Truth To Power. Time to Fix Democracy.

On 23rd December 2006 – just before the Christmas break – I was told that Al Gore would be coming to Sheffield to present to an audience of key stakeholders, leaders and decision makers and to share his influential views on climate change. The science and the slides in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, were to be presented live by the man himself.

documentary-film-an-inconvenient-truthAn Inconvenient Truth has been credited for raising international public awareness of climate change and re-energising the environmental movement. The documentary has been included in science curricula in schools around the world. It was also instrumental in Al Gore sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As Head of Environmental Strategy at the City Council I was excited to know that one of the 21st Century’s most respected politicians and leaders on the issue of climate change was coming to my city to address the people I’d been working with and helping to understand the very real threat of climate change. Over the first 18 months or so in post I had made understanding the challenge of climate change and its impact on the City a priority and this was a great opportunity to reinforce those messages. The man’s pulling power was awesome and the invitations to watch were snapped up fast.

I’d already presented to a Full Council Scrutiny session on the issue of climate change in 2005 and, whilst the City’s councillors were interested it was fair to say they had other priorities. They asked probing questions on that sunny afternoon in September 2005 but whilst they remained engaged in the agenda through Scrutiny Boards and Cabinet Reports, particularly around the ways in which the Council could reduce carbon emissions, reduce costs and become more self-sufficient in terms of energy generation across the City, they saw the challenge as too big and needing leadership from a higher plane. But, there was often a win-win-win and an obvious benefit to citizens and, I mean, who wouldn’t want to invest and save waste – it’s an easy case to make in most cases.

There is a wonderful sequence in the movie where he meets Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown in Texas. The mayor describes Georgetown as the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas – and he’s a conservative Republican. But he sees moving toward renewable energy, as just making sense.

Now that we knew Former Vice-President Gore was coming we could only expect greater commitment to tackling the causes and the effects of climate change couldn’t we? Overnight, we created the ‘Sheffield is my Planet’ campaign with our excellent creative minds at Diva Creative who had expertise in social marketing and behaviour change activity and a wonderful exhibition was curated where the City’s most innovative companies grouped to showcase their products and services on the day Gore was in town. We achieved more in those 5-6 weeks than we could possibly have imagined. The fear of not being seen to be committed was motivation enough.

Quite simply, we’d accelerated our commitment to a city-wide approach to climate change because of this one man agreeing to speak to us. Nobody wanted to appear uncommitted and there was a certain amount of jockeying for prominence. I remember Tom Riordan, then CEO of Yorkshire Forward the now defunct regional development agency, launching Carbon Action Yorkshire there and then in a room full of MPs, businesses leaders, academics, influencers, movers and shakers.

10 years on and it’s fair to say the City of Sheffield’s commitment to this agenda has both waxed and waned. It’s currently in an inter-waxing period. Whilst the climate continues to warm, the commitment to action appears to have cooled. The City Council has been heavily criticised for not following through on its climate promises and continues to create headlines for its tree felling / replacement programme. However, there are rays of light in amongst this that should encourage us. Since Gore’s visit to the City we’re no longer debating the existence of a changing climate. There are always dissenting voices but, on the whole, the science is accepted and the focus is on what is needed.

Of course, the City had a big wakeup call later in 2007 when one of those intense rainfall storms hit the city in June 2007 and flooded much of the City, with fatalities. That, plus Gore, had brought about a focus on climate resilience and adaptation that hadn’t captured the imagination of councillors til then.

On Friday I watched the live feed Q&A session broadcast to 340 cinema theatres across the UK where Gore addressed questions from the excellent, informed host and the UK-wide audience. He remained compelling, engaging and effective in portraying expert knowledge and insight, countless examples of why we must tackle both the causes and the effects of climate change and he warmed the audience up for the latest film, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ which followed immediate after.

DHIRkxMXgAE-s80The sequel is different to the first film – it is much more biographical and focuses on how Gore became the great climate change communicator and what he has been doing with his charities to build awareness and train future climate change leaders around the world.

Many of the predictions in Gore’s first film have come true. Those who described his predictions as ‘a terrible exaggeration’ are faced with the facts that the effects of climate change are happening. The intensity of storms, the melting of glaciers and ice caps and the rising global temperatures have come to bear. Despite that, the film tries to focus on the positive solutions already being implemented and the political commitments made in Paris. The discourse on climate change has, largely, shifted again from ‘is it real?’ to ‘what can we do?’ to ‘Can we do this?’.

But in the final few months before release President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris deal. Whatever positivity was embedded in the film is tarnished, undermined and obliterated by the approach Donald Trump has taken. The United States of America’s President is the cause of much head shaking by Gore.

There’s a great interview with Al Gore in The Conversation by Prof Mark Maslin of UCL. He says I was struck in the middle of your film by a profound statement: “To fix the climate crisis we need to fix democracy”. And then the film moved on to another topic. How do you think we can fix our democracies now in the 21st century?”

Gore replied “Well, big money has hacked our democracy even before Putin did. And it accompanied the transition from the printing press to television, when all of a sudden candidates – especially in the US – were made to feel they have to spend all their time begging rich people and special interests for money so they can buy more TV ads and their opponents.

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And that’s really given an enormous unhealthy and toxic degree of influence to lobbyists and special interests. Now just as television replaced the printing press, internet-based media are beginning to displace television and once again open up the doorways to the public forum for individuals who can use knowledge and the best available evidence.

If you believe in democracy as I do and if you believe in harvesting the wisdom of crowds, then the interaction of free people exchanging the best available evidence of what’s more likely to be true than not will once again push us toward a government of by and for the people. One quick example. Last year the Bernie Sanders campaign – regardless of what you might think about his agenda – proved that it is now possible on the internet to run a very credible nationwide campaign without taking any money from lobbyists and special interests or billionaires. Instead, you can raise money in small amounts from individuals on the internet and then be accountable to them and not have to worry about being accountable to the big donors.

Gore has made it his mission to build a following of trained climate change communicators to share his commitment and to learn how apartheid, slavery and civil rights movements can be repeated – but this time to build consensus in saving humankind from itself. Their task was tough in 2006 but they made progress. If democracy needs to be fixed first then maybe the uprising needs to focus elsewhere because just when it looked a little more positive, it was Trumped.

The film is released UK wide on Friday 18th August 2017. I would urge you to see it. I would urge you to #BeInconvenient

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Gove’s Environmental Credentials Called into Question

It’s not unreasonable to expect any incoming Secretary of State to require in depth briefings on a new role. Any MP who is elevated to a position of authority within one of Whitehall’s departments would expect their leading civil servants to sit down with them and help them get up to speed with the current issues, the policies they’ve been working on and to point out any difficulties and issues there might be. This kind of thing happens in local elections, general elections, European elections. When you’re the new supremo you want the support of the people who will be working with you.

Bear in mind then that Michael Gove MP has a track record of opposing many policies (as detailed in today’s edition of The Independent) here in the UK. He wont have had the same in depth briefings as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs on matters pertaining to the environment, climate change, farming and fisheries when he was SoS for Education … but … whilst schools and education are often a matter of policy and funding (and can be extremely emotive), ‘the environment’ is loaded withMichael Gove science, evidence and policy is founded on that. He has systematically opposed reams of legislation designed to protect, enhance and safeguard our local, national and global environments. He has chosen to reject science (provided by experts) in order to further the aims of those who have persuaded him that setting carbon targets is not a good idea. He even voted to apply the Climate Change Levy tax to electricity generated from renewable sources.

Pity, then, the civil servants in one of Government’s weakest departments, where after cut after cut the one thing they needed was strong leadership and they got Gove. Imagine briefing the man who not only failed to support your policies but actively condemned them.

At a local level I have briefed consecutive Cabinet members in the city council in Sheffield. They may not have had the education of Gove (he attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford), but they each approached the role with an open mind willing to listen to BRITAIN-POLITICS-CONSERVATIVESthe officers who were professional with expertise and experience. I hope Gove is big enough to be open minded, to ask for advice and to seek expertise. If he does he has the chance to deliver the UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. If he doesn’t, we might just end up no better off than the USA under Trump when it comes to climate change.

 

Derby and Nottingham to work together

Last year I wrote a blog outlining the Nottingham/Derby (or should that be Derby/Nottingham?) metro strategy. Following a consultation, a strategy with 4 key themes -Metro Enterprise, Metro Talent, Connected Metro and Metro Living – has been drafted and recognises that ” … if we are to fully achieve the ambitions set out within the strategy, a wider group of stakeholders will need to work together – many of these have indicated a commitment to be involved through the consultation, and key relationships are being strengthened.”

Nottingham City Council identified that “Developing a joint Metro Strategy with Derby can improve the opportunities for local people by helping to bring more investment and jobs to the area … and … with 40,000 people regularly travelling between the two cities, transport is clearly one area we’re keen to focus on. Developing more integrated links and realising the full potential of the planned HS2 station at Toton will be a key element of the strategy.”

One of the early measures will allow residents of both Derby and Nottingham to share services – such as leisure facilities and libraries – using a ‘Metro card’. The card will mean people in Nottingham could use facilities such as the £27 million Derby Arena velodrome and also get discounts in shops in both cities. But, it’s not going to be launched for a year or so …

The announcement comes as the cities launch their ‘Metro Strategy’, which will involve working together, including possibly combining backroom IT services between the city councils.

Collaboration and co-operation is borne out of both necessity and opportunity. ‘Austerity’ measures mean that doing things once and in the interests of both parties can mean reduced costs and economies of scale. Taking unnecessary costs out of the investments needed to make both cities more attractive, investment-ready as well as providing the basic services citizens need can only be a good thing.

The bigger picture, of course, is that the Metro Strategy provides a shared vision for the opportunities, quality of life and sustainability of both cities and their hinterland. Compared to global cities (and even Birmingham) the combined might of Nottingham and Derby is still relatively small but they can be nimble, agile and reinvent themselves as cities of the 21st Century together rather than competing for the same limited resources out there.

Renaissance of City Leadership

The UK Green Building Council hosted a conference to explore leadership in creating sustainable cities at The Studio, on the side of the river Aire in Leeds. Chaired by CEO, Julie Hirigoyen, and featuring a good number of respected commentators and contributors, it was a forum full of city leaders from Salford, Oxford, Nottingham, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Cities, with increasing urbanisation worldwide, are certainly central to sustainability. It was broadly acnkowledged that demand for and creation of innovation were particular to cities. To deliver it will take a new role for cities here in the UK and new leadership. In times of austerity it was recognised that city councils no longer have the same capacity or capability as they once did.

Fundamental to the debate was the challenging question – “How can policy makers and the private sector create more sustainable places to live and work?” and “Who are the new leaders?” because there was a clear recognition it’s not going to be just city councillors, nor officers. Indeed, the need for other players, including the private sector, universities and other public bodies was unanimously supported.

Supported by Arup, Genr8, British Land and Leeds City Council it felt like a return to a similar event 8 or 9 years ago when the Core Cities and Cabe ran a sustainable cities programme bringing together the 8 core cities outside London (Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield)  where similar questions with, perhaps, similar answers were positioned, challenged and agreed. Key learning points then, and now, are that we really need strong leadership taking a ‘whole place, whole system’ approach that takes an outcome led approach, doesn’t stifle creativity and innovation and trusts in collaboration in terms of partners and operating at a range of scales – increasingly at a city region and city region+ scale.

Key learning points:

a) redefine leadership and leaders – there’s a role for wider stakeholders.

b) Standards are important – operating across the UK, e.g. building regulations, EV charging points.

c) There’s still a need for some up-front enabling works for development

d) The social value in procurement should be more credibly used to demonstrate wider benefits

e) Devolution is a process not an outcome

Delivering housing, climate change targets, jobs and improving health and wellbeing is increasingly going to sit with cities. They have the governance, the scale and the demand. How they create the capacity and the capability to set the vision, the outcomes they are looking for the confidence is a challenge we hope the new industrial strategy will deliver.

Striding In. Enactus.

In April 2015 I wrote about Enactus being the best kept secret in higher education. You can read that blog here. In that blog I has just returned from the Enactus National Finals in London and was totally struck by the sheer enthusiasm, innovation, sporting and supportive community that has been nurtured by the Enactus UK team and the participating universities.

I continue to be struck by the impact Enactus has locally and across the globe, so I was delighted that Andy Stride, Enactus Nottingham’s current President, was recognised for his enormous contribution at last night’s Green Gown Awards in Leicester.

Andy has developed over 14 different social enterprises tackling both local and global issues linking to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. This includes social enterprises working in renewable energy, access to clean water and sanitation, developing sustainable eco-friendly housing, food waste reduction, access to better education, developing improved agricultural practices and promoting the circular economy.

Andy leads a team of 167 students who have the opportunity to learn about social enterprise and develop their skills in sustainable business. This year, Andy and his team won the Enactus UK National Competition and represented the UK in the Enactus World Cup 2016 in Toronto earlier this yer as well as showcasing the importance of sustainability in business to the House of Lords.

We’ve worked closely with Andy at The University of Nottingham to provide premises, some business ideas and the rest is very much down to him and his fantastically impressive team. For over a year now they’ve run our university-wide cycle hire scheme and set up  a fantastic furniture recycling project that’s having a really positive impact in the city of Nottingham.

‘Radical’ flood management model can deliver holistic strategy

The report illustrates the benefits of upland management, including the Moors for the Future and Slow the Flow projects. Both demonstrate the importance of using upland management to absorb, slow and release water at a rate that downstream capacity can cope with. It feels very much like a return to pre-agricultural revolution times.

In a sense, this feels like the reversal of the fragmentation created by the formation of the Environment Agency (and the NRA) and tackling the issue that has been so obvious to us all. A holistic view of flood risks, catchment management and protection can only happen if there is more joined-up thinking.

England has seen more frequent and more hard-hitting floods in recent years. They’ve been uncompromising in where they’ve hit and have impacted on the vulnerable, the wealthy and the marginalised. Many major rivers across England have experienced flooding that has resulted in homes being lost, badly damaged and destroyed and in some cases people have lost their lives. Now MPs are calling for an overhaul of flood management to tackle the rising risk to communities from climate change.

Publishing the Future flood prevention report, the environment, food and rural affairs committee identified the lack of a robust national strategy and a short-term a focus to be obstacles to improving flood prevention. It follows the environmental audit committee’s criticism of the government for responding to specific flood events reactively, rather than proactively developing plans adequate to respond to rising flood risk.

The report identifies governance problems where there is ‘poor clarity’ in roles and responsibilities for flood management and a ‘lack of transparency and accountability’ in national decision making not helped by ‘a proliferation’ of flood risk management bodies. The general lack of funding is acknowledged and, where it is available, is known to be complex and unwieldy.
The report illustrates the benefits of upland management, including the Moors for the Future and Slow the Flow projects. Both demonstrate the importance of using upland management to absorb, slow and release water at a rate that downstream capacity can cope with. It feels very much like a return to pre-agricultural revolution times.

You can read the full article published in the EJ here:

Read my earlier blog on Sheffield’s local flood protection consultation here.
To be frank – there are no blue polices for blue space can be read here.

 

 

Take the City to the Capital

Yesterday’s occupation of the Houses of Parliament by representatives of the city of Nottingham were a lesson in relationship building. The City created a wonderfully diverse programme to showcase the city’s strengths, ideas, talent and assets to policy makers and decision takers – with an emphasis on ‘can do’ and a sense of fun (not least the noble way in which our University’s academics declined to win the University Challenge event Chaired by the Speaker of the House).

It wasn’t just fun though. There were some key messages that are worth repeating here:

a) There is an ever-strengthening role for universities to provide intellectual, asset and cultural offerings to their respective cities. Nottingham showcased it’s contributions in theatre, history, art, sport, science and engineering.

b) The scale of universities means they can be engines of economic success and growth when they work in partnership with their city government and across their wider economic partnership areas, such as D2N2. I blogged on this previously here.

c) Wider city objectives that embrace genuine sustainability and a low carbon future require their largest and most influential organisations to support them and help show them the way. I was impressed by the number of times I heard ‘low carbon’ mentioned. whilst other cities have shied away from this ambition and put it in the ‘too difficult’ box Nottingham’s leaders have made it a priority. They see the opportunity it provides.

img_5625The morning after ‘Nottingham in Parliament’ and you could ask, ‘well, what’s changed?’

Without doubt, Parliament knows Nottingham was there. You couldn’t turn a corner without the famous Nottingham Green being there. Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham, school children, gold medallists, sporting heroes, business leaders, Knights of the Realm, academics all contributed to the day. They built new relationships, they showcased what the city has to offer and they made Nottingham feel that bit closer to Parliament than maybe it has in the past.

More coverage in the Nottingham Post; the liveblog of the Day from the BBC, Chris Leslie MP’s video of the day; this video from The University and our FlickR page which has some images of events on the day, the journey down  and the Home of Sport activities