Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change 

Two highly respected commentators and influencers in the world of city devolution and governance have come to the fore this week. As the House of Lords finished its work, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Reform, Decentralisation and Devolution (for which the LGA provides the secretariat) launched a ‘far-reaching’ inquiry on devolution and constitutional reform. The inquiry is to be led by Lord Kerslake, the former permanent secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, who told us: “The work, so far, has been encouraging. We’ve had some very good names come forward to join the panel and a willingness of some quite senior people to give evidence as well.

“The feedback that I have had is that this is a positive step and could help move devolution on really in every form.”

Whilst Lord Kerslake is a formidable negotiator and well versed in the politics of cities there is an altogether more tub-thumping and positive, outcome led call to arms from Mayor Bloomberg.

“‘The world’s first Metropolitan Generation is coming of age, and as a result, the world will be shaped increasingly by metropolitan values: industriousness, creativity, entrepreneurialism, and, most important, liberty and diversity. That is a hopeful development for humanity, and an overpowering counterweight to the forces of repression and intolerance that arise out of religious fanaticism and that now pose a grave threat to the security of democratic nations… As those in the Metropolitan Generation assume leadership positions, cities will become not just more culturally significant but also more politically powerful.” 

In particular, Bloomberg cites the challenge of global warming to which cities, in the absence of national and even State governments, must respond.

Climate change calls on societies to act quickly, and cities tend to be more nimble than national governments, which are more likely to be captured or neutralized by special interest groups and which tend to view problems through an ideological, rather than a pragmatic, lens. 

For mayors, reducing carbon pollution is not an economic cost; it is a competitive necessity. Earlier this year, Beijing announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants because any marginal financial benefit they offered was swamped by their net costs, including those of health care and forgone economic investment. Dirty air is a major liability for a city’s business environment.

Urban leadership on climate change has also led to an unprecedented level of cooperation among cities. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, for which I serve as president of the board, has brought together more than 75 cities committed to sharing best practices and spreading proven solutions. The evidence is clear that this networking strategy is working, as many carbon-reduction projects have spread to cities across the globe. For instance, only six C40 cities had bike-sharing programs in 2011. By 2013, 36 had them. As London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, said in 2013, “By sharing best practice through C40—and shamelessly appropriating other cities’ best ideas—we can take action on climate change and improve the quality of life for our residents.”

 

Source: Michael Bloomberg | Why Cities Are the Key to Fighting Climate Change | Foreign Affairs

Source: Lord Kerslake: ‘Immense challenge’ to empower local communities and cities

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District energy in cities – UNEP Report

The development of ‘modern’ district energy (DE) systems is one of the best options, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a new publication: District energy in cities – unlocking the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Launched at the International District Energy Association’s (IDEA’s) annual conference last month, the report calls for the accelerated deployment of DE systems around the world. The full report is available here.

 

The District Energy in Cities Initiative will support national and municipal governments in their efforts to develop, retrofit or scale up district energy systems, with backing from international and financial partners and the private sector. The initiative will bring together cities, academia, technology providers and financial institutions in a joint ambition to build the necessary capacity and transfer of know-how while engaging all stakeholders and reducing emissions. Twinning between cities – matching champion ones with learned ones will be a key component of the new district energy in cities initiative to scale up lessons learned and best practices.

 

19 cities around the world have indicated interest in joining the initiative. In addition to Danfoss, eleven other private sector and industry associations’ partners commit to contribute technical. In addition to UNEP, six intergovernmental and government organisations as well as networks are interested to support the new initiative and to facilitate technological expertise. This new initiative is being co-ordinated by UNEP and Danfoss with lead partners ICLEI and UN-Habitat. A key finding was that LOCAL GOVERNMENTS ARE UNIQUELY POSITIONED TO ADVANCE DISTRICT ENERGY SYSTEMS in their various capacities as planners and regulators, as facilitators of finance, as role models and advocates, and as large consumers of energy and providers of infrastructure and services (e.g., energy, transport, housing, waste collection, and wastewater treatment). This was something I wrote about in previous blogs on this site. See: Waste, Steam and District Heating in Nottingham; Can we be transparent on District Heat Data?; 4th Generation Heat Networks; Cities Take the Lead on District Energy

 

 

 

City transport needs saving from itself

A really good piece on integration of systems and a smart city approach published by The Conversation (7th August 2015) “City transport needs saving from itself – here’s how to do it” by Yvonne Huebner. The piece covers energy, grid lock and smart traffic systems.

The desire for ever greater urbanisation is putting unrealistic demands on existing infrastructure, road and rail networks constrained by geology, topography, climate, land ownership, planning (or lack of it) and the unregulated freedoms afforded to personal mobility. Politically, gridlock (or congestion) is always topical and of great local importance to the economy, health, wellbeing and environment within our cities. Smarter cities with integrated systems of movement en masse have to be part of the solution.

How to protect fast-growing cities from failing

Some insightful points made about the rapid urbanisation of our planet in this great Ted Talk by Robert Muggah.

In his talk “How to protect fast-growing cities from failing” he explains how its the speed at which cities grow that is important. Those with a longer period of gestation which mature more slowly are less likely to experience the traumas of rapid growth. He cites cities in the south hemisphere as being vulnerable in the coming decades.

Realtime, High Res, Open Data of a Changing Planet

This was another of those truly inspirational Ted talks that makes you realise that not everyone is out there to screw the world over. Fantastic stuff from Will Marshall and his colleagues to develop a floatilla of satellites to enable high-res digital photography of the earth in, virtually, real-time. Then to open that up to citizens of the world for their own exploitation and exploration. Watch the 8 min talk here:

Will Marshall: Tiny satellites show us the Earth as it changes in near-real-time | Talk Video | TED.com.

Official – Time to Act on Air Quality in the UK

At last it’s official and there should be no hiding place for the UK in improving its air quality as Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that we now know, better than ever, what the causes of poor air quality are and what is needed to do it. Central to that is political will both at the national and local level. Unfortunately, therein lies the issue. Nationally there is reluctance to tell local authorities what to do and the trend has been to incentivise them to do the right thing through the provision of small pots of money to remedy dirty buses or encourage the uptake of electric vehicle charge points. Locally there has been real fear of appearing anti-car. It has meant local authorities have got themselves into a proper tangle with conflicting policies for regeneration and growth overriding policies to promote air quality.

Whilst the announcement is welcome, how convenient for it to come during Purdah such that no politician has been able to step up and take responsibility for the inaction of the current government or previous governments. Yes, this really has been a failing of both Labour and the Conservative / LibDem coalition. Instead a fairly weak comment from DEFRA A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Air quality has improved significantly in recent years and as this judgement recognises, work is already underway on revised plans (since February 2014) to meet EU targets on NO2 as soon as possible. “It has always been the government’s position to submit these plans before the end of this year. Meeting NO2 limits is a common challenge across Europe with 17 member states exceeding limits.” ClientEarth lawyers recently told a hearing that enforcement by the court was the only “effective remedy” for the UK’s “ongoing breach” of European Union law.

Previous blogs I have suggested what the solution might be. These words were drafted when I worked for the City Council in Sheffield, a city that has a better understanding of its air quality issues than most, but has yet to make any real inroads, despite some great things happening with EVs.

So, what’s the solution and who is charged with delivering it? Well, in truth there is no one solution – it will be a combination of many, many interventions. Every city taking this issue serviously will be looking at a range of options to tackle this problem – and some are easier to introduce than others. To inform those choices, it is important to understand in fine detail the sources of your air quality problem. Locally, we have undertaken an assessment of the vehicles running on Sheffield’s roads and have monitored emissions on key arterial routes to understand the actual (rather than modeled) emissions from passing vehicles. It is helping us to better understand whether all vehicles are equally responsible, or whether we need to target particular fleets (HGVs, buses, taxis, private vehicles, light goods, etc).

Despite all that, the solution is well understood. We need to move away from diesel towards ever increasing cleaner fuels. Increasingly, we see two short-medium term winners – for lighter vehicles electric hybrid and electric plug-in solutions are likely to fair well and, given the improvement in battery technology and capacity the concept of ‘range anxiety’ (that awful fear that you might be left stranded somewhere without a hope of plugging-in) will become a thing of the past. More and more of these lighter vehicles appear to have switched from petrol to diesel in recent years as subsequent UK policy incentivised the uptake of diesel through reduced road tax as a way of reducing carbon emissions. For once, what’s been good for carbon dioxde (and only very marginally) hasn’t been good for local air quality.

For heavier vehicles, electric is less likely to play a significant role for some time to come, the smart money is on the use of gas as an alternative to diesel. Whilst governments across the world are now faced with the prospect of fracking shale gas, provided there is a (more) sustainable solution, such as biogas, this could be a significant player. Of course, the concept of range anxiety still remains, so investment in gas refuelling technology is essential if gas is to see widespread adoption. Networks of gas refuelling stations on key routes on motorways and arterial roads and in depots up and down the country will be needed and public intervention is needed to achieve this.

Across South Yorkshire we have identified a number of key sites for the development of gas refuelling infrastructure and are working with the fleet operators and the industry more generally to begin its development. Over coming weeks and months, I’ll post updates on this important programme of work.

 

Liverpool’s Commission on Environmental Sustainability Reports

I have written about three cities in England setting up ‘commissions’ to review their aspirations, plans and resources to ensure they are sustainable in previous blogs. In January 2015 I wrote about those three commissions and their ‘one’ outcome. “Faced with depleting local authority resources and in times of change – both in terms of political leadership, centralisation vs devolution, economic challenge and environmental change – can ‘commissions’ such as those set up in Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool help shape the future strategic direction of a city’s commitment to environmental sustainability?” 

The key question I asked in that blog was What should be the role of the Council? in those cities. My conclusion was that a strong city council leader will attempt to deliver against all three in both the short, medium and longer term. Perhaps the only chance they have of doing that is in partnership with other public, private and their sector partners with a healthy challenge from academia.

So, it’s encouraging, as Liverpool’s Commission led by Professor Nigel Weatherill, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of Liverpool John Moores University, reported its findings yesterday and made a very clear statement of intent that the Mayor would lead this agenda and facilitate integrated cross-boundary and cross-agency working to bring this to fruition.

I was invited to give evidence to the Commission last year and I am delighted that some of the observations I made have been endorsed and incorporated into the recommendations of the report. In particular, I was pleased to see that the Commission recognises the City of Liverpool is not an island – it has to work collaboratively with its neighbouring authorities and its economic area. The role of the LEP and any city region is crucial to this. It clearly recognises that economic wellbeing is underpinned by an approach that supports and understands the wider sustainability agenda.

Whilst you might expect transport, energy and waste to feature it was pleasing to see emphasis placed on the role of the City’s universities and of education, engagement and behavioural change. These areas are out of the comfort zone of most local authorities, so it is pleasing to see these recommendations published. Of course, we look forward to seeing how cash-constrained local authorities might respond to this challenge.

Finally, it was particularly pleasing to see the link made between a smarter, digital city and one that was sustainable. Almost all of the Core Cities are building links between these two strategic objectives. Notably Bristol, Birmingham and Manchester. I trust Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle will follow suit.

The recommendations are set out below and the full report is available.

1. Environmental issues cut across political boundaries and timescales
1.1 The Mayor should seek a commitment from our local political leaders for a single unified vision for an environmentally sustainable City Region.
1.2 The Mayor should appoint a Director of Environmental Sustainability to report directly to him with resources and authority to be effective.
1.3 The Mayor should work with his counterparts across the North of England and propose a Northern Commission on Environmental Sustainability. The terms of reference should mirror those set for this Commission.

2. Maximise economic benefits from renewable resources
2.1 An integrated sustainable energy strategy must be initiated by the Mayor.
2.2 The Mayor should establish a team to explore options for a Liverpool municipal or city-wide community energy company.
3. An integrated transport system for the future
3.1 A strategy to deliver an integrated, innovative and sustainable transport system must be developed and implemented. This strategy must meet the demands of a growing population in a modern, dynamic and
economically thriving city and address:
• Improved airport, port and city connectivity for vehicles and citizens
• Integrated smart ticketing across all modes of transport
• Easier personal accessibility to some railway stations
• Park and ride facilities
3.2 The Mayor should call on the Combined Authority and Merseytravel to
immediately begin the process to take back control of the bus network.

3.3 The Mayor must take action to ensure Liverpool’s roads are safe for
cyclists with protected cycle lanes and other solutions to increase the
safety of cycling.

4. Education and engagement drives behavioural change
4.1 The Mayor must work in a visible way with community leaders to communicate the vision, debate the issues and task leaders to raise awareness of environmental sustainability within the fabric of the city.

4.2 The Mayor should bring together educational leaders and task them with raising the awareness and understanding of the importance of environmental sustainability and the inevitable changes that are required
in our society.
4.3 The Mayor must task the universities and colleges to develop a joint International Research Centre for Environmentally Sustainable Cities.
4.4 The Mayor should work with health and educational professionals to help raise the profile of the importance of the environment and sustainability to personal wellbeing.
4.5 The Mayor must create a digital vision for Liverpool that can become the platform for social media and other forms to communicate, engage and help deliver a smart, green city.
5. Quality of place matters
5.1 The City Council should adopt a ‘Meanwhile Use’ strategy for plots of available land across the city.
5.2 The Mayor must ensure that local people are involved in the review of Liverpool’s green spaces.
5.3 The Mayor should bring forward a green corridor strategy and as an exemplar should take action to pedestrianise areas within the Knowledge Quarter and monitor impact.
6. Redefine waste as a resource
6.1 The Mayor should request a full review of waste collection to improve recycling rates and improve cleanliness all at a reduced cost.
6.2 The Mayor should call for an integrated waste strategy that transcends political boundaries and recognises waste as a valuable resource to be developed as a matter of great urgency.

7. Securing our future
7.1 The Mayor should request an integrated appraisal of the whole of the infrastructure in Liverpool with consideration given to factors inherent in an historic city.
7.2 The Mayor should work collaboratively with the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and sector leaders to explore innovative inward investment opportunities to support business growth and economic prosperity.
8. The Liverpool of the future
8.1 The Mayor should invite local organisations to continue the discussion and keep the debate alive and should instigate an annual event to benchmark and monitor progress as Liverpool navigates its way towards
environmental sustainability.