Manchester @ Energy Cities Annual Conference 2017
"Acting on climate change is not a burden, it's an opportunity" is Rainer Baake, State Secretary in the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs' attitude to the country's decarbonisation journey.
Countless times over two days we heard similar statements, from city mayors, regional and national government politicians from across Germany. And with each story two things were clear. Firstly, at all levels there is a strong consensus and commitment to act on climate change, to ensure that cities, regions and the whole country makes its full contribution to the Paris Agreement. And secondly, and even more strikingly, this is becoming increasingly core business in Germany.
"For example, I want the German car industry to benefit from the transition to zero emission vehicles. I want us to be selling these vehicles to America, China and other countries", stated Baake. Core business and big business then if Germany delivers on its climate change commitments. And an important reminder that climate change action is not incompatible with economic success and jobs. With the right, integrated approach, like the one advocated by Minister Baake and his colleagues, investing in low and zero carbon solutions can be a ticket to long-term success for businesses.
Which raises the question, would we like to see a similar level of passionate commitment from the UK Government on climate change? Certainly. Will it be required if the UK is to make its full contribution to the Paris Agreement? Absolutely. And does this mean that we have to wait for the Government to up its game before cities can act? Absolutely not.
When Manchester's climate change journey started in earnest in 2009 it was clear that, while it would be required at some point, the city wasn't going to wait for Government policy before we took action. In 2017 this is clearer than ever. Our carbon emissions have reduced by 22% to date, the number of citizen and business-led initiatives is growing year-on-year, we now have a commitment to be zero carbon by 2050, or sooner if the climate science deems it necessary, and 97% of the 700 respondents to the strategy's consultation believe it is 'important for Manchester to act on climate change'.
And as this year's Energy Cities conference demonstrates, Manchester isn't alone. Cities from across Europe are part of a powerful and growing movement for action. It's a movement that recognises that 'green cities' are the places that citizens want to live. That the only kind of sustainable growth is decarbonised, climate conscious growth. And perhaps, even more importantly, it's a movement that has people power at its heart.
This is the reason why Manchester was invited to speak at Energy Cities 2017. To share our story about how the views and actions of Manchester residents and businesses are the bedrock of our bottom-up approach and ultimately our shared success.
Jonny Sadler, Programme Director at Manchester's Climate Change Agency ran two workshop sessions to talk about our devolved approach to climate change policy development, ensuring that it fully and transparently reflects the views of local stakeholders. And how getting this approach right is fundamental to empowering and inspiring all stakeholders to take the level of action that is needed.
"You have to trust people. You have to believe that good ideas don't only exist in Town Halls. And the exciting thing is that you have the opportunity to try new things, to open up the city as a place for experiments and adventures that you haven't had before", explained Sadler.
In the Carbon Literacy workshop, Dave Coleman from the project talked about Manchester's pioneering efforts to train its citizens, businesses and public sector organisations in climate change and how they can act.
So, given Manchester isn't a member of Energy Cities, it's not bad that the city had two speakers at this year's conference.
In these gloomy pre-Brexit times it's easy to get downhearted about what lies ahead for Manchester and the rest of the UK. But, look away from the torrent of bad news and Westminster statements for a minute, and you'll be able to catch a glimpse of a brighter future. It's a future where our European cousins (EU members and not) are still interested in us and what we are doing on climate change. It's a future where city-to-city collaboration and information sharing is key to successfully implementing the Paris Agreement. And it's one where importantly, whether inside the EU or outside, cities are a key driving force in the global movement to limit temperature increases to well below 2oC.
This year's Energy Cities conference was an important opportunity to look deeply into that future. It was a pleasure to be part of it, and a pleasure to meet so many others that also have a vision for a decarbonised and climate resilient world. Our challenge now is to make it happen.