Carbon Cutting Cities (a blog to introduce ‘How Could Emergency Climate Action Benefit Sheffield?’ event)

A bit baffled by the phrase ‘Carbon Cutting Cities’? Dr Aaron Thierry explains what this really means…

“The aim is to see if we can set out a new vision for Greater Manchester as the country’s first zero-carbon city region”. Those were the opening remarks of the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, at the city region’s recent Green Summit.
The summit in Manchester reflects the increasing ambition for cities around the world to be at the forefront of action to tackle climate change. Following President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate treaty thousands of mayors from US cities have publicly pledged to continue the fight against carbon pollution at the municipal level, with many promising to pursue targets for 100% clean energy.

As cities are where most people live and work they are also the sources of most of the carbon pollution; some estimates put as much as 75% of emissions as coming from urban centres. This presents us with a clear opportunity to reduce emissions, one that lies in how we design and live in our cities. It means re-imaging how we construct our buildings, how we plan sustainable transport networks, how we encourage urban farming or how we support the development of community energy projects. There are roles for us all, architects and designers, builders and town-planners, business owners and residents alike to contribute to the transformation of the cities of the future to ensure they are fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

There are a great many fantastic initiatives around the world which should inspire us and show us how strong climate action can lead to healthy, thriving and inclusive cities. From the cycle-highways of Copenhagen, to the rooftop vegetable gardens of Paris, the municipally owned wind-farms of Hamburg or the eco-districts springing up from Portland to Pittsburgh.

Perhaps leading the way is Oslo with their incredible ‘Climate and Energy Strategy’ by which the city’s local authority has committed itself to following an annual carbon budgeting process, crucially this is managed by the city’s finance department. The governing Mayor, Raymond Johansen, is promising to deliver (and has so far achieved) close to 10% emissions reductions for each year of his term – the goal is to have cut emissions by 95% on 1990 levels by 2030 – a target which matches the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.

In Sheffield we are making some progress, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by about a third since 2005, but we still have along way to go. We should all welcome the council’s new Green City Strategy and the establishment of a new Green Partnership Board to oversee progress, and there have been some path-setting projects such as the award winning ‘Gray to Green’ redevelopment scheme and the recent announcement of the £1.9 million retrofit of the city’s bus fleet. However, when compared to the scale of  emissions reductions needed to secure a safe climate and the ambition of our Norwegian neighbours, it is clear we need to up our game and set ourselves stronger targets.

At the Green Summit in Manchester, Andy Burnham went on to announce plans to bring forward  the date for becoming zero-carbon by at least a decade to 2040 and that they are working with the Tyndall centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester to come up with a scientifically rigorous carbon budget for the city region for how to deliver this. Perhaps we could all benefit from some good-natured rivalry with our friends across the Pennines to show how sustainable Sheffield can become.

As part of the Festival of Debate the Sheffield Climate Alliance are hosting a free event titled ‘How Could Climate Emergency Action Benefit Sheffield?’at 6pm on Thursday the 7th June. There are still a few more tickets available, click here to book at the Festival of Debate website. 

Aaron Thierry, co-chair of Sheffield Climate Alliance.