Event Report: Transforming Manchester, or “The thin veneer of climate governance”

MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson went to an academic seminar about, well “Transforming Manchester” and came away informed and intrigued.

The first of the two speakers was Dr Jeremy Carter, of the Centre for Urban Regional Ecology and the Ecocities project (yes, the very same one MCFly recently dissed). He explained the “adaptation imperative” for Manchester.

He set the scene with a few observations;

  • there has been a significant acceleration of climate change in recent decades
  • recent impacts are above/beyond the IPCC’s “worst case scenarios”
  • recent emissions have been above the IPCC’s “worst case scenarios”
  • it turns out thresholds for significant impacts have been revised downwards (i.e. it turns out it is going to get worse sooner than we thought)
  • there is little commitment by government, business or society to address this.

So, for example, if five years ago you’d talked about a four degree global average temperature rise in the coming century as a given, you’d have been risking your reputation as a reasonable and serious commentator. Now four degrees is the new normal (as seen in the new website, www.adaptingmanchester.ac.uk), with its strap-line “Four degrees of preparation”

Dr Carter said that for Manchester the main direct impacts would be flooding (especially surface water flooding) heat waves and droughts, with impacts on “critical infrastructure” and health and well-being.

In a subtle rebuke to the relentless framing of climate change as both a threat and an opportunity, he said “the opportunities perspective is quite hard to see when you look closely.” Indeed!

After looking at the advantages and disadvantages for (Greater) Manchester in planning around climate, Dr Carter mentioned the framework of Albert and Kern (2008) (see footnote 1), with cities tackling climate through 1) self-governing 2) governing by enabling, 3) governing by provision or 4) governing by regulation. Manchester is, it seems, governing by enabling. If ever we  at MCFly Towers see any enabling, we will report it, and we ask our reader(s) to keep his/her/their eyes peeled.

He closed with some observations around the difficulty for adaptation versus mitigation – Conceptually the problems included the lack of a clear time-line or endpoint for adaptation.
Practically he cited “institutional inertia, short term political motivations, regulatory structures that facilitate mal-adaptation” and posed a (rhetorical?) question around whether adaptation planning should go further, in recognition of ‘its holistic and cross-cutting agenda’?

Sandwiched between questions of “what is mal-adaptation?” and “what about the free-rider problem?” MCFly asked the following “Looking back 20 years from now, what will we regret having done/not done in the period 2009 to 2014?”
Dr Carter said it would be not drawing up the connections between mitigation, adaptation and transport. The problems can’t be solved individually without solving the others, so the siloed agendas need to be joined up.

Dr Hannah Knox of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC)  (footnote 2) was up next, with a presentation entitled “Green and Digital Manchester: A reflection on two revolutions”
She was at pains to say that it is based on work she is in the middle of doing, so her perspectives and analysis are very provisional.

She started by introducing a work of art that was launched in 2007. UHC, a local art collective, produced a work called “The Thin Veneer of Democracy”.

On a big oak table they had etched a schema of the links between individuals and organisations in Manchester around
Knox pointed out how, in the space of five years, the diagram had become surprisingly dated – institutions are gone, projects renamed, new links formed.

Using her anthropological training, looking at the “cultural expectations” individuals and organisations have, Knox is looking at how Manchester is gearing up (or not) to deal with the “catastrophic forces” of climate change, using the late 90s/early 2000s action around ‘digital Manchester’ as a compare-and-contrast.
Back then (and not much has changed!) the media revolution was to be inspired to move to Manchester because it had all the “right” ingredients – a music scene, ethnic diversity, cheap office space, universities The key trope was “convergence” around technological knowledge, creative flair and managerial ability. The public sector saw itself as trying to get networks going (hosting events, minglers, etc – almost ‘enabling’ you could say). [Much of the same language is used for climate, and Knox’s observations fit neatly with Aidan While et al’s notion of the “sustainability fix.”]

Reiterating that her observations were provisional, Knox said that she is looking at the “cultural politics of climate change” – what is deemed ‘appropriate’ in terms of responses by different actors.
After outlining to the two headlines of the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan (a 41% cut by 2020, and a process of culture change), she turned her attention to the thorny question of carbon footprints. Whose emissions? Counted how? You can either tote up the energy use data, or you can look at the “Total Carbon Footprint” (TCP) (which includes the energy used to create the products that are then imported from ‘abroad’). [Manchester, btw, is committed to moving to a TCP approach – something Dr Knox didn’t mention.]

She touched briefly on the built environment and the way that Housing Associations are becoming important players, and asked where precisely the ‘Manchester collaborations’ will lead.

In the Q and A Professor Kevin Ward asked her whether she’d looked at how policy documents bring some issues forward and silence others [and MCFly thought about George Monbiot’s observation – that we can’t seem go Google – that the policy documents are the policy] and Peter Fell, director of regional and economic affairs at the University of Manchester, highlighted the fact that University of Manchester is a major energy player, in terms of Research and Development.

Footnote 1 Albert and Kern (2008) Governing Climate Change in Cities: Modes of Urban Climate Governance in Multi-level Systems [30 page pdf here]
Footnote 2 Knox is co-organising a panel at CRESC’s annual conference in early September on “Promises of a Green City”

“Transforming Manchester” is a programme within the “cities@manchester” collaboration. You’ll be shocked to learn that  MCFly blogged about the previous event, held in January.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
This entry was posted in academia, Adaptation, Event reports and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Event Report: Transforming Manchester, or “The thin veneer of climate governance”

  1. anne power says:

    I wish I understood all this. Though I’m pretty sure we are way behind being prepared.

  2. agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.

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