A few weeks have passed and the dust settled on the fifth Greater Manchester Green Summit, this year held in person with hybrid options at the Lowry Theatre, Salford.
Here are some reflections from a couple of attendees – Hannah Ballard and Adam.
The event began, as is now custom, with some opening remarks from r Mayor Andy Burnham. He started with sharing his stage with a bunch of school children from St Peter’s Primary School from Rochdale to ‘inspire’ the audience. He also mentioned that “we’ve come a long way” since they started these summits in March 2018. Have we really?
An online stream with questionable audio is here until they decide to take it down.
Saved by the bell?
The mayor called for a day (just one day?) of honest conversations to occur considering how quickly the science based carbon budget is getting used up. He told us that our ‘fair share’ could all be gone for the city region by 2024. This would mean the chances of going past 1.5C are far more likely – I did not hear the audience let out a collective gasp of breath. “Tell us straight today” is what he asked for. Our question would be when were the chances to do that considering most of the main sessions were human-heavy panels with little discussions?
Each 25 minute Thematic Session featured a thoroughly over-subscribed panel, with each participant having the chance to deliver remarks for a couple of minutes each, with little time for inter-panel discussion. These speakers were backlit by an enormous screen featuring an enormously long list of ‘You Ask, We Did’ statements; a list so extensive that it was printed in tiny font, and little time was available to discuss how Greater Manchester had listened, negotiated or addressed these demands.
Business as usual
It didn’t feel like the GMCA environment team (who from what we heard organised the event in a somewhat chaotic and last-minute manner) wanted the panel or those with power to hear from most attendees. A point which one youth activist passionately made to loud applause, with murmured agreement among the panel who may have seen themselves as ‘exempt’ of this tokenistic-participation-versus-power-redistribution comment. In all, there was little opportunity for audience participation or feedback – beyond some polls of prepared questions that few people (certainly not myself at the front) could actually join as the wifi didn’t work well. A fitting symbol for GMCA’s response to the climate emergency. Supposedly there were also some very mild mannered people with iPads milling to ask questions about the summit – I wonder if those answers will ever see the light of day… I feel a FOIA coming along…
I’m not sure how candid conversations were in the workshops held after lunch or how interactive they were, but you’d think after 4 previous attempts and greenhouse gas emissions still not falling in line with what is required they might try something different? A different vegan lunch option does not make for a different summit. Considering there was a mix of politicians, policymakers, academics, NGOs and businesses there (how many were invited from central govt?) you’d think sessions might be arranged that could have been more interactive. Failing that, you would think a eco-centric summit would have at least anticipated a number of cyclists to join, but the bicycle bejewelled bridge indicates otherwise:
Little conflicts blocking bigger pictures
There did seem to be some emphasis on ‘networking at certain points – but where were the political leaders beyond Mayor Andy? Were they convening groups or outlining their plans to lobby the central government about some of the key sticking points that mean we continue to be far off track? The post-event networking drinks had more of the feel of businesses exploring new opportunities than a city engaging in cross-collaborative action.
I counted 2 other local leaders in total – one was the GM Green City lead and leader of Bolton Council Martyn Cox and the other was the GM lead for Economy Bev Craig leader of Manchester City Council. There are 10 councils in GM and 8 of their leaders didn’t seem to turn up. Many of our local politicians seem to be quite happy to free-ride on the Mayor’s larger public profile. Looking at the regular GMCA meetings that take place back to March 2022 you quite often get 7 or 8 out of 10 leaders turning up, so why not show up for the one day to talk about climate change?
All the councils have declared “climate emergencies” so you’d think they’d want to be there on stage saying what they need to get the emissions down further. Maybe they can’t be trusted near a large public audience or have nothing substantial to say about climate action in their borough and would embarrass the mayor?
If you think that more needs to be done than a bungled attempt for honest conversations once a year about the quickly-disappearing carbon budget, let us know.