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Manchester declares a climate emergency: what next?

By Manchester Labour for a Green New Deal:

Manchester City Council declared a climate emergency on Wednesday. In following the lead of Parliament, which made history by being the first in the world to declare an emergency on the 1 May 2019, the council add their name to a growing list of public bodies that are waking up to the scale of the crisis that now faces us.

We commend the councillors who brought this forward, notably Annette Wright and Eve Holt, as well as the tireless work of campaigners who have been pushing this issue – from the youth climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion to Steady State Manchester and the Manchester climate networks.

Yet, if we are to avert catastrophic climate breakdown, declaring the emergency isn’t enough – we need deeds, not words. Now that the state of climate emergency has been acknowledged, Manchester Labour for a Green New Deal are calling on the council to review all existing policy in light of their declaration.

To resolve climate breakdown, it is not enough to tinker at the edges of existing political and economic structures. We can’t leave this to the market; a systematic transformation of the economy and society will require robust action from government. Much of this overhaul of existing systems will require a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn to be achieved, but there are a number of policies that we believe Manchester City Council could begin to implement right away; either at a municipal level, or by pushing for policy change at the level of the city region.

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The climate emergency is an issue that, if we take a holistic approach to governance, is encompassed in all different areas of policy. This push for action on the climate emergency links up various existing campaigns around the city, such as the housing movement and the better buses campaign. A lot of the frameworks are already there, and implementing green policy presents an opportunity to build a cleaner and greener Manchester with enhanced quality of life for its inhabitants – through jobs, more green space, and adequate housing.

The largest single source of CO2 emissions is from energy generation. Rapid transition from fossil fuels toward renewable energy is essential to decarbonisation, and with the cost of renewables at an all-time low, it has never been easier.

We believe that the establishment of a municipal energy company would be the first effective step towards decarbonisation in Manchester, whilst providing cheap, democratically owned energy to Mancunians. The next stage in the decarbonisation process would be divestment of GM pension funds from fossil fuels – councillors called for this at the meeting where the motion to declare climate emergency was proposed – as well as divestment from the municipally owned airport.

The second largest source of these emissions is transport. Anyone who’s tried to get a bus across the city, rather than into or out of the centre, will know how inadequate public transport is in Manchester. We need to upgrade our public transport system as soon as possible, and get people off the road into trains, buses, and trams.

We back the Better Buses campaign; municipal control over our bus network will be essential to providing a rational, joined-up public transport system. We also need more segregated bike lanes across the city, such as those in Seville or Amsterdam where public funds have been invested into their improvement. Existing cycle networks in the UK are maintained by third sector organisations that rely on volunteers; again, municipal control would mean faster and more efficient implementation of these networks across the city that would encourage people not to drive everywhere but to cycle instead.

A visionary strategy for the reduction of car use in our city is also necessary if we are serious about reducing carbon emissions. Places like Stephenson Square and Deansgate are ripe for pedestrianisation and some councillors have even proposed closing the Mancunian Way and replacing it with a New York-style ‘High Line’. These changes, if implemented, would have drastic positive impact on air quality, and would significantly increase the available public space in Manchester.

Manchester is noticeably lacking in green public space, compared for example to Sheffield, or even London. New research has demonstrated the astonishing role that trees can play in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and greening Manchester and the surrounding area is something that we can be getting on with right away. Where it exists, the green belt must be protected. Mature trees should not be cut down: the emergency should give reason to rethink decisions such as tree-felling in Hulme, and the building on Ryebank Fields. Instead – green space should be extended.

A Green New Deal must encompass homes. Our city has a lot of old housing stock, which requires a lot of energy to keep warm, especially in the damp Manchester winters. Retrofitting this would reduce people’s bills and provide employment for hundreds of tradespeople across our region, and new builds should comply to a zero-carbon build quality. If affordable housing were available in the city centre, it would reduce people’s commute and reliance on cars. The former Toys R Us site on Great Ancoats Street has recently been bought by the council – a perfect candidate for the construction of council housing or community led housing!

The city’s declaration of a climate emergency serves to highlight the need for visionary and joined up policy at local government level, with councils working hand in hand, to create a combined energy and investment plan that works for all of Greater Manchester.

Campaigning for further devolution of power from central government, and campaigning for a transformative Labour government when the time comes are both essential in order to bring about the required change. Labour’s industrial past and its links to industries such as coal are over. But the spirit of its unions, it’s industrial tradesmanship, and its socialist ideals and vision are needed now more than ever.

Labour’s Green New Deal is not just an admittance of the problem; it must be backed up by revolutionary policy in order to tackle the climate emergency. So to echo once again Manchester’s Suffragette movement; as emotionally charged as the motion to declare a climate emergency was, deeds are now significantly more important than words.

 

Manchester Labour for a Green New Deal

If you are interested in getting involved with Manchester’s Labour for a Green New Deal Campaign, you can find us on social media or get in touch via email. We will be campaigning over the summer and running stalls across Greater Manchester, the first of which being in Rochdale on the 21st July. Get in touch for more details!

Featured image:Climate Emergency Declaration Petition

Climate Emergency

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