Our city’s shared plan to tackle climate change


Zero Carbon Cities Study - Visit to Modena October 2019


For those who've seen one of my presentations before, they tend to involve a lot of pies (thanks to Dr Jaise Kuriakose at the Tyndall Centre Manchester).


So, I could have probably found a better food for last month's presentations to Modena but thankfully they seemed to get it. Which is the rather wonderful thing about a science-based approach to setting climate change targets: there's a limit to how much CO2 we can emit globally, you split it up fairly between different countries, regions, cities, etc, and then you get on with limiting yourself to only emit your fair share.


Setting targets this way means they are super ambitious, as the science demands, and just as tough to meet. Which is why Manchester is working with six other European cities on the EU-funded 'Zero Carbon Cities' project, to help us all set the right targets and get us on track for meeting them.


Having kicked off the project in September 2019 (article here), the seven cities are currently in planning mode, setting out how we'll work together for two years during May 2020 to April 2022.


As part of this work Manchester, as the lead, is visiting the six partner cities, to understand their current positions, what they need help with, and what they can share to support the others.



Modena in Italy was our first stop. So what did we learn? Here are my top 5 take-home messages:


1. The politicians take this very seriously. They know that all cities have a key role to play. The city council is committed to leading the way locally.


2. Partnerships are key. For example Modena's multi-million Euro contract with their utility partner Hera is enabling them to get on with retrofitting council buildings right now.


3. Innovation. Modena aren't afraid to do things differently. As well as the Zero Carbon Cities project, Modena are also part of the EU-funded GrowGreen project, which is supporting cities to use green infrastructure to adapt them to climate change. Even without EU funding for practical delivery they are already implementing a pilot project to test more nature-friendly ways to manage water. A key challenge when parts of your UNESCO World Heritage city are built on Roman infrastructure.


4. Working with campaign groups: Modena are lucky to have a number of committed and proactive campaign groups, including Fridays for the Future, the International Society of Doctors for the Environment (http://www.isde.org/), Legambiente (https://www.legambiente.it/english-page/), and others. They have found a way of working together, constructively challenging and supporting the city council, whilst at the same time also taking their own responsibility to act, including engaging, supporting and influencing other stakeholders.


5. Culture and behaviour change. A key part of any city's climate change strategy, this one is a big challenge, particularly in a city where private car use remains so high. Cycling infrastructure, buses and walkable neigbourhoods are already part of the mix in Modena, but lots of work is still needed to shift people to use them en-masse.




The next stops are Bistrita, Frankfurt, Vilvoorde, Tartu and Zadar.


Carbon footprint of the Zero Carbon Cities project

This project has been designed to have cities from across the EU so that we can test ambitious carbon reduction activities in different contexts: UK (Manchester), Italy (Modena), Belgium (Vilvoorde), Croatia (Zadar), Germany (Frankfurt), Romania (Bistrita), Estonia (Tartu). As a project built on collaboration and learning from each other, it will involve a fair amount of travel between the cities over the 2.5 years. Something that we have committed to reducing the carbon footprint of, details to be developed.


So, I'm disappointed to report that for this trip I flew rather than travelling by train. A combination of 8 hours versus 36 hours, a cost of £210 versus £600, the short timescales for this planning phase (6 months for the kick off meeting, six study visits, and for writing the work plan for the implementation phase), and personal commitments meant that a flight ended up being the 'best' option. Explanations maybe but still disappointing.



What do we need to do to address this in future - my lessons learned so far (I'm sure there will be other actions that we'll also need to take):


1. Plan ahead to take trains whenever possible: travelling from Manchester to mainland Europe by train almost always takes longer than travelling by plane. However, with forward-planning, preparation for working on the train and some flexibility it is possible.


2. Challenge European Commission policies and Manchester City Council travel policies: these policies typically preference the (financially) cheapest option, often ruling out trains in favour of planes. This needs to change so that both financial and carbon budgets are considered as part of the approval processes.


3. Be honest and transparent: there will be times on this project when flights are taken over trains. We need to be honest and transparent when this happens and the reasons why.


4. Identify and work for structural changes: insufficient and expensive rail connections, cheap flights, and other factors contribute to a preference for flying over other more sustainable alternatives. We need to understand what these factors are and work through this and other projects to address them.



CO2 impact from this study visit:

The CO2 emissions from the flights were 255.1kg, calculated using the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) carbon emissions calculator.