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1st June 2018

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Phillip Minas

A science-based tool being used by the Manchester city region to assess its options in pursuing a zero-carbon goal could prove effective not only for other cities but also big companies, reports Catherine Early

"If we’re serious about climate change, it’s a Marshall-style transition we’re talking about.” Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, does not hold back from the scale of the changes needed to enable decarbonisation of the economy, comparing them to the US plan for Europe after the Second World War.

Speaking at Manchester’s inaugural Green Summit in March, Anderson outlined analysis undertaken by the centre, which is based in the University of Manchester, to identify the city region’s carbon budget. This concluded that it should emit no more than 71m tonnes of carbon dioxide from 2018 onwards – the equivalent of just five to six years’ worth of the area’s current emissions, he said.

“Full decarbonisation of the Greater Manchester city region is needed by 2035 to 2040. That’s a 10-15% reduction in emissions every single year, starting now. If we fail this year, it’s more next year,” he told delegates.

The Tyndall Centre has been working with consultancy Anthesis Group and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) – which represents the 10 councils in the city region – to develop and trial a city-focused low-carbon model.

Called SCATTER (Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction), the tool can support cities across the UK to set emission reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s aims to limit temperature rise to a maximum of 2°C.

SCATTER allows city authorities to standardise their greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting by aligning it with internationally accepted standards and ensuring consistency with the requirements of the Compact of Mayors – an international alliance of cities and local governments that are voluntarily acting on climate change.

It also allows the city to produce emissions reports that meet the mitigation goal standard, an accounting and reporting standard for national and subnational GHG reduction goals developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

The idea for the SCATTER tool came out of a desire to support cities to align their climate mitigation plans with the WRI’s standards, says Matt Rooney, principal consultant at Anthesis. Analysis of the many climate-change-related tools on the market revealed a gap. “We didn’t see anything that joined up the WRI-compliant inventory with modelling, or with the WRI’s goal standard reporting. We felt there was an opportunity to consolidate and simplify some of the tools already out there,” he says.

SCATTER allowed the team to take the Tyndall Centre’s recommended target date for carbon neutrality and identify various options to achieve it. The tool generates carbon mitigation options according to four levels of ambition, with the lowest based on the results of action being taken only at national level.

The tool enables local authorities and city regions to understand, for the first time, the implications of their long-term climate change commitments, says Mark Atherton, director of environment at the GMCA. “SCATTER provides the user with options for taking action which can be honed to suit their circumstances – it gives clarity on the ‘what’ but leaves the ‘how’ for the user to decide,” he says.

The team based the options for Manchester only on existing, proven technology. SCATTER allowed them to distinguish between technical solutions that can be applied locally and those that rely on national government action.

Speaking to delegates at the summit, Alex Ganotis, green city region portfolio lead and Stockport council leader, said the tool had shown it was possible for the city to achieve carbon neutrality ahead of the UK-wide goal of 2050.

However, this would be demanding, he warned, needing “ambitious national assumptions in relation to surplus renewables capacity within the grid, bioenergy availability and displacement of fossil fuels. This is on the boundaries of the application of current technologies, and would require unprecedented transformational change and extraordinary national financial investment.”

Rooney agrees with this assessment of the level of ambition needed. “The consistent theme was that, whatever lever you pull, you have to pull it pretty hard to get where you need to be.”

He gives an example of the most ambitious level of action for generating energy. If 50% of domestic properties in the region were fitted with 16m2 of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, and a further 16.8km2 of solar PV was located on commercial roofs, ground-mounted arrays and floating arrays on reservoirs, that could account for 12% of the city region’s energy demand of six terawatt-hours a year, he says.

At the lowest level of ambition, the same strategy could be followed, but on only 25% of households, with 0.6km2 on commercial roofs. This level would generate 2% of the energy demand.

An obvious way of reducing energy demand identified by the team is decarbonising transport. Transforming 100% of cars and buses to be zero-carbon by 2035, and transforming trains by 2025, were together identified as the most ambitious trajectory for transport. At the lowest ambition level, the same target would be met by 2050.

Ultimately, the tool merely identifies options for the user – be it a city authority or a large business. The user would then have to analyse the costs and other social and environmental impacts. “SCATTER means the user can get a more tangible feel for what technology and interventions could be used, which helps with practical application,” says Rooney.

In Manchester’s case, the GMCA is putting together a Green Charter for the city region, published for consultation this summer. As well as climate change mitigation, the wide-ranging strategy will aim to improve all aspects of the built and natural environment.

Now that Manchester has piloted the tool, its developers are working on expanding its use. Anthesis is engaging a further four UK cities but sees it applying to other countries as well. It could also be used by companies, the firm believes. “It would need adaptation, but corporates are looking at the same way of evaluating how they can deliver a science-based target in practical terms,” says Rooney.

For example, businesses could use SCATTER to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), which says they should test their exposure to climate risk to give investors better information.

All in all, SCATTER looks likely to have a promising future in supporting environmental transition. “We’re very excited about what this can enable, and what kind of change it can drive,” Rooney says.

Going beyond carbon: plans into action

  • Improved environments for walking and cycling: Greater Manchester appointed former champion cyclist Chris Boardman as walking and cycling commissioner last summer. Up to £50m a year is being provided for three years from 2019/20 to implement Boardman’s recommendations
  • All new homes to be zero-carbon: the date will be decided through consultation
  • Invest in energy generation and storage: a company has been created to do this and generate revenue to invest in other environmental improvements
  • More green infrastructure, including parks, green roofs and sustainable urban drainage: Manchester is one of four areas piloting ideas to boost natural capital for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Catherine Early is a freelance journalist

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