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Invest in green transport and energy to level up Britain’s cities


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In Bristol, investing in a low-carbon mass transit system will connect people to jobs and opportunity, including from the most deprived areas of the city.

The recent Met Office report, which says the UK is already undergoing disruptive climate change, along with flash flooding in London, will no doubt be focusing minds on the realities of dealing with the climate emergency. But many others will be still worrying about the basics, finding work and getting food on the table.

Working at a local level involves balancing competing priorities. You simply cannot be a single-issue mayor and hope to bring everyone with you. And yet everyone pulling together is what tackling the climate emergency will require. But what does successful net zero levelling up actually look like?

A just transition will actively include the poorest households instead of scolding them for their carbon footprint

Firstly, unless we are intentional on how we deliver net zero, we will end up worsening the inequality that levelling up is attempting to reduce. It is important that green jobs are accessible, that workers are transitioned from existing jobs sequentially, and not left behind as the economy shifts.

A just transition will actively include the poorest households instead of scolding them for their carbon footprint. Not only is it important to put in place green infrastructure, but also the economic and social infrastructure to make sure people do not lose hope along the way.

Levelling up is usually understood as a geographical term. For commentators it seems to mean two things: maximising growth at the top, and not leaving people behind, whether in cities outside of London or in more deprived regions. However, successful levelling up is not just about the north-south divide, but also addressing disparity within cities. Excluded groups and communities will need support in levelling up regardless of where in the country they live.

Cities are at the heart of both these challenges. 70% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by our cities. It is clear we need to redesign the world’s cities if we are to meet net zero. It cannot be done without accessible, sustainable and consistent finance.

In Bristol we are seeking investment for replanning and reconceptualising the city in a way to reduce future shocks – climate shocks, health shocks, economic shocks and social shocks.

We need to start investing in resilient infrastructure to increase our ability to mitigate future impacts. The cost of the flooding clean-up in Germany will now be many times more than the cost of the additional flooding defences would have been and the UK needs similar investment.

This is a generational challenge, but we have to start by defining the scale. We have quantified the investment required to make our buildings and transport zero carbon for the city as a whole as £9.2bn, with half of that needed for transport systems alone.

Together with our Combined Authority, we are developing the business case for investment of £3bn in a low-carbon mass transit system to meet the needs of a successful and growing city and region. This will connect people to jobs and opportunity, including from the most deprived areas of the city.

In addition, we are seeking a strategic partner for our City Leap Energy Partnership, to secure a £1billion investment in Bristol’s energy systems. The successful partner will work with us over the next 20 years to deliver on our social, environmental, and economic objectives through a huge programme of energy investment.

And through the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission, a collaboration between Core Cities UK, London Councils, and the Connected Places Catapult Centre, we are creating clear business cases based on a collective offer from cities. This generates greater scale, volume and predictability and therefore creates an attractive and substantial proposition for investors.  

Global financing mechanisms are just not suited to the sustainability needs of cities. So, we are convening international conversations to address this. Bristol and COP26 host Glasgow, along with the World Economic Forum and the Open Society Foundation have been convening a series of dialogues with experts from city government, international development, the financial sector, and philanthropy to address the challenge of financing cities.

We need long-term, sustained investment in clean transport and energy, and not endless rounds of short-term bidding competitions. This will empower local leaders, and their stakeholders to make the long-term plans that deliver on the levelling up agenda. Poverty and other issues of structural inequality need more than three-year funding pots.

For cities and local leaders, net zero cannot be a zero-sum game, and levelling up cannot succeed while the tiers of government are so unevenly matched. By transforming this approach and relationship we can deliver on both.

 

Marvin Rees is the Mayor of Bristol.

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