MCFly reader Jon Silver on what Manchester – its people and government – could learn from “the South.” But given the wilfully blindness and deafness of the Council’s elected members and bureaucrats, don’t hold your breath…
Learning from Cape Town’s climate change actions
Cape Town is not a city without it’s own problems but the work on climate change over the last decade by the municipality and a growing network of university, NGO, business and civil society partners has helped it to at least begin to create a co-ordinated response to these issues. Whilst Manchester is keen on claiming to be the best city EVER it is clear that the Council could learn a lot from this African city in terms of creating momentum, knowledge and partnership in addressing climate change issues. In what follows I set out some of the things I’ve learned over the last few years in Cape Town that might help MCC to actually take climate change seriously.
Use the universities better
This work to create a knowledge base does not need to be done just by MCC but through close partnership with our academic institutions and the wealth of talent and energy they possess on climate change dynamics. Creating a dedicated Climate Change Think Tank at the African Centre for Cities in partnership with the City of Cape Town led to conversations between municipal and university partners, to a scientific approach to climate change being adopted by the municipality and ongoing support. The work culminated in the publishing of a book that brings together the various strands of debate and knowledge about climate change in the city. In Manchester such a partnership might be a useful way to mobilise new individuals and groups, bring science into the centre of decision making processes at MCC and of course the passionate, extra resources of those at the universities.
Producing a state of energy and climate change report
The release of the State of Energy and Energy Futures produced in Cape Town over the last decade provided both an important understanding of the challenges being faced by the city and a detailed, data anchored analysis that has acted as the basis for the municipality to not just create objectives but assess its progress over the years. Whilst we have the Certain Future strategy, and promises of updates each quarter producing such a publication would show a real commitment by MCC to take this energy and GreenHouse Gas stuff seriously and allow us as residents to hold them to account
Create a dedicated council team working on climate change
Even in an era of austerity and unprecedented cuts having a dedicated team within the council to drive forward the city’s response to climate change is a no brainier if MCC are actually going to take these issues seriously (or at least put up some pretense). The establishment of the Energy and Climate Change branch within the ‘Environmental Resource Management Department’ at the City of Cape Town has meant dedicated and expert staff building up knowledges and momentum and more importantly having some passionate and clever champions within the organisation. This work alongside civil society and keep the pressure up on elected officials . And this does not need to be just municipal staff. Cape Town have drawn in human resources from the university and the NGO sector to help, guide, challenge and support the team as it grows and develops. This dedicated team in Cape Town is in direct contrast to the disbanding of the Environmental Strategy team at MCC.
Innovate using local regulation
Now that Manchester has gained some degree of devolution, however messy and undemocratic it provides a great time to start using local regulation to instigate low carbon pathways. In Cape Town the municipality spent much time developing a solar water heater by-law that sought to improve energy security, reduce electricity use based on carbon heavy production, improve the quality of life for residents and stimulate local economies around solar technology. The bylaw has meant up to 10,000 units being installed each year saving up to 20,000 tonnes of carbon. This bold leadership on solar technology led to its implementation at a national level showing how innovation in cities can influence national policymakers. And its not like Manchester has not helped to shape legislation at a national level through lobbying and devoting its time and resources. Perhaps it is time to do something at a local level with the potential to upscale across the UK that is more worthwhile than restricting the rights of peddlers.
A low carbon city centre
In Cape Town the central economic area is responsible for generating 40% of the city’s carbon output. The City of Cape Town decided to do something about this and has developed a strategy that has provided some important data that has provide a way to engage some of the big landlords and buildings owners to think about retrofitting green roofs, solar technologies and such like. Now we know that Manchester has already engaged the big landlords of the city to fund research around adaptation but it is not clear exactly whether any of the property owners have done anything since.
Take back the power
Whilst a very different context to the UK the role of the City of Cape Town as the main electricity distributor shows the potentials of municipal control over energy. Imagine MCC became the distributor of electricity in the city with all the benefits of keeping our energy money in the city for investment in retrofitting buildings, developing a renewable only purchasing policy and of course being able to better address fuel poverty through subsidisation. Recent calls to nationalise energy, including from within the Party suggest this is not as far fetched as it sounds. Put alongside recent developments in places such as Berlin in which the fight for the re-municipalisation of energy is slowly being won. It’s time to shift our gaze, in this new era of devolution talk beyond the squalid neoliberal present and even the (re) nationalisation of energy to think about models that can equip our city with the tools and resources needed to shape a low carbon future. If elected officials can espouse the benefits of municipal control of the airport then surely it’s time for them to wake up from there carbon slumber and use these skills of persuasion to articulate the need to take back the power.