Manchester’s ‘green ambition’

Greater Manchester’s aim to become a carbon-neutral city region by 2038 is a challenging objective, but it also presents new opportunities for businesses in the circular economy. Phil Lattimore reports.

In late summer last year, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, heralded an ambitious vision to make the city regioncarbon neutral by 2038. This is more than a decade ahead of the UK government’s 2050 targets, and the move is intended to establish Greater Manchester as one of Europe’s leading green city regions.

The plan was developed after the inaugural Greater Manchester Green Summit in March 2018. This brought together policy-makers, organisations, businesses and individuals to focus on how to make the city-region environment greener and become carbon neutral.

… Our ambitions are high and we need communities and businesses to work with us to make this happen.

Greater Manchester’s Springboard to a Green City Region resulted from the summit and – when launching the report – Burnham said: ‘Greater Manchester was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, a leading contributor of greenhouse gases. The city led the computer revolution, which changed our lives. Now we are leading the low-carbon revolution, which will form the next chapter of how we live, work and travel.

‘The science is clear on the steps we need to take to become carbon neutral, and some of these are very challenging. But our ambitions are high and we need communities and businesses to work with us to make this happen.’

He continued: ‘Our vision will not only make us a global leader for smart energy innovation, but will also transform Greater Manchester into a world-leading greener, cleaner, climate-resilient city region, improving the health and quality of life for millions of people and protecting our green spaces and environment for future generations.’

Greater Manchester, Burnham said, would be the first UK city to devise a science-based pathway to becoming carbon neutral, reducing carbon emissions to tackle climate change and making its fair contribution to keeping global average temperature change below 2°C, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Carbon-neutral city

So what does it mean to be a carbon-neutral city? Mark Atherton, assistant director, environment, at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), is lead officer for the Green City Region priority of the Greater Manchester Strategy, which covers its carbon-neutral ambitions.

He explains that work on carbon target setting, by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, has established that – for Greater Manchester to make its ‘fair’ contribution towards the 2°C commitment – the city region would need to:

  • Take prompt action to put Greater Manchester on a path to ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2038
  • Hold cumulative carbon dioxide emissions at less than 71m tonnes (range of 45-104mtCO2)
  • Initiate an immediate programme of mitigation delivering an annual average of 15 per cent cuts in emissions (range of 10-20 per cent)
  • Have greater engagement with other global carbon-target-setting cities to share knowledge.

Without intervention, Greater Manchester’s carbon emissions could increase by 3%

‘Setting City Area Target and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction (Scatter) research – funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – is now also becoming available,’ Atherton says.

‘This work provides a “bottom up” approach of what feasible carbon pathways for Greater Manchester may look like. Anthesis, a global sustainability consultancy, is now producing quantitative outputs from the Scatter model, which takes into account Greater Manchester’s forecast economic growth ambitions. Work by Energy Systems Catapult has suggested that, without intervention, Greater Manchester’s carbon emissions could increase by three per cent.’

Taking action

The GMCA has already committed to taking action to accelerate a reduction in carbon to meet the 15 per cent year-on-year decrease required.

Its Springboard report has established an action plan to implement its carbon-neutral strategy, based on the feedback from the Green Summit and the listening events leading up to it. As a result, a number of online workstreams have been established to develop detailed delivery and investment proposals, particularly focusing on buildings’ efficiency and energy generation.

A five-year delivery plan is expected to be agreed at the second Green Summit in March 2019.

This environmental vision for Greater Manchester, outlined by the authority, is comprehensive in its scope, covering a wide range of areas in which action on sustainability will be taken. These include building policy, energy generation and heating demand, transport emissions, green space and waste – not only to achieve the carbon-reduction targets, but also to establish a greener, more sustainable environment for people living and working in the region. It’s certainly a hugely challenging objective.

Strategic goals

The plan envisages a 25 per cent reduction in passenger distance travelled by 2035

One of the key steps to reducing carbon emissions involves taking action on the energy supply side. The GMCA strategy aims to decarbonise electricity and gas supply locally, with targets that include: increasing solar photovoltaic (PV) installations so that 12 per cent of Greater Manchester’s energy demand is met from solar PV by 2050; and increasing bioenergy for electricity generation to ensure 17 per cent of the city region’s energy demand is met from bioenergy by 2050. This could include landfill gas, sewage, anaerobic digestion and wood or plant-based fuels.

The plan also outlines a reduction in heat-energy demand, and carbon emissions, from domestic and commercial buildings. This will be achieved through a mix of retrofitting proper insulation and the use of energy-efficient building services technologies, such as heat pumps and low-carbon heat networks.

The aim is for around 60 per cent of all Greater Manchester households to be properly insulated by 2050, while 80-100 per cent of households and non-domestic buildings are expected to be electrically heated by 2050, using highly efficient technologies.

Creating a more circular economic model – particularly for global food and clothing supply chains – can significantly reduce the impact of embedded carbon used in the creation, transport and use of these goods.’

In addition, the plan sets out a 40 per cent reduction in space-heating demand for public and commercial buildings by 2050, a 30 per cent fall in hot-water demand, and a 60 per cent drop in cooling demand.

Transport is another area in which carbon-reduction action is critical to achieving the authority’s goals. The objectives outlined in the Springboard report to enable low-carbon mobility include shifting transport to zero emissions, with a target to make all buses in the city region zero emission by 2035 and 66 per cent of cars by 2030 – a step towards all cars being zero emission by 2050.

Changing domestic transport behaviour is another part of the picture, with the plan envisaging a 25 per cent reduction in passenger distance travelled by 2035.

On the commercial side, a modal shift in freight transport is anticipated to cut the road share to 50 per cent, as it moves towards lower-carbon rail alternatives. Air transport is also targeted, to ensure Greater Manchester citizens’ CO2 emissions from flights remain steady until 2030 and then reduce to zero by 2075, in line with action needed across the UK to achieve carbon targets.

Resource management

Improving resource management and addressing the issues of sustainable consumption and production are fundamental elements of Greater Manchester’s carbon-neutral strategic plan. The aim is also to establish the area as a ‘zero waste to landfill’ region by 2024 – reducing waste, increasing local composting and energy generation, and supporting organisations tackling food waste.

‘Sustainable consumption and production is one of six key themes of our thinking,’ says Atherton. ‘The mayor launched a #PlasticfreeGM campaign at the last summit, and this is now being delivered (see

‘Creating a more circular economic model – particularly for global food and clothing supply chains – can significantly reduce the impact of embedded carbon used in the creation, transport and use of these goods.’

Among the headline figures, the report calls for a 20 per cent drop in the quantity of waste, plus an increase in the proportion of waste recycled to 65 per cent by 2035, rising to 85 per cent by 2050.

In addition, it highlights the potential greater use of waste as a resource to generate bioenergy.

‘Ideally, we also need to increase bioenergy use in local energy production – such that 17 per cent of Greater Manchester’s energy demand is met with bioenergy by 2050,’ says Atherton.

‘Some of this may come from materials that would otherwise go to waste disposal. In other words, 1.1GW of installed capacity to provide 8.8TWh/year. This links to proposals for heat-network development. There is approximately 165MW of total installed capacity from bioenergy at present.’

New thinking

To deliver on this part of the strategy, a new way of thinking about waste and production will be important to encourage mass uptake of circular economic business models – with a focus on
low-waste, high reuse/sharing/recycling – and to promote the ‘sharing economy’ model. This is likely to require new skills and investment in circular-economy employment, offering the opportunity to create a new wave of low-carbon green jobs in the area and to generate sector-leading expertise within the city region.

Achieving such ambitious targets will, therefore, require a strategic focus on developing Greater Manchester’s low-carbon/green technologies and services sector.

Amy House is green technologies and services sector team leader at GC Business Growth Hub, in Manchester. Her team’s role is to help Greater Manchester-based small and medium-sized businesses working within the low-carbon and environmental goods and services sector to develop and grow.

The report highlights the greater use of waste to generate bioenergy

‘Clean, “low-carbon” growth is a key pillar of our city’s vision for the future,’ House says. ‘City leaders have recognised in our economic strategy that failure to adapt to a low-carbon economy will have a “catastrophic effect on our ability to compete, threatening infrastructure [and] disruption to businesses”.’

The green technologies and services sector is one of the key priority sectors for Greater Manchester – along with life sciences, digital, textiles and advanced manufacturing – not only because its ability to thrive is fundamental to a transition to a low-carbon economy, but also because of the contributions this sector is already making to Greater Manchester’s economy.’

The low-carbon sector in the city region currently comprises around 2,400 companies employing 45,000 people – and this will grow rapidly as the GMCA’s carbon-neutral plan progresses.

‘As Greater Manchester moves towards its goal of becoming a carbon-neutral city, the opportunities for businesses operating within the low-carbon sector will continue to grow,’ says House, ‘as businesses and homeowners become more aware of their carbon-reduction commitments and uptake of low-carbon technologies increases.’

This article was first published in the February 2019 issue of Circular magazine.

Send this to a friend