The last decade has seen extreme weather events causing disruption to our economy and loss of life. Last year saw four UK records broken – the highest recorded temperature of 38.7C, the warmest ever winter’s day, the highest December temperature and the mildest February night. We now face dealing with climate related events taking place at the same time as managing the ongoing pandemic. I am writing this at the end of a summer which has seen heatwaves, flooding and continuing outbreaks of Covid-19 across the UK. As we rebuild and reconceptualise our cities and their economies, we need reliable and dependable support from government for the green infrastructure which will help us meet these interlinked challenges.
Local leaders and mayors are used to dealing with and resolving multiple, interdependent challenges balancing prevention and crisis. This has been the case with the response to the generation defining issue of Covid-19, and the pressure it puts on our systems and services. We have been on the frontline of the response to the pandemic, working with public health professionals, business and community sector to shield and heal. We’ve demonstrated our role in responding quickly to the crisis through our strong communities and networks. Operating in the complex urban environment, we see up close and personal the consequences of decisions and policies.
But we’ve also needed to protect the space needed to think not just about survival, but about the recovery and reinvention of our cities and towns. To plan and build the centres we need for an economy that has changed considerably. Changing the systems so that they are more resilient and behave in a way that doesn’t contribute to the likelihood of shocks. In Core Cities UK and the other city networks that Bristol is part of, clear demands and plans of action are forming.
We want more from the government’s economic planning so that in recovering from the primary risk in the National Risk Register – a pandemic – we also need a commitment to tackle the three climate related risks of the other top five at the same time. It is short-sighted not to, but will also bringing billions of pounds into the economy, harvesting the benefits of low carbon and making resilient places attractive to inward investment.
A key aspect of infrastructure for future cities to resolve is the delivery of low carbon heat to its residents and businesses, which represents 45% of final UK energy demand. In Bristol we have been installing new heat networks for several years, with a particular focus on the city centre. Bristol’s heat network currently supplies over 1000 properties with low-carbon heat from a variety of sources across the city and continues to expand to new areas across the city. Heat networks can be integrated into wider city urban growth and regeneration plans, helping to address fuel poverty and environmental issues such as air quality.
Across the Core Cities network, we are playing our part to build climate-resilient cities. Each city’s approach is unique, but there are consistent threads running throughout:
- building an evidence base to understand the risks of climate change
- a leadership role in setting out the future path for a city, working with local and national partners
- thematic work tackling specific climate-related risks such as flood risk management or urban heat risks
- cross-cutting work addressing common aims like protecting vulnerable people, using nature to tackle climate threats or retrofitting buildings
The UK100 Resilient Recovery Taskforce was established by a group of 24 mayors and local leaders, representing 24 million people across the country. We are calling on the government to commit to a ‘New Deal for Green Skills and Growth’, alongside a major push on infrastructure investment, public transport and retrofitting homes.
We know that cities, and their economies, must become more sustainable and inclusive.
Now is the time for government to lend backing and offer real partnership and investment to support what cities are already doing in response to Covid-19. By front loading the investment in the green infrastructure cities and towns across the country already have lined up, we can secure billions of pounds of investment in quality jobs and invaluable confidence to local partners and their supply chains.
This is what will help us deliver the vital green infrastructure we need to meet carbon neutrality targets and rebuild the economy in a way that avoids future climate shocks and includes people to give them hope and social justice.