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Turning the carbon challenge into Clean Growth: Bold global cities are key

19 July 2022
Reading Time: 3 mins

Chair Jason Longhurst reflects on his panel discussion last month at the Reset Connect event saying; "Cities are one of the great achievements of human civilisation: logistical miracles where thousands - or even millions - of us come together to live, work and play."

Throughout history, but especially since the Industrial Revolution, they have been the engines of global growth. And they are thriving: by 2080, it is estimated, 80 per cent of the world will live in cities.

But just as cities have been disproportionately responsible for growth, so too have they been disproportionately responsible for pollution, and climate change. If we are to achieve Clean Growth in the future, what happens in our cities will be key.

As I spoke alongside fellow leaders of cities and infrastructure at the Reset Connect event to mark London Climate Week, I was struck by how much distance we still have to travel.

Most cities - and city leaders - are by now highly conscious of the need to achieve net zero, and uncomfortably soon. But there is less clarity around how that urgent demand should be weaved into a broader strategy that also targets sustainable growth - growth that provides better opportunities, skills and neighbourhoods for all our communities.

Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow council, made the point that only a handful of UK cities - including Bristol and my own district of Bradford - have clearly defined plans in this regard. I think this is true.

In Bradford, we call our strategy Clean Growth, and it now informs every decision we make, and everything we do.

It isn’t just a matter of having a Clean Growth strategy for transport, or energy, or housing: to be truly effective it also needs to cover issues like education and culture.

Take the latter. Most people know that Bradford was recently named UK City of Culture for 2025, which is a huge honour and a unique opportunity to drive investment.

Fewer people understand that Clean Growth was a major part of our successful bid.

We see culture very much as an economic and social driver, creating new skills, jobs and facilities with a low environmental impact in a way which engages and empowers some of our most disadvantaged communities.

Education is key, too.

One of my fellow panellists at Reset Connect was Sophie Andersen, mayor of Copenhagen.
The Danish capital has well-publicised plans to be net carbon-neutral by 2025, and has already reduced emissions by nearly half since 2005.

Yet it has managed this while achieving 25 per cent economic growth.

This is partly because Copenhagen - like Bradford, Bristol or Glasgow - has committed fully to making carbon neutrality a part of every decision it makes, and thinking through what that looks like in terms of key sites, investment and infrastructure.

But it is also testament to the unity with which people who live and work in Copenhagen have embraced radical change. Why? It can be summarised in just a few words: clarity of vision, and education.

Make sure people know exactly what you want to do, and why you want to do it. Not just as an exercise in communications, but because you want to inspire people to participate in the journey, make better decisions of their own, and become leaders in their own right.

This is a pivotal moment for our cities. They must rise to the challenge.

This will require strong and visionary local leadership, but can only be done in partnership with the private sector and national government.

Our cities have to be flexible, creative and collaborative in thinking about new funding models. They also need to provide the market with genuinely investable opportunities, as John Flint, CEO of the UK Infrastructure Bank, to the audience at Reset Connect. These opportunities need to defined and clear.

National governments, meanwhile, need to show a long-term commitment to places which are leading the way, and which offer the greatest scope for transformational change.

By leading by example - by showing what can be done - great cities have changed the world before. It is time to do so again.