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Event report - transition towards a low carbon economy

This tough question, along with ones around our building stock, behavioural change and how to turn up the volume on eco-innovation, ensured that a workshop held this morning at the offices of DLA Piper kept its audience of over forty professionals engaged and asking what part they could play in a low carbon ‘transition’.

The event - entitled ‘Transitioning to a Low Carbon Economy’ was being held by Pro-Manchester’s Green Economy Group (GEG) to support the work of the city region’s Low Carbon Hub and follow up on the success of a preceding workshop, held in February, to unlock the imagination and potential of the city’s professional sector in helping deliver a low carbon future.

Adam Workman, the chair of GEG and a founding partner of 350 Investment Partners opened the event with an exploration of the ‘wedges’ approach to carbon reduction strategies. The approach, developed by academics from the University of Princeton explores who we can limit atmospheric carbon to a level of concentration that would - they say - avoid the most damaging climate change scenarios. The Princeton team pegs this at around 500 parts per million (ppm); current levels are over 400ppm and rising.

Outlining an essentially optimistic view of carbon abatement, Workman showed that if you split our carbon reduction trajectory into a series of seven ‘wedges’ covering areas such as energy efficiency, retrofit of buildings, renewables, carbon capture or increased fuel efficiency you can map out a course to a relatively stable client simply using existing technologies, deployed at scale.

“This only works if you tackle all of the wedges simultaneously,” he told the audience. “If one wedge is not being tackled it would cost US$2.5 trillion dollars per wedge as a result. Critically though a lot of this is achievable. For example increasing fuel efficiency of cars from 30mpg to 60mpg - it's not impossible and we're a good way towards it.”

A tougher challenge he laid out was embracing new nuclear generation or widespread deployment of onshore wind turbines: “Adding 700Gw to nuclear generation to replace coal is still controversial post Fukushima,” he said.

Mark Atherton, Director of Environment for Greater Manchester and occasional Platform contributor next outlined the work of the GM Low Carbon Hub and Climate Change Plan.

“The reduction of carbon emissions across Greater Manchester isn't a local authority issue alone, It is for all of us to tackle together."

“The reduction of carbon emissions across Greater Manchester isn't a local authority issue alone,” He said, “It is for all of us to tackle together. And working with the Pro-Manchester Green Economy Group we can access some great minds in the sector,” he said.

Atherton outlined the high level political commitment that Greater Manchester brought to the table, with an official target set of a 48% reduction in carbon by 2020. He stressed that the Pro-Manchester partnership critically helped the city region to move way beyond local councils to get the private sector on board, both directly but also through their employees.

The GM Low Carbon Hub is one of the important initiatives that has stemmed from the city region agreeing a new ‘city deal’ with Government that gives GM greater control over its own spending.

At the end of the first full year of the Hub’s work there has been some solid progress across a number of thematic areas:

  • Buildings
  • Energy generation and distribution
  • Transport
  • Green spaces and waterways
  • Sustainable consumption

Running across these areas is a commitment to skills and sector development and a specific commitment in the areas of climate change adaptation and resilience.


Early wins

In its first year the Low Carbon Hub can boast a number of strong results including:

  • Establishing the Hub itself during a time of significant local authority change;
  • Getting Memoranda of Understandings signed with DECC and DEFRA;
  • Confirming a pipeline of investment-ready low carbon capital projects;
  • Continuing strong work on domestic retrofit under the ‘Get Me Toasty’ banner;
  • Getting 57,000 people to sign up for energy switching;
  • Relaunching the ENWORKS resource efficiency programme for business; and
  • A lot of work on cycling, sustainable transport and electric vehicles.


After several years of work on creating a low carbon economy Greater Manchester can now boast £320m of planned investments as part of that economy, including £156m of photovoltaics and energy efficiency measures; £63m of heat networks and £33m of biomass and combined heat and power.

In spite of the progress made, Atherton made clear the challenge ahead. Much of the recorded progress already made in Greater Manchester on carbon reduction has been a result of the ‘decarbonisation’ of the grid as Britain moved from coal, to gas, for power generation. In short, national trends have delivered an ‘out of the box’ reduction in carbon for cities like ours.

As this national shift took carbon out of the grid, cities like Greater Manchester have failed to make big inroads in terms of energy demand, and so when we examine our total, consumption-based carbon emissions at the population level, we still have a lot of work todo, particularly in terms of making a shift in lifestyles.

The bottom line is that even though the trend line looks like carbon emissions are looking good for Greater Manchester, we’re still adrift of where we need to be and face an immediate challenge of finding 2.4m additional tonnes of carbon reduction if we want to make a change.

Brad Blundell, Director of newly-launched consultancy group Anthesis and Vice Chair of the GEG then closed the presentations for the workshop by outlining the ideas that had emerged at the previous 11 February workshop which was opened by Sir Richard Leese and which included four broad discussion areas gathering ideas in transport, renewables, domestic, business.

Fresh ideas

The workshop generated a broad sweep of project or innovation ideas which were then collated and voted on to judge which were most popular; then they were judged for affordability.

One idea generated focused on a long-awaited smart travel card for Greater Manchester which could also have the built-in intelligence to measure the carbon involved in the travel choices taken and then morph into a cashless wallet offering rewards for the sustainable choices taken by the card’s registered owner.

Another innovate idea was an intensive programme of upskilling for all business advisors across Greater Manchester, regardless of discipline, which would see accountants, surveyors and legal advisors also being in a position where they could deliver low carbon advice, too.

Redundant land was the focus of another innovative idea, where derelict or neglected areas of land waiting for development or investment would be utilised for ‘meanwhile’ uses such as PV farms or short rotation coppicing for biomass or CHP.

There were also ideas for a mass energy procurement deal to be made by a giant buying-partnership for the city, focused on landing a highly affordable renewable energy tariff and there was a suggested new project to create a unified, Greater Manchester asset register which would help identify where the big opportunities lie for non-domestic retrofit or integrated micro-renewables.

Every year the homes and businesses of Greater Manchester spend £5bn on their energy bills, meaning that there is a significant and tangible incentive for decarbonisation which has the potential to transform our city region economy for the better.

As the workshop came towards its close the Q&A session ranged across behavioural change, smart meters, the Green Impact programme pursued by universities and the need for a more blue skies scoping of innovation opportunities, even as Greater Manchester rolls up its sleeves and cracks on with the emissions reductions which are practical now, today, given existing technologies. Attendees were left with the promise that they would be brought back into the fold for future carbon reduction projects and that the local authorities would increasingly look to them, the private sector, to make tangible progress on combating climate change.

And as Mark Atherton pointed out in closing, every year the homes and businesses of Greater Manchester spend £5bn on their energy bills, meaning that there is a significant and tangible incentive for decarbonisation which has the potential to transform our city region economy for the better.

Workshop presentations [PPTX, 6.95Mb]