MCFly co-editor Arwa Aburawa travels all the way to Brussels* and sees parliamentarians decide that European states must now take account of the “sub-national context” when measuring their greenhouse gas emissions. What does this mean for Manchester? Read on…
Manchester City Council has been struggling to keep its promises to monitor its greenhouse gases. For example the annual carbon budget report, which would help make sure the council is on the right track to meet its ambitious targets, failed to appear on the agenda of the July meeting of the City Council’s Executive. The Council’s “Environmental Advisory Panel” has met only once all year, and the Greater Manchester Climate Strategy Implementation Plan is delayed again. So, where does the European Union come in?
Well, as you are probably aware the Kyoto Protocol and various agreements at Cancun and Durban have helped set binding carbon targets for the UK and most member states of the EU. To help monitor their progress, a ‘monitoring mechanism’ was established. However, there are two major problems with the monitoring mechanism: the reporting isn’t transparent or consistent enough between nations, and it is also too focused on the national level to be useful regionally.
The local context is missing and that is a real problem. Councillor Neil Swannick** developed a proposal that has been put to the European Committee of Regions on ‘monitoring and reporting greenhouse gases’. As Seb Carney, a researcher at the University of Manchester and the expert who helped put forward the proposal with Councillor Swannick, explains: “It all very well saying how you’re going to cut your carbon but it’s vital, in my view, to say where you are going to do it and over what time-frame. So the amendment adopted by the CoR of adding ‘spatially resolved’ into the wording of the plans [low carbon development plans/monitoring mechanism] means that there can be greater input from the cities and regions to national plans, as well as guidance to them on implementation. This ‘place’ specification provides greater opportunities for monitoring progress on mitigation, but more importantly delivering it.”
The proposal, presented on Thursday July 19th, was passed at the European Committee of Regions with unanimous support. So, if this is subsequently passed at European Parliament European states would legally have to factor in the sub-national context when looking at their monitor mechanisms/low carbon development plans. But what does it mean for Manchester?
Well, it means that soon there could be a free, comparable and useful tool for Manchester to monitor its carbon and see how it compares with other European cities. It could also help the national government see what city-specific targets they need to set to make sure that they reach their national targets overall. “If the amendments are adopted by Europe it will provide more power and understanding to cities and regions in Europe about what they need to do, and by when, to reduce their emissions than they currently have,” says Carney, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban and Regional Ecology (CURE) at Manchester University. “It’s about giving more power and understanding to cities, regions and other stakeholders to perform their own analysis to see how they can best play their part in delivering National and European targets in potentially a more cohesive way.”
Councillor Swannick added that monitoring and reporting of carbon is costly so offering these mechanisms freely and openly means that cities can adopt them without using up their limited resources. In fact, there isn’t a formalised way of measuring carbon internationally or nationally so having a mechanism that is embraced by Manchester’s ten councils would be great. If, nothing else, it would help settle the ongoing ‘greenest city/country/council’ titles people keep awarding themselves and let us know how well/badly Manchester compares to other European cities.
The only downside to this focus on monitoring and measuring carbon is that it can distract from taking real action. The data we have is usually enough to tell us we need to take pretty drastic action. Now. The longer we wait for the ‘situation report’ on carbon, the more emissions we release. Saying that, having a way to measure how close/far we are from our targets is useful. We just need to make sure that the balance between measuring carbon and taking action is more heavily weighed towards the latter in future.
:: Photo via © Comité des Régions / Wim Daneels.
* A separate blog post recounting the travails of low-carbon travel to and from the Brussels event will appear on this website shortly.
** Conflict of Interest Disclaimer: The trip to Brussels came about via an invite from Cllr Neil Swannick. Travel and accommodation expenses were paid by the EU (and maybe, in part, by MCFly. It’s a long story).