Can Cities Solve Global Problems? A Point of View on Climate Change and the City Deal

A taste of things to come?  Flooding as a result of extreme weather (taken: Darlington, 29th November)

A taste of things to come? Flooding as a result of extreme weather (taken: Darlington, 29th November)

Post by Dr. Alex Nurse

Research by the Global Carbon Project published last week, and reported in the Guardian, indicates that contrary to reducing our total co2 emissions, last year total global emissions rose by 3.1%.  This is coupled with a rise of 2.6% in co2 emissions from industry.  The implications of this for global climate change are severe, with the authors suggesting that dangerous climate change now becoming inevitable.

Top three Countries (% of global co2 emissions)
1. China: 28%
2. USA: 16%
3. India: 7%
Source: Global Carbon Project

This failure to stem global emissions leads to inevitable questions as to whether our world leaders are ‘fit for purpose’, particularly given multiple opportunities to take firm action.  Though the Kyoto protocol was widely welcomed at the time, the 2009 Copenhagen summit aimed at updating them was largely viewed as a failure, with no meaningful targets to arise from it.

In this post I’d like to further the premise that world leaders are no longer fit for purpose to combat global climate change and instead make an alternative suggestion – it is now the turn of the individual city.

In particular, I would like to look at the potential for the City Deal to be one such vehicle that the English cities can use to achieve this leadership.  Introduced in 2012, the City Deal is a fiscal compact between the City (stage one involved the 7 core cities) and Central Government, where each city is given funding to focus on issues that they can define in return for changing their governance models to that of a directly elected Mayor.

Within this, early research by Centre For Cities looked at how each city opted to specialise within its City Deal, with several cities – including Liverpool – choosing Low Carbon as one of its specialist areas.  Now, a report by the Green Alliance has been published which explicitly considers how the city deal is being used to drive low carbon growth.  In it, Liverpool wins particular praise for establishing low carbon manufacturing in the city, particularly through its support for the offshore wind sector.  Liverpool is also one of the cities praised for its focus on sustainable transport.

However, the report makes several suggestions for how cities can further improve their City Deal as a vehicle to improve their low carbon performance, with a particular eye on the upcoming second phase of City Deal, which will involve some of England’s mid-size cities.

In many ways, these recommendations mirror Low Carbon Liverpool’s own recommendations to Liverpool – that low carbon becomes a key driver across all strategic policy documents, in order to demonstrate it is a key economic driver and that, in turn, low carbon becomes embedded in all aspects of city growth, so as to be able create a consistent programme of carbon reduction – not just in the energy sector.

Only time will tell as to whether cities are capable of rising to the challenge that nation states have, thus far, failed to adequately meet.  However, I would suggest that in the City Deal, they have a potentially useful tool – which, on initial impressions, should deliver significant benefits in meeting this objective.


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