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Joe Peacock – Time to begin Birmingham’s great transition

Joe Peacock – Time to begin Birmingham’s great transition

🕔05.Jul 2012

Last week, the news broke that Birmingham City Council has no idea whether it is on course to meet Government carbon targets, never mind its own more ambitious 60 per cent figure devised by the previous administration.

For many of us, this came as no great surprise, due to the conflicting and contradictory policy choices that have been made since this target was adopted, as well as the lack of data that has been highlighted in the scrutiny committee. We are not even sure where the data for 1990 is (is anyone?), but this must exist if a target has been set, so it should be widely publicised as the baseline data.

More worrying than the lack of data, is that what seems to be lacking, more than anything else, is an overarching strategy and a vision of what the city would look like when emitting 60% less CO2 than in 1990.

We are talking about a truly radical shift in how the city operates and yet the fact that any infrastructure put into place now will still be around in 14 years time, does not seem to have been thought of. Short-termism is the curse of most politicians (well and developers, planning officers etc.), but to revolutionise the way this city works over the next 14 years, surely that’s not so far in the distance that it can be ignored now.

What Birmingham Friends of the Earth want is a new approach that really stands a chance of hitting the 60% CO2 emissions reduction target. First of all, we need to understand exactly how much CO2 will be emitted from each sector – homes and buildings, energy generation, transport and resource use being the key ones. Each area can then be examined for ways to achieve such levels of emissions.

To engage the public we would suggest doing a visioning exercise (as has been done in many other places), so that people can see what the city could look like under different scenarios given choices of where to make cuts. Then a back-casting exercise should be done to identify the steps needed to get to the solutions which best fit Birmingham. This can also be useful in identifying where investment needs to be made and training of the workforce done. Unlike the cuts in the council’s financial budget, cutting the city’s carbon budget is a massive opportunity to create jobs, improve people’s quality of life and health.

Once we have a vision and clear steps to reach this, we can track how we are doing. We cannot leave it all until the last five years to do everything, so we hope that the Green Commission will make it clear that there needs to be much greater pace of change and is able to drive this message to all members of the cabinet and officers.

A few questions need to be answered which will have a massive impact on council policy:

  • If transport emissions are to reduce by 60%, how many cars can be allowed to drive around the city and what other measures are needed nationally to reduce trunk road and motorway traffic?
  • How will the people displaced from driving move around the city?
  • What impact does the plans for expanding the airport have? Birmingham should take a share of the emissions that is proportionate to its share of ownership (along with the other boroughs) rather than leaving it all to Solihull.
  • How many buildings need to be insulated, of what type and to what standard?
  • What reduction in energy usage per household/business is required and can this be achieved through behaviour change or technology?
  • What clean technology businesses can we attract to the city and where will they be located?
  • How much energy can be generated from different renewable sources and where will the money come from to invest in this infrastructure?
  • What clean resource recovery infrastructure is ready to replace the incinerator in 2019?
  • What are the priority areas to preserve and enhance the green spaces and biodiversity of wildlife around the city?

There is no reason why Birmingham cannot follow the examples of some of the most successful European cities to transition to a lower carbon model of living if it has the powers required to follow their examples. However, expecting this to happen with a business as usual attitude just will not do it.

Let’s sell the vision to the people of Birmingham of a truly cleaner, safer and smarter city and then take the bold steps needed to achieve this.


  • Joe Peacock represents Birmingham Friends of the Earth
Free image courtesy of <p>Image: <a href=”” target=”_blank”></a></p>

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