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Time for Cities to Lead The Way on Climate Action

By Jonny Sadler on 29.12.17

It’s 8.30am on a Monday morning and I’ve just walked into the headquarters of the World Bank in Washington DC. You’re quite right, this is rather unusual for someone whose job is to help Manchester to meet its climate change targets. ‘But Jonny, this is an amazing opportunity to show the great work that Manchester and other EU cities are doing on nature-based solutions’. OK Ugo, you’ve got me.

 

Ugo Guarnacci is the European Commission’s Policy Officer for Innovating Cities. And there are three things you need to know about him that will explain why I am in Washington:

 

1.He’s very convincing

As well as convincing me to join him for this year’s Green Growth Knowledge Platform Annual Conference, he was also the person responsible for the term ‘nature-based solutions’ (NBS) being included in the UN Habitat III Declaration (New Urban Agenda) in 2016.

 

2.He believes in the huge importance and potential for NBS

As part of the European Commission’s team working on the development and implementation of nature-based solutions policy, Ugo’s job is to help ensure that EU cities become the healthy, green, liveable places that people want and need. And his ambitions aren’t limited to the EU. The Green Growth Knowledge Platform is an international initiative, founded in 2012 by the World Bank, UN Environment, OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and the Global Green Growth Institute. Initially focused on the more traditional areas of sustainable infrastructure and growth, such as energy, water and transport, it’s thanks to Ugo that NBS is on the agenda at this week’s conference – see point 1.

 

3.He believes in cities as leaders

Ugo is part of the new breed of policy-makers who believe that policy should not be about directing or telling cities what to do, but is much more effective if it works to unlock the capacity and potential in cities, by enabling action to happen.

 

On the 8th floor of the World Bank, in a packed meeting room, Ugo has just finished his presentation about the EC’s NBS agenda and why the EC work directly with cities. Now it’s my turn. I’m looking at a room made up of a wide range of attendees. Amongst them representatives of major global organisations like the World Bank, some of whom are looking at me rather quizzically, wondering, ‘what is a guy from Manchester doing here?’. Time to explain.

 

Firstly, cities are the places with the need and agency to act; they are the places that are already home to 50% of the people on the planet, on track to reach 70% by 2050. And so they are the places where national and international policies on climate change, health and other issues will need to be implemented. In cities like Manchester, where we have experienced a ten-fold increase in the number of surface water flooding incidents and a doubling of heat stress incidents over the last 50 years, and where two-thirds of our citizens don’t take the recommended levels of exercise for healthy lives, we see every day what can happen if we don’t respond to the challenges now facing the world. Green infrastructure and NBS are some of the most important ways that we can address some of these challenges.

 

They seem to be listening.

OK, point number two. So, how do we deliver it? Spatial planning is key – we have to plan for green infrastructure to be included as cities grow and develop, in new areas and in the refurbishment of existing areas. That is relatively easy. However, funding to implement these plans is one of the main challenges, for both the delivery of green infrastructure and for its long-term management. To make this possible we have to be creative; we have to develop business cases based on the wide range of benefits provided by NBS. Upstream green infrastructure that avoids the need for water companies and government environment agencies to spend money on bigger sewage treatment works and concrete flood management basins, or redirecting health funding, like through the parks in Manchester that save the National Health Service £6-10m each year by supporting healthy lifestyles, for example. These and many other benefits can be the basis of new business and governance models for investment.

 

They’re still listening.

 

OK, final point. So, how can you help? Before we create anything new, help us to share the many existing business and governance models that cities already use. And, where new models are needed, help us to develop them. With finance experts like those in the room today, working together to respond to the needs of cities, we can achieve the level of city greening that we all know is wanted and needed.

 

As I sit in the airport about to return home I have time to reflect on the value and impact of this trip. Three days out of the office. More carbon emitted. A house still not decorated. These are the inevitable downsides. But, its fair to say they are outweighed by the upsides. Promoting and showcasing the work of Manchester and the rest of the GrowGreen partners. Engaging with international policy-makers and funders. Receiving a warm welcome from the Green Growth Knowledge Platform partners and conference delegates. And hopefully helping Ugo and others to pave the way for city greening to become a mainstream part of cities in the 21st century. I’d say it has been a worthwhile trip indeed.

 

Jonny Sadler
Project Manager, GrowGreen Project
Programme Director, Manchester Climate Change Agency

 

Further information:
Green Growth Knowledge Platform: www.greengrowthknowledge.org
GGKP Annual Conference 2017: www.greengrowthknowledge.org/event/GGKP-annual-conference-2017

 

CO2 emissions
Manchester Climate Change Agency and the GrowGreen project are committed to understanding and managing the environmental impact of their activities. We are currently at the ‘understanding’ stage of this work, with details on how we will manage the impact to follow. The CO2 emissions from this trip were 3.8 tonnes.