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Stephanie Pincetl Comments on the Manchester Carbon Neutrality plan

Stephanie Pincetl, Professor in Residence and Director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA, is currently the Fulbright Distinguished Chair at the University of Manchester in Geography. She was asked by the Manchester Climate Change Agency to comment on the Manchester Carbon Neutrality plan.


Comments on the Manchester Climate Change Framework 2020-2025




The inclusive language of the document is impressive and strikes a generous tone.   It discusses process toward consensus in quite a great deal of detail.

The documents sets out logical objectives toward zero-carbon.

Some questions and further comments:

  1. The focus seems on distributing responsibility for change on every household, community, school and organization. Yet, there is little in the document that addresses the responsibility of the drivers of energy use. For example:


  1. a) While there is discussion of needing to go beyond the incumbent utility with the region’s own solar investments if need be, there is no discussion of the existing fuel mix that is being supplied for electricity.


  1. b) Nor does there appear to be any data about how much electricity or natural gas is used in the built environment – do new buildings use less than older ones? How do you direct retrofit investments? What types of investments?  This should be an area for investigation laid out in the plan. 


  1. c) What is the solar potential in the area?   This needs to be assessed by comparing electricity consumption and surfaces such as roof tops, parking lots and other open urban areas that are urbanized, could even include streets.


  1. d) Is there any discussion of battery or other storage for solar?


  1. Households that rent cannot much reduce their energy use as they are not in control of their environments, but there is little said about the distribution of responsibilities among renters, owners, or property owners. Much of this is delicate, but at least some research should be done before asking households to assume greater responsibility for their GHG emissions.


  1. Airports generate GHGs beyond jet fuel. It would be useful to also quantify the emissions from the ground side of the airport and develop a strategy to reduce them.


  1. Rail is discussed but again, there is little data. How much of the rail transport is electrified, where does that electricity come from? How much of it remains diesel?  The air quality in Piccadilly station is really terrible due to idling trains, nothing is mentioned about such vestiges from an earlier period.  Is there any air quality monitoring taking place in the station?

It would be useful to learn how the region is going to engage with the national rail system on these issues.


  1. Another sector that is not mentioned is the supply chain of goods and services as it comes into the region: truck traffic. Could Manchester not work with the mega chains – Greggs, Boots, Tesco etc. to electrify their local distribution of goods? Or at least acknowledge the impact in the report?  This is not even scope 3, it’s just the emissions generated locally in the distribution of goods.


  1. Has the region considered (maybe it’s not able to) imposing a fee on cars coming into the city, as London does in the center? Is there a policy around discouraging parking lots and parking? This, of course is only possible if the public transportation is reliable. For example, commuting into Manchester from the outskirts can’t count on trains on weekend evenings or Sunday. Driving in is not voluntary.


  1. Green infrastructure can’t be seen as a panacea. How much carbon can be removed is an empirical question, but many studies find that not much is sequestered. So better simply to invest in parks for their contribution to social capital than remediation of pollution and carbon removal.  It might help for storm water mitigation, but that needs to be coupled to new building codes, including the ways in which streets & sidewalks are built.


  1. Might specify which standards for infrastructure will need to be developed to support greater de-carbonization and less environmental impacts (like flooding).


Following on that comments –can Manchester develop its own building codes or do they come from Westminster? 

Manchester could, however, require developers to consider things like solar orientation, ensuring buildings are built to take advantage of prevailing breezes in the summer, ensuring that complexes include open space, or that they contribute to a fund for green spaces (might already exist, I don’t know).


  1. The river and canal system are ignored as assets. Manchester’s past was built around water transportation. Can its future rethink those assets as integral to its future?


  1. Peri-urban resources are not discussed, for example for local agricultural production, or CO2 sequestration in soils, reforestation and storm water management.


  1. What about the allotment gardens? What part might they play in the plan?


  1. Buses are still diesel. Little discussion of electrification of that transit mode.


  1. Waste aside from food waste, is not addressed. Who is responsible for its collection with what vehicles? Where does it go?  How much GHG is embedded in the waste?  Is it burned? 


  1. More abstractly and probably not a message that is possible at this point:


Why the focus on competition and growth?  What is meant by this?  It actually undercuts local capacities and the ability to nurture the potential of Manchester.  Could there be, for example, a community bank that lends to local builders and small business owners, to recirculate local capital rather than the reliance on investments from the outside that usually suck wealth out to London, New York or other.  Local self-reliance – not just responsibility to reduce one’s carbon – might be considered as part of a larger framing for reducing GHG emissions. It implies much greater local control and the possibility for creating a circular economy – something that is not considered in the plan BTW.  


For example, could small local businesses develop around using local food for meals on airlines?  Of course this would be an enormously difficult thing to do, but maybe for trains, like in Japan?  What can the region make that begins to undermine the global network that is responsible for generating the conditions under which we get such high GHGs and which is useful?


If Manchester is truly to be ‘innovative, enterprising, pioneering’ then it needs to develop autochthonous, novel approaches that are alternatives to BAU.  Sir Richard Leese writes about new economies.  Well, what are they, and how can they be fair and equitable if they are not controlled locally and generated locally?


Overall, a very nice plan, but quite short on specifics (though it may not be its intent to have specifics at this point), but a few ideas for implementation might be helpful.  Importantly, however, the region needs to demand the data for building energy use to be able to develop a parsimonious and effective plan for energy saving retrofits, and get its transportation GHG emissions to zero.


Stephanie Pincetl
Professor in Residence
Director California Center for Sustainable Communities

Fulbright Distinguished Chair, University of Manchester, Geography:  Jan 2020-July 2020