So you’ve declared a Climate Emergency. Now what?

Now you need to make a plan, set targets, decide your priorities, work out a budget… you need to make clear what needs to change, by when and who is going to do it. Because words like ‘emergency’ and ‘crisis’ mean we need to ACT NOW.

Photo by Markus Spiske

And if you’re speaking for a region of 2.8 million people, this is a major undertaking and will require a huge shift in understanding, attitudes and behaviour: a collective challenge (p5).

This is my first blog for Localise WM (I started work here last week) and one of my first tasks was to observe the WMCA board meeting and read the #WM2041 report. It was a brilliant first week for me and a stirring start to 2020 – which must be, to quote environmental activist Greta Thunberg, a ‘year of action on climate change’.

Last summer, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Board declared a climate emergency, as did most of the member authorities. This committed the WMCA to set urgent targets for reducing carbon emissions, and make practical proposals to achieve them. So officers have now produced #WM2041, a public document / green paper which starts a serious conversation about what we all need to do to meet the climate crisis and lists several proposals for our consideration. The Combined Authority works for economic growth and prosperity across the entire region… so they are not going to propose that we suffer power cuts to reduce carbon emissions, or advise everyone to buy a boat in case of flooding… The actions must somehow work alongside agreed aims of inclusive growth and fairness: the region needs to grow while emissions shrink (p15)

The report makes clear that all core areas must respond to climate change and carbon reduction. It’s not an additional extra or ‘something nice’, but urgent, essential changes to the whole system. We need to think differently in the way that we plan and build housing, education, transport, energy, and how all our businesses run. The target of net zero carbon emissions by 2041 is ambitious but necessary. The actions are linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a comprehensive set of interlinking goals which would deliver a better and more sustainable future for all.

There are 5 basic principles in the WMCA green report, and each leads to a set of proposed actions:

1. No one should be left behind

This plan does not change the WMCA aims of inclusive growth and alleviating poverty and inequalities. Example actions in the first 5 years include:

  • Promoting ‘green jobs’
  • More Clean Air Zones and better public transport
  • Schemes to make private rented homes more energy efficient
  • LED street lighting

 

2. We need to boost our resilience to ‘locked in’ climate breakdown

Some climate breakdown has already happened, or is ‘locked in’ , so we need to spend money to boost our resilience to changes to weather patterns such as increased rainfall and extreme temperatures (p13). Example actions in the first 5 years include:

  • Putting ‘green roofs’ on bus shelters in laces liable to flooding
  • Creating a West Midlands National Park
  • Planting a tree for every resident

 

3. We need to reconcile our past with our future

We have a history of building and designing cars but now we need greener mobility – walking, cycling and public transport, and need to focus on greener technology. Example actions in the first 5 years include:

  • Creating a specialist investment fund to support innovation in energy systems
  • Boost schemes to generate energy in the region and sell energy locally
  • A network of electric vehicle (EV) charging points

 

4. We need to build more places, and more connectivity between places

As our population expands, we need to build 215,000 homes in the next 10 years, with all the facilities that go with them (schools, shops, bus routes, GP surgeries, dealing with waste, etc), so these need to be low carbon, fit for the future. Example actions in the first 5 years include:

  • Reforming planning advice so that planning authorities can demand zero carbon developments, transport, energy and waste systems
  • Bringing in zero carbon emissions standards for all new build homes
  • New metro tram routes
  • Reallocate highway space to walking cycling and public transport

 

5. We need to save energy and resources without reducing shared prosperity

Making our energy use more efficient on a massive scale. Example actions in the first 5 years include:

  • Citizen behaviour change campaigns (on energy use, waste and recycling, active travel, etc)
  • Work with public sector to use locally-produced food
  • Teach ‘climate smart nutrition’ in schools
  • A regional NHS climate action plan
  • Ban single-use plastics

When the #WM2041 green paper was presented to the WMCA board meeting, I was impressed with the tone of the responses from the members. No one spoke against the report, or hesitated over phrases like ‘climate crisis’, or questioned the need to act urgently. Long-standing, senior politicians from West Midlands towns and cities clearly understood the issues and welcomed the chance to make a difference. This is vital, as many of the actions will need to be taken at city, town or neighbourhood level.  The WMCA will seek government funding / investment to support this work, but they won’t be running the show.

This paper is a first attempt at a WMCA position of what actions need to be taken in order to meet the climate challenge without leaving anyone behind. (p51) It invites responses from anyone and everyone – people, businesses, councils and community organisations. The 6 week public engagement period (starting 23 January) is your chance to make comments and add to the plan. If you want more, or something different, now is the time to ask for it. (p5)

Environment campaigning organisation Friends of the Earth have welcomed the report and already suggested action to curb high profile schemes which are clearly adding to our carbon footprint – scrapping (or radically rethinking) the HS2 (High Speed rail line) and tackling the emissions from Birmingham Airport.

Sustainability advisors Sustainability West Midlands recently produced a Sustainability Roadmap to 2030 and have highlighted some of the actions which align with their roadmap here.

Now we all have a chance to stand up for the planet and our future. Make sure you engage with those in power, who are reaching out for your support. For this exercise, you have until March 2020.

Link to WMCA report

Link to #WM2041 green paper

Sandra Green, Joint Co-ordinator Localise West Midlands