The election might seem a long time ago now, but the Tory policy on climate change hasn’t changed. We don’t have to wait another five years for action on this by government here on Merseyside though, as Ed Gommon, founder of Zero Carbon Liverpool explains, the North can be a powerhouse for change by implementing the Green New Deal right now.
After a lost decade, following the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, we now enter the “last chance” decade. The Paris Agreement in 2015 finally recognised the scientific consensus that the only viable future is a net-zero carbon future. Global carbon emissions must hit this target by 2050 if we have any chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. The neo-liberal elite, hegemonic for the last 40 years, have delayed the necessary actions to counter climate change, as they are at odds with the current distribution of power and wealth. To preserve the status quo, they are willing see the earth burn and the poor of the global south suffer and die, rather than cede their privilege and wealth. They have delayed action for at least two decades – before Copenhagen – since Kyoto in 1997.
The Labour Party’s 2019 Election Manifesto had the climate emergency, and the response to it: a Green New Deal, at its heart – a bold, transformative vision of the policies needed for the UK to transition to net-zero by 2030, supported and financed by the state. But Labour lost. We now have five years of Tory misrule ahead of us, and the record of the last thirty years shows that we can expect little to nothing on the climate emergency from the Tory state.
Looking to where Labour does have some power and influence, we find the great Northern cities: Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull. Cities run by Labour councils with strong party membership. It is on these cities that we must focus our attention and place hope. We need a Northern alliance, working together in partnership, sharing best practice and resources to develop and implement as much of the Green New Deal as possible. The climate emergency is an urban problem; 70% of emissions come from energy and resource consumption associated with cities1. We are increasingly an urban species and that trend is growing. Cities are the front line of the climate emergency.
We know what we must do, and we have known for more than a decade. Zero Carbon Britain have been producing reports since 2007, demonstrating that we have the technology we need to transition to net-zero whilst improving our quality of life. Power-down: massively reduce energy demand and resource consumption (by around 60%); power-up: meet the remaining energy demand and consumption needs from renewable energy sources and zero waste systems?
Why the question mark?
It is up to us, the citizens of the Northern cities, to work with our elected representatives to find a way of delivering Green New Deals in our cities and wider regions. There are three challenges: technical – what we must do to power-down and power-up in housing, transport, energy and waste; financial – how we will pay for it; democratic – the unprecedented rate and scale of change cannot be imposed on people; it can only come about with mass participation of citizens, civic society, the third sector, the public sector, academia and business.
It won’t be easy, there are more cuts on the way. Our councils, starved of funding for a decade, will once again be trying to do more with less. There will be the maddening conflict of dealing with the poverty caused by austerity whilst simultaneously trying to allocate resources to developing and implementing ambitious solutions to the Climate Emergency, and all against the backdrop of the fallout from the current Covid-19 crisis.
But this decade is our last chance. We cannot fail. The passion, the civic pride, the expertise and ingenuity exist in the cities of the North. We need our civic institutions to become facilitators and enablers of the transition. This means empowering the citizens and creating spaces, processes and structures that give everyone the opportunity to actively participate in co-creating the actions we need to get to net-zero. There are some actions the Combined Authority and local authorities could take immediately. Firstly: adopt a scientifically robust carbon budget based on the Paris Agreement targets. Luckily, a tool already exists that can calculate this. The Tyndall Centre’s tool reveals that the City Region has a carbon budget of 38.7 million tonnes (MtCo₂) and that we should aim to reach our net-zero target by no later than 20432. Next: the newly initiated City Region Climate Partnership should look to create climate forums or citizens’ assemblies (focused on the climate emergency) in each local authority area and engage with as wide a cross section of people as possible. We need to develop a plan of how we get from here to net-zero by 2043, remaining within our budget, quickly. We must begin implementing that strategy by the end of 2020.
There is no time to waste. There are great examples to follow from around the UK – even as close as our Manchester neighbours – Europe and the world. These can be adapted to work here. A zero-carbon socialist utopia is waiting to be called into being in Liverpool (if you close your eyes you can see it, feel it). This is the Pool of Life, let us create that future together.
Ed Gommon founded Zero Carbon Liverpool and is climate activist with Merseyside Labour for a Green New Deal