executive Member for the Environment, or the Leader to a consultancy) and the resulting unvarnished truth.

There have been no specific requests made to the MCCP or MCCA in relation to this work by the Executive Member for the Environment or the Council Leader.

Four years after the Council formally adopted a carbon budget that is supposed to last the remainder of the 21st century, it turns out the budget will be consumed at least 70 years early. At this point, you might have hoped for some concern, some questioning, some reflection, from the leadership.  And yet – the silence is deafening. No-one appears to be asking how this is apparently a surprise. Nobody is asking what needs to be done differently. We are still miles away from the granular planning of how many houses need to be retrofitted, and by when, or how much motor car traffic needs to drop by, and what measures should be enacted to help that happen.

(And no, waiting for everyone to buy an EV won’t help).

Now to come back to the obvious  – we know the Council isn’t all powerful. We know that Council budgets have been slashed and slashed again under successive Tory governments, and at the time of writing, it looks like more cuts are inevitable. However there’s no blog posts, no acknowledgement of any kind that any normal resident* will actually see, even acknowledging any of this. There is no mention at all of climate on the home page of the Council’s website, nor on their site map.  The only mention of “carbon” comes as part of zero carbon news, or the information section for zero carbon, containing only a solitary entry relating to EV charging. As CEM has suggested time and again, would it be so hard for the Council to have a regular place on the website to update Manchester’s citizens on the city’s carbon budget, in a way that’s clear and honest? 

The point here is not to have a go at the Council’s website team, but to point out that this is a topic the Council as a whole just doesn’t want to talk about. It doesn’t want to engage with citizens on carbon or climate (or ecological breakdown, etc), other than in the most token fashion (See also: ward level action plans, endless surveys), which serve to occupy the concerned while achieving little, especially when the input received doesn’t seem to go anywhere, or inform any actual action. Mostly the Council seems to act as if it just wants the whole thing to go away. 

It’s happy to make noises about naming its electric bin lorries, it’s happy to take the credit for adopting a “science based target”. It has, finally made some sort of request to central government for help to move faster on addressing emissions within Manchester (only two and a bit years after declaring a climate emergency!) But even that is somewhat economical with the truth when it comes to the subject of the much vaunted carbon budget (a subject for another day).

What is needed is day in, day out focus on the work of being honest about where we are, and what we all need to do about it – and here it continues to be missing in action.

* The Framework was also, apparently, discussed at the Zero Carbon Coordination Group, an internal steering group set up by the council following the climate emergency declaration (although it took a long break during the COVID-19 lockdowns). It is chaired by the Deputy Chief Executive and involves different council departments (e.g. Planning, Legal, Finance, Neighbourhoods). FOIA requests by CEM revealed that certain heads of these departments (including Planning) gave apologies for consecutive meetings. Elected members are not present and the minutes are not routinely made available to them, nor the public. 


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