I recently facilitated a workshop with businesses and local government leaders from Greater Manchester to discuss how we can accelerate the green transition.
We had a lively debate, and it was great to see just how committed everyone is to tackling the climate crisis. There was a real sense of pride in what the city has done so far, and a feeling that Greater Manchester has gone further with its planning than most.
But there was also recognition that there’s still lots to do and a need to go further and faster. In particular, there are still big questions around how we move from planning to implementation, and how we can join up all our efforts into a coherent strategy and action plan.
The consensus was that we need to make sure we build back fairer. The vision can’t just be one of a greener Manchester, it needs to be of a more ‘just’ and prosperous Manchester too – of creating a better city to live in for all.
So, just how do we do that? Here are my three key takeaways from the workshop.
We need granular, joined-up action plans
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s 5-Year Environment Plan sets out the city and region’s aim to be carbon neutral by 2038 and the urgent actions that will need to be taken.
What’s become clear is just how granular the implementation plans need to be. Yes, we need a vision and targets. But to make a difference, we need detailed plans that set out how we’re going to retrofit housing and how we’re going to reduce waste - those plans can’t live in isolation. We need to understand their impact on other green initiatives, on social equality and on the local economy.
There was a strong call for greater local autonomy to make implementation possible. Local leaders accept that central government should set the direction, but they want the flexibility to spend funding how and where it’s needed – and recycle any financial gains from the transition back into other local climate change mitigation activities.
It’s time to break the norms on public-private collaboration
The complexity, and the need for a multitude of granular plans, means the green transition can’t be led by just one organisation. We need smarter collaboration. We need to accept we’re in a state of emergency and work together to break the norms. If we don’t, we won’t succeed.
It was hugely encouraging then to hear about all the close connections that have already been built among the participants on our Greater Manchester workshop. We also heard that the Combined Authority is exploring new funding and contracting models to create more collegiate, rather than contractual, relationships with private sector partners.
Innovation is critical
Innovation will be critical if Greater Manchester is going to hit the target to be carbon neutral by 2038. To help with this, Greater Manchester has established an innovation agency with the private sector and local universities to drive tech innovation and commercialisation.
But this isn’t just about technology. We need to make behavioural changes too, which may be more difficult for the poorer sections of the city’s populace. There was talk of how we could socialise the cost of the transition, so that everybody pays what they can afford.
We also need to innovate around green financing, with many investors still looking at how they can de-risk their investments.
Greater Manchester: A world leader
Climate change is a huge risk, but it also presents Greater Manchester with an opportunity. If we can build on progress so far, Greater Manchester will be somewhere that cities around the world will look to as a green leader. And that will put the city and region in the driving seat when it comes to attracting top talent and businesses to work and live here.
I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone who took part in our Greater Manchester workshop. It was one of five that took place across the UK, bringing together key local influencers to have their voice on how we can drive the green transition in our towns and cities.
You can find out what they had to say in our new report: Voices of Place: The Green City.