YNY LEP Energy Programme Lead Katie Privett discusses highlights from COP26, and the ambitious projects happening on local levels in cities and regions around the world.
Thursday 11th November at the UN COP26 focused on “Cities, Regions and Built Environment”.
On Thursday evening, I attended an international panel of mayors at the beautiful Glasgow City Chambers, on George Square, which had been a hive of protest activity days before. Inside the grand building, mayors from Glasgow, Lyon, Leeds, Barcelona, Pittsburgh, Liverpool, Turku and Melbourne (attending virtually!) gathered to share their ‘best bits’ and the challenges that their cities are facing to deliver really ambitious climate action. There were amazing projects showcased, some already happening and others in the planning stage, which demonstrated that cities can be the driving force in the fight for a just transition to a net zero economy. Each city leader was passionate about the power of cities and regions, and in particular of their own. I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed, though, that an event with a big crowd advertised as panels with Q&As turned into a series of overlong lectures, excluding the very citizens that their talks touted as being vital to listen to!
Highlights from around the world
That said, there were definitely highlights that I’m taking away to inform the LEP’s work going forward. The Finnish city of Turku has gone all in on circular economy, with bold ambitions like becoming a carbon neutral city by 2029 with zero waste, and Minna Arve mentioned some of the groundbreaking projects already underway. They’re generating heat for homes from wastewater, they’re actively promoting low carbon diets, and have reopened a textile processing plant to reprocess fibres, reinvigorating a dying sector with circular principles at its heart. Minna’s key point was that they have done this with residents, not to them.
Barcelona is tackling the staggering stat that 60% of public space is dedicated to cars, by turning one in every three streets into car-free public spaces, creating ‘Superblocks’ of active transport and liveable engaging public spaces that are great for people and for biodiversity. Manchester is aiming to take on London with a net zero integrated and affordable public transport system, which drew envious looks from the other UK mayors. And Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh told of a multi-state Marshall Plan to create a prosperous economy with workers at the heart, in the oft-demonised and left-behind areas of the US Rust Belt.
Possibly the most impressive rollcall of achievements came from Melbourne, where the city’s major consumers already run on 100% renewables thanks to a massive coordinated power purchase agreement, and they’re installing neighbourhood batteries to make even more use of their amazing resources.
Putting people at the heart of our decision-making
However, as great as the individual projects sounded, I was more encouraged by the founding principles that were common across all the speakers. People are the heart of cities and regions, and local leaders are there to give them a city that provides them with the best jobs, the cleanest air, the cheapest and most efficient way to travel, and homes that are safe and warm. Putting people in the middle of our decision-making, both in this generation and those to come, is the only way to create a net zero economy.
On this trip, I’ve heard about awesome tech and seen the power of innovation to make the products and systems that will make our future. But more importantly I’ve met the people that are pushing for it. CEOs and Mayors, engineers and trade association representatives, activists and researchers – people from all walks of life who are committed to making a greener, fairer, more resilient future for humanity. Whether we reflect on the political outcome of COP26 being a big international success, I’m confident that the people of the UK will not accept half-baked solutions and wait for national governments to slowly implement the change – they’re moving now and the people’s greener future will not be denied!