UK citizens are eager to see a ‘green recovery’ from the coronavirus pandemic – a rebuilding based on sustainability and a fair transition to a low-carbon future.
There’s an important role for England’s nine metro mayor city regions: North of Tyne, Tees Valley, West of England, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, London, Sheffield, Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, and Liverpool. But they face a challenging future, with a wide range of urgent demands and funding under threat.
Ashden, a charity showcasing innovative climate solutions, convenes a network of city region sustainability officers. We were delighted to partner with the LGA to host a discussion on the barriers and opportunities ahead.
At first glance, local climate action faces an uphill battle, as the COVID-19 emergency dominates politicians’ attention. In many local authorities, officers working on climate emergency action have been redeployed, and councils face reduced revenue.
Social distancing has halted many energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Public consultation on emerging climate action plans has had to take a different shape – and when energy projects restart, will contractors face a major backlog of work?
“Climate change action can improve health and create jobs”
While concerned by these challenges, city region officers can see short-term opportunities. The lockdown has got people thinking about what makes home a good place – a cosy, well-insulated flat, access to leafy green space, safe streets for walking and cycling, or easy access to local shops. But there’s a short window to act as the pace of life ramps up again.
Some city mayors are already acting; in London and Manchester, measures to make these cities better for active travel are being fast-tracked. There are calls for government to simplify the traffic regulation order process, so roads can be closed more easily.
Lockdown has kept people in their homes, using more energy and facing higher bills. This may be an opportune time to encourage energy retrofits once social-distancing restrictions have been relaxed.
The coronavirus crisis has also shone a spotlight on inequality. Diseases of poverty, including diabetes and respiratory illness, increase the likelihood of death from coronavirus. People in low-paid jobs often can’t work from home and are more exposed to the virus.
But climate change action can improve health and create better jobs. Insulating homes improves respiratory health and more active travel improves physical fitness, increasing resilience to infectious disease. By working together with local health partners, city regions can deliver these wider benefits.
Many city regions have already made clean growth a key part of their local industrial strategies and are establishing programmes to build the right skills. The low-carbon sector is labour-intensive and can offer jobs across the country, so there’s no need to choose between economic recovery and climate change action.
City regions are in a unique position to lobby government for the right policies to launch a green recovery. To create secure jobs, national low-carbon policy must be consistent and long term. If the Government is to achieve its ambition of ‘levelling up’, this should be reflected in devolution to empower local leaders to deliver.
With less than 10 years to avoid catastrophic climate change, sharing best practice is essential. Ashden will use its network of more than 90 inspirational low-carbon initiatives across the UK to help city regions deliver an inclusive green recovery.