Our Comment: From Paris to Perry Barr – exciting times for climate change, devolution and our region.

Paris talks….

From 30 November to 11 December the governments of 196 nations will meet in Paris at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Their goal is to reach a new international agreement on climate that is universal, ambitious on keeping global warming below 2°C, and long-lasting.

This month saw climate scientists announce that the rise in global average temperatures exceeded 1°C for the first time, implying we are already halfway towards the 2°C threshold predicted to result in the most devastating consequences of climate change. This is on top of high levels of air pollution in our cities and its harmful effects on health, wellbeing and our natural environment. Current commitments on greenhouse gas emissions run out in 2020, so governments are expected to agree on what happens until 2030 and beyond at COP21.

As Jonathon Porritt commented at our conference last month, and this week in the media, most nations have already signed up to the new global sustainability goals this year, and made carbon reduction commitments prior to the talks. We already know what the biggest emitters have committed to. The EU will cut emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. The US will cut its emissions by 26 – 28%, compared with 2005 levels, by 2025 and China will agree that its emissions will peak by 2030. Some countries, most notably India, have not yet made commitments.

As discussed at our conference, in the UK we are in the embarrassing situation that just as the world catches up with the risks of climate change and the opportunities of the low carbon economy, we go from perceived global leader to laggard in the same league as  Australia.

For example the recent UK announcements on energy policy is the usual mixed bag of good news on ending coal fired power stations, but bad news on ignoring a growing cost-effective renewables market in favour of nuclear and gas.

The good news is that the world moves on, and the global sustainability goals, financial markets, and innovation opportunities all point to a unstoppable movement for developing new solutions for a sustainable future.

We don’t know how the devastating attacks in Paris will impact the talks – will people stay away or be galvanised to meet and agree to show that they can deliver long term for all our communities  around the world?

However the key questions for the summit remain:

  • Collectively can nations make changes quicker enough to make the impact required?
  • How will UK businesses and communities contribute or benefit from these changes?

West Midlands Low Carbon Strengths

The EU climate change targets should cascade eventually and create opportunities for greater investment and innovation in efficient technologies in the region. Our Low Carbon Investment Prospectus demonstrates that the strengths of our region lie in low carbon vehicles and transport, low carbon buildings and low carbon energy – the low carbon economic revolution is well underway here.

For example this month we hosted a trade visit with Chinese planners and investors, one of many, where businesses and governments are interested in the West Midlands low carbon credentials and appreciate an independent view.

Given we have the highest concentration of manufacturing businesses in the UK. The recent Manufacturing Commission report ‘Industrial Evolution: Making British Manufacturing Sustainable’ makes an interesting read and recommends five themes need to be addressed to make our industrial system more sustainable: leadership, resilience, innovation, collaboration and system redesign. All key aspects of SWM’s work in the West Midlands.

West Midlands Devolution and Mayor

On 17 November the devolution agreement was reached between the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and government. This means that the WMCA will get £36m per year to improve transport, infrastructure, training and business support, with more to come. There will also be an elected ‘Boris’ style mayor in place by 2017 to lead on key strategic planning issues. Congratulations to all those getting us this far, and overcoming the challenges of timescales, narrow economic goalposts, boundaries, names, and a key partner in ‘special measures’ .

After our conference last month we were formally invited by the WMCA to help develop a sustainability support programme for the new body, using feedback from our conference, our members, networks, evidence base and cross-LEP programmes. We are currently finalising  this support with the WMCA to make sure some of this new investment is aligned with local strengths to help target innovation and low carbon solutions.

Keep an eye on our website and @SWMtweet for updates on COP21, devolution and the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Anna Bright and Dr Simon Slater, SWM