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Gavin Elliot, MACF

Q&A: Manchester: A Certain Future


What progress has MACF made in the past year?


I took over from Steve Connor as chair of the steering group in September 2013. In truth the first six months were spent understanding the organisation and getting my head round all the issues.

The government and city had made a target of 41% carbon reduction by 2020. I was asking the question – quite rightly, but also probably quite naively – how are we actually doing against this metric? The truth was no one could tell me. So over the last 18 months we have collated the data so we could come to that calculation. Because it’s senseless having a plan which is a list of aspirations if [our efforts won’t] add up to a carbon reduction of 41%.

MACF’s first annual report was published in June 2014, and we also had our first Annual General Meeting, where we informed people how we and the city were doing. In simple terms, we’ve achieved 12% of our 41% reduction since 2005. We have an overall 15-year time requirement to get to this 41% figure. In the last 10 years we’ve achieved a third of the required reduction, so we’ll now need to achieve two thirds of the reduction in a third of the time. Which immediately tells you that it isn’t going to be terribly straightforward.

That’s where we are currently: it’s probably not as good as people would have hoped for, but at least we know. Now we’re in the process of recalibrating the plan and looking at what the issues are and what more could people do.


What then are your priorities for this year?


One of the things we’re trying to do now is create an integrated plan between MACF and the Greater Manchester [authorities] so that the two pieces of planning join up. Whereas previously we’d gone off and done our own thing, now there’s a lot of interest and focus on Greater Manchester-wide initiatives, and it’s important for MACF to understand how our bit of the jigsaw fits into the bigger puzzle.


MACF uses collaborative action and enables people to participate. Can you tell me a bit more about that ethos?


The essence of MACF is to try and disseminate the message around the city about the issues [of climate change and sustainability], enthuse the public about some of the things that are going on, talk to people about what needs to happen, hold events, and to a certain extent, appropriate other events, so that the profile of the issue is raised across the city. Through that [we hope] people will firstly have a great level awareness about what the issues are and then hopefully they’ll start to adopt new behaviours.


It’s about embedding low carbon thinking into people’s lifestyles – could you give me an example of how you’re doing that?


When I took over, we had one event per year – a conference. My thinking was that probably wasn’t enough, so we set ourselves the challenge of having four events per year. Two where we talk to the public and stakeholders in a formal way and give progress updates like the AGM, and two more informal events where people would come to us and tell us what they think is going on in the city.

The first of those events, called Tell Us, was held before Christmas. It was like a Dragons Den-type event where people pitched us their ideas for greening the city and other interesting technological innovations. Having come up with a format that’s interesting and engaging, we plan to tour it around the city to other stakeholder groups.

One of the criticisms of MACF was it tended to be geographically selective; [events] all happened in the city centre and didn’t connect with people in other parts of the city. And they also tended to be slightly middle aged, dare I say, and didn’t necessarily connect with younger people. So we set ourselves the challenge of connecting with younger people, business leaders, and other bits of the city geographically.

The next Tell Us event will be held at Manchester Metropolitan University during Climate Week [March]. We’re engaging with a group of students who will come and tell us what their thoughts and initiatives are.

Then we’ll do a second event later in the year where we’ll go to another part of the city; it might be somewhere like Chorlton or Wythenshawe. The idea is that this [format] will go around the city and engage with communities in their backyards.


What other areas is MACF working in?


The MACF steering group represents a triumvirate of public sector, private sector and activists. We have to accept that Manchester City Council is still a very big beast; it’s probably the single most influential organisation in terms of decarbonising the city’s economy and infrastructure. We’re not part of the city council, but we do sit alongside it, and they’ve been involving us in their policy discussions. We are able to comment and critique some of the new initiatives they’re considering.

MACF is a voluntary organisation, so whether we like it or not, it is limited by the availability of volunteers. We’ve been talking about how we could shift into a different kind of organisation, where MACF is possibly funded through some kind of membership charter to enable us to be better resourced. That will make a massive difference to our ability and what we can achieve. Those discussions haven’t reached a definite conclusion yet but there are some positive developments.

If you believe the science, climate change is the single [biggest] existential issue facing humanity, which has the potential to wipe out massive swathes of the earth, and the populations that live there. And yet MACF is a voluntary organisation, while you see other parts of the Manchester family, like Marketing Manchester and New Economy, with huge teams of people, all doing very useful and necessary things. But you do think, there’s something a bit odd about that.


Climate change is just not as much of a priority?


Exactly, yes. I said that within earshot of the leader of the council at our AGM, and I stand by that. So that’s why we’re trying to find a way of transforming the group so we do have more resources and full time staff so we can do more. That’s a conversation that’s been going on for quite a while but we do feel like we’re making progress.