So begins this tweet post from the Climate Change Agency on the website formerly known as Twitter…
…in which Mike Wilton, chair of the Manchester Climate Change Partnership, breathlessly claims “There are challenges ahead, but it shows that we are on the right path to achieve the city’s ambition to become a thriving, green, climate resilient city.”
So what’s been going on? What august body has bestowed this prestigious award upon Manchester? Why, it is CDP – a not-for-profit organisation that runs an “environmental disclosure system”. Now, CDP claim:
“Reporting environmental data through CDP-ICLEI Track – the world’s leading environmental reporting platform and progress accountability mechanism for cities, tracking over 1,100 cities of all sizes across the globe – is the first step towards climate action. It can bring a multitude of benefits to cities and their communities, from improved engagement across a broad range of stakeholders to centralizing data and tracking progress.
CDP evaluates your response, helps you to identify gaps, benchmarks your performance against peers and finds areas of opportunity for your city.”
The main reason CDP seem to exist in general is to sell their reporter services https://www.cdp.net/en/companies/reporter-services to the companies and investors that use their platform.
“To score an A, among other actions, a city must:
- disclose publicly through CDP-ICLEI Track;
- have a city-wide emissions inventory; and
- have published a climate action plan.
The scoring criteria for emissions reduction targets have been strengthened in a move towards aligning with science-based climate targets. An A List city must also complete a climate risk and vulnerability assessment (CRVA) and have a climate adaptation goal to demonstrate how it will adapt to climate hazards.”
None of this actually says anything about the steep, city and region wide emissions reductions needed, nor the powers that Manchester City Council very much has to do something about this (alongside calls to national government).
What makes the CDP fanfare worse is MCC’s highly selective approach to promoting league tables and awards. It’s cherry picking at its worst: share those that we come out well in, ignore those which point to a more mixed picture. Case in point: the recently released Climate Emergency UK scorecards where Manchester did not fare as well in some crucial areas – notably planning and biodiversity. Whatever the pros and cons of such ranking exercise, there is a glaring inconsistency in the council, agency and partnership comms here.
A little recap of the CEUK scorecards for those new to the exercise. Climate Emergency UK is a small Environmental Non-Governmental Organisation, operating since 2019. In 2021, CEUK’s first round of scorecards rated Manchester City Council as the top single tier council in the country, scoring 87% against an average of 50%. MCC shouted it from the rooftops as yet more validation of their leadership on climate action.
Frustrated, Simon wrote a snarky blog post, which led to CEUK asking him to join their advisory group for their second round of scorecards in 2022/3. The aim this time was to focus on action, not just plans and ‘science-based targets’.
The advisory group consisted of councillors, climate activists and experts from around the UK. They reviewed questions, how those questions were scored and weighted against each other, and the fairness of the approach for different types of local authority, along with their differing accountabilities.
The result is not a deep dive into each council’s progress (or lack of it) against their original plans. Instead it’s a balanced approach of information that is either publicly available or through Freedom of Information requests.You can learn more about the methodology here.
Overall, the results from the 2023 CEUK scorecards show that no council is doing enough on the climate. Manchester City Council comes in at 28th place, behind several London councils, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bath & Somerset, Bristol and Leeds. MCC’s total score was 50%, compared to an average of 35% and a top score by Westminster City Council of 62%.
Perhaps the score that should most capture Manchester’s eye is Leeds, a whole 10 places higher than Manchester (who like to think and claim that they are ahead). What has Leeds been doing that Manchester has not? Leeds scores much better on planning and land use, biodiversity, and much better on governance and finance.
The highest scoring category for MCC was 88% for Collaboration & Engagement, boosted by SMART targets, regularly updated plans, external partnerships and only let down by the lack of a council motion to ban high carbon advertising and sponsorship. MCC may score highly on collaboration and engagement but, as this exercise shows, they cannot put this into any kind of meaningful practice.
More troubling were the scores for Transport (26%) and Governance & Finance (30%) where penalty marks were incurred. In transport, the absence of school streets, a workplace parking levy, a Clean Air Zone or Ultra-Low Emission Zone were compounded by low bus ridership levels and high air pollution. The low Governance & Finance scores were most impacted by Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s refusal to divest from fossil fuel investments and, more significantly, MCC’s investment in Manchester Airport Group.
What does all this mean for climate action by local authorities, in general and Manchester in particular?
At a time when Manchester is making a series of asks of national government (see pdf below), these scorecard exercises remind us that local authorities have a suite of powers of their own. They have powers to the extent that national government are threatening to take them away such as settling lower speed limits and low traffic neighbourhoods. Getting together a wish-list for national government makes sense (particularly in the run-in to a general election), but it would have more weight if MCC had already pulled every lever at its disposal. But over the past decade and a half that they claim to be taking climate action, it really hasn’t. Why is MCC still approving developments with gas boilers? Yes, councils have been starved of funds but planning decisions such as this are not cost-effective (each gas boiler development will need to be retrofitted later down the line). Why is there still no meaningful, connected cycling network – despite all the fanfare? And why has MCC not picked the low-hanging fruit, such as using existing politics to ban climate heavy adverts? Until some of this has been properly tried, claims of climate leadership are just more noise and hot air.