The stage is set for more accountability from decision-makers
Public pressure is on with movements such as Fridays for Future or demonstrations by movements such as Extinction Rebellion, leading to many national governments and cities having declared climate emergencies. So, how can we get excited about the obvious? How to avoid that these remain just statements? Indeed, these declarations as well as preparing plans without immediate action could be seen as mere greenwashing.
In the framework of the URBACT Zero Carbon Cities project, seven cities will set up a local carbon budget and a Zero Carbon strategy and action plan by 2022. These action plans will be accompanied by key local pilot projects. As decision makers are held accountable for having declared a climate emergency and for their commitments to initiatives such as the Paris Agreement or the Covenant of Mayors, the current project aims to adopt carbon budgets as a strategic decision-making tool for all local choices.
What is a carbon budget?
A carbon budget is the total amount of CO2 that can be emitted over a specific period of time in order to be compliant with the 2015 Paris Agreement. By signing this Agreement, the states committed to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and if possible below 1.5°C. Thereafter, some states have adopted overall national carbon budgets, but also broken down per sectors such as transport, buildings etc.
At local level, pioneer cities such as Oslo, Vienna or Manchester started using carbon budgets as local policy tools and are developing local strategies to reach climate neutrality. They set up action plans consisting of specific measures to implement the strategy by 2050 or even 2038 for the most striving ones.
In 2019 Manchester decided to become a zero carbon city by 2038. At city level, this means capping total emissions at 15 million tonnes of CO2 between 2018-2100 based on a science-based ‘carbon budget’ in line with the Paris Agreement. Therefore, Manchester needs to halve its emissions between 2018 and 2022 – a 13% reduction every year. Manchester is not only looking at its direct emissions, but also at consumption-based emissions as well as aviation emissions. An annual report is prepared to show whether the city is on track or not.
Reaching these ambitious targets requires the necessary governance structures. Internally, Manchester City Council set up the Manchester City Council Zero Carbon Coordination Group chaired by the deputy chief executive. This group involves different municipal departments via the directors/heads of the respective departments: Planning, Strategic development, Neighbourhoods team (community focused), Legal, Finance, Communications, Housing, Human Resources, Policy, Building estates (municipal buildings).
A climate Change Partnership
However, in Manchester responsibility is allocated to different stakeholders for up to 20% of Manchester’s total CO2 emissions. The City Council has a facilitation and leadership role where they can gather key stakeholders to take joint action. These stakeholders are part of the Manchester Climate Change Partnership composed of public, private, community and academic partners from the faith sector, local property companies, the Manchester City football club, the two local universities, the social housing sector, the climate change youth board, the culture sector etc.
The Climate Change Partnership is part of the Our Manchester Forum, a local governance structure that goes beyond climate change and covers all sectors.
The Zero Carbon Cities project
Manchester is working closely with Frankfurt (Germany), Vilvoorde (Belgium), Zadar (Croatia), Bistrita (Romania), Modena (Italy) and Tartu (Estonia) in the framework of the URBACT Zero Carbon Cities project. They are all Covenant of Mayors Signatories. Bistrita, Zadar, Modena, Vilvoorde and Tartu are currently preparing their sustainable energy and climate action plans with the target of 40% greenhouse gas-reduction by 2030. In Frankfurt, the City Council Assembly adopted in 2012 the goal to supply Frankfurt with 100% renewables by 2050 supported by the “100 % Climate Protection Masterplan” approved by the City Council Assembly in 2015.