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.

A Strategic Investment Framework for Liverpool: A Comment From a Low Carbon Perspective

Post by Alex Nurse and Pete North

Yesterday, Liverpool Vision revealed a Strategic Investment Framework (SIF), which sets out Liverpool’s vision for the city centre for the next 15 years. The video above, produced by Liverpool Vision, outlines the main points of the SIF.

The city centre is identified in the report as being the engine for the city’s economic growth, the place of work for 100,000 people (45% of Liverpool’s jobs) and home to 32,000 people.  This is as well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and playing host to numerous historic buildings and civic spaces.   Having been revitalised through the 2008 European Capital of Culture celebrations, Liverpool now sets out its’ vision for how this process can continue.

Here, we seek to provide a short comment on how the Strategic Investment Framework meets the needs of a Low Carbon Liverpool, and where the city can strive for even greater improvements.

In particular we are pleased by the fact that low carbon is one of the four ‘core principles’ behind the strategy:

  • ‘Meeting our carbon reductions to make Liverpool a green city, whilst continuing to grow the economy, particularly around the environmental technology sector, putting climate change and renewable energy at its heart’ 

One of the other core principles is the desire to be ‘economically distinctive’.  We feel seeking out low carbon opportunities throughout the city and thus becoming an exemplar space for low carbon best practice is one way that Liverpool can achieve this aim.

Going further, within the report there are several proposals which we particularly welcome:

  • The plan to create ‘St George’s Plaza’:  A signature space for the city that creates a pedestrianised area, and revisits some of the traffic solutions in the area, including Lime Street, the Queens Square Bus Station and Hunter Street.
  • The acknowledgement that environmental sustainability is a key factor in attracting investors/filling office space. This is coupled with the development of energy and heat plans, as well as energy efficient retrofitting of city centre buildings to encourage businesses to invest in city centre office space.
  • The removal of the Hunter Street flyovers, and improved access for pedestrians, which could lead to street spaces that could rival La Ramblas in Barcelona.
  • The creation of a low carbon circular bus service that links the University areas with the City Centre.
  • The prioritisation of walking and cycling over vehicular activity across the majority of civic spaces across the city centre including Dale Street, Lime Street and the Strand.  The aim of being able to move – via walking or cycling – between the docks and Lime Street being the marker of success.
  • The extension of Liverpool’s Green Infrastructure Network into the city centre, with an increased number of trees.  This will also help to reduce the urban ‘heat sink’ effect.
  • Revitalising some of the city centre’s urban parks including St John’s Gardens and St James’ Gardens, bringing them into greater use.

However there are several aspects of the SIF, where we feel the city could go further in its ambition.  In particular, the Smart City ambitions, which currently focus on heat and energy are key issues for the city.  Yet the decision to postpone work on waste, health, transport and commerce until heat and energy work is complete risks leaving Liverpool behind competitor cities, both at home and internationally.  Instead, we encourage the city to adopt a whole world view of a smart city ensuring that Liverpool pushes itself to be a leading Low Carbon City and stays there.

In all, we particularly welcome the Strategic Investment Framework for the City Centre and recognise it as an excellent step towards creating a low carbon city.   We also look forward to working with the city to explore how this work can be expanded outwards towards the city as a whole, and these ambitions can benefit the city’s residents.

Visiting the 2012 European Green Capital: Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

Posted by Alex Nurse, Research Assistant, Low Carbon Liverpool project.

Last week, as part of the Low Carbon Liverpool research project, I visited Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.  Vitoria is the capital of the Basque Country, located some 40km south of Bilbao and this year has the honour of hosting the European Green Capital award. Image  The Green Capital award is given to cities who have demonstrated an ability to lead on environmental issues whilst showing a commitment to continuing this development – the award has previously been held by Stockholm and Hamburg.

I attended an event entitled ‘Greening European Cities’: a collective of NGOs with an interest in the environmental issues who meet each year in the respective European Green Capital.  We heard from representatives of Vitoria-Gasteiz and had several opportunities to explore the city.

What shone through was that Vitoria-Gasteiz is a very well planned, compact city.  For 30 years planners have emphasised the need for good transport links, coupled with easy access to amenities.  By way of illustrating this, almost all of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s 240,000 residents live within 300m of key amenities (including shops, schools and hospitals). Image However the most striking point is the fact that a resident living on the very edge of Vitoria-Gasteiz has to travel only 3km to reach the city centre (a 40 minute walk, 10 minute cycle, or 5 minutes by one of Vitoria-Gasteiz’s trams or buses).  This would be the equivalent of the edge of Liverpool being located in Sefton Park.

However, after visiting the town centre, and speaking to residents it became evident that Vitoria-Gasteiz was a city that was struggling to reconcile the commitments that were made to the Green Capital year with the financial downturn which has enveloped Spain in recent times.  Although the reasons why the city won were evident, and logos in store fronts indicated a wealth of citizen support and pride, there was little by way of celebrating or engaging with the visiting public.  This could lead to Vitoria-Gasteiz being dubbed ‘The Austerity Green Capital’.

Nonetheless, I think Vitoria-Gasteiz has some key lessons to those who wish to study the city and to develop low carbon futures.  The central role of the citizen, effective multi-modal public transport and the ease of access to amenities could be held up as a model for how to develop future cities even if the financial downturn has prevented Vitoria-Gasteiz from celebrating its time in the spotlight as much as they might have liked.

Liverpool moves ahead on the low carbon agenda

Post by Dr. Pete North

I have been working for some time now with partners to advance the city’s transition to a low carbon economy.  The city struggled in the 1980s under mass unemployment and social unrest when dock employment declined, manufacturing was decimated and jets replaced liners.  Its year as Capital of Culture, and the revitalisation of the city centre showed that Liverpool had changed its image, although entrenched problems remain in the North of the city.

The ESRC funded Low Carbon Liverpool project has been examining how Liverpool can ensure its future prosperity while also reducing its carbon footprint, as it needs to do if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.  It’s great that visitors flock to Liverpool, but if this is means flying in for citybreaks, then perhaps it doesn’t have a future.  It’s great that students from all over come to Liverpool’s universities, but again – can we combine that with reducing our footprint. Are students and other wealth creators more likely to be attracted to a clean, green Liverpool than one choked with traffic?

On the 13th September the transition takes a major step forward as Low Carbon Liverpool becomes a formal part of the new Liverpool mayors policy making infrastructure, charged to develop the agenda further for the city.  Low Carbon Liverpool will be launched as a formal partnership for the city at an event hosted by Councillor Tim Moore, Cabinet Member for Climate Change.  I will outline the agenda for the transition to a low carbon economy, and we will also hear from other cities that have taken major steps forward: Liverpool’s partner city Nantes, and Bristol, recently a finalist for the European Green Capital programme.  The meeting will discuss how Liverpool can become a clean, green, healthy and equal city, perhaps itself a candidate to be Green Capital.