By our middle aged guest-columnist from Stockport
I’ve been to quite a few climate conferences in Manchester over the years. Remember the send-off we all gave Ed Miliband before he went off to fight the good fight in Copenhagen at the GMEX in 2009? What about the launch of the report into ‘the economic opportunities presented by low carbon technologies’ at the Town Hall in 2011? We’ve had the all the fringe events at the different party conferences over the years (I’m sure I saw Nick Clegg commit the Lib Dems to phasing out nuclear power to a bemused carbon savvy audience; David Miliband grapple with the existential threat of climate change, just before walking out of politics and various Tories who also ‘got it’ and at least seemed to enjoy their conferences much more than their opposite numbers).
This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Who else was at the launch of the North West’s Climate Change Impacts and Adaption Strategy launched by the North West Regional Assembly back in 1998 at Manchester Airport (yes really, and no the demise of the NWRA hasn’t affected my life adversely either)? That last one at least didn’t promise to change anything, rather it had the honesty of saying ‘this is what we face’ albeit the picture was much less bleak back then.
Many of the more recent ones have, of course, told us how Manchester will lead the way in tackling the greatest threat we face, launching a new strategy, pledge scheme, study or whatever. Casting my mind back is it fair to say that ‘Manchester is my Planet’ was the worst of the lot? [Probably: ed].
I didn’t make it along to the bash last week. This wasn’t actually intentional (honestly, I’m not trying to be cool), rather I don’t work in the city any more, I’m not connected to the public infrastructure that does these things and I didn’t know it was going on. I just live here. I genuinely hope that the latest effort delivers more than the others, I wish everyone involved well, and I don’t have a problem with conferences per se (you can always go for a drink after). The worry I have is that when I drive ‘round Manchester, fly out Manchester Airport or shop at the Trafford Centre I’m struggling to see what this great city has actually done to claim any leadership credentials. The UK has made great strides on carbon reduction in the last two decades driven by renewables and energy efficiency (the latter being a fortuitous accident centred around LED lighting and industrial decline but never mind).
But, I have to ask, what has Manchester done to stick its neck out? We turned down the opportunity of a congestion charge a decade ago; anyone trying to develop renewables faces a hostile local authority and while talking a good talk on climate we continue to build things like Airport City. Nothing like an Amazon Fulfilment Centre on a greenfield site is there? We can talk as much as we like about the potential of green technologies but this really is where it’s at right now if you’re one of the big boys in the Town Hall.
I’m not saying that there aren’t any good people working hard to make a difference right now – GM Community Renewables actually do things, Emerge Recycling brings people back into employment, tackles food waste and feeds the needy, Peel Holdings (funny bed fellow with the other two I admit) builds wind farms. The worries I have are: will these people even have noticed Andy Burnham’s sudden interest in climate change and what ‘bad stuff’ are we actually going to stop doing under the new plan?