How we did it ... Manchester steps up to plate on climate change

Project: The Climate Change Agency for Manchester will lead public and private initiatives designed to minimise carbon emissions.

Background: Local authorities in the city-region decided that they needed a new organisation to galvanise their efforts to tackle climate change. It was a response to the mini Stern report for Manchester, which calculated an economic cost to the city-region of £20 billion in lost opportunities over the next 12 years should it fail to fully embrace the global agenda of action against climate change.

Who is behind it? The Association of Greater Manchester Authorities.

Project aims: To co-ordinate work on climate change mitigation and help deliver those measures.

Skills involved: Climate change expertise, leadership, consultation, project management.

As climate change is pushed ever higher up the nation's political agenda, local authorities in Manchester are responding by establishing a new body to spearhead their efforts to protect the environment. The Climate Change Agency is being set up as a focus for the city-region's action plan to limit the impact of global warming.

There is a serious economic angle to the initiative. Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council leader Dave Goddard explains: "This is a major step forward in our response to climate change. Our analysis confirms that it is as much an argument about economic prosperity as it is about environmental protection. The new global deal available on climate change presents us with a huge economic opportunity."

He adds: "The current global economic downturn is providing an opportunity to engage in some long-term thinking regarding the sort of catalytic actions that are likely to have long-term traction in achieving sustainable growth for the Greater Manchester economy."

An extra impetus for the agency came in the form of the mini Stern report for Manchester, produced by accountancy firm Deloitte last year. It concluded that there would be huge economic costs resulting from failure to play a full part in the new low-carbon economy.

The report warned that changes to both legislation and customer demand mean that each sector of industry has to reduce its carbon footprint or run the risk of being left behind. It welcomed the agency as a means for pooling the necessary expertise and skills from both the public and private sectors.

Goddard is chairman of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) environment commission, which is responsible for overseeing the agency. The commission is one of seven, each with a different speciality such as health or planning and housing, set up by the association to lead its ten local authorities in each field.

The environment commission's head of carbon economy Steve Turner reveals that the agency will soon have a project officer as its first member of staff. It will eventually boast ten employees. Among its first projects will be a smart meter plan for a business district that will allow firms to easily monitor their energy use.

The agency will also work on a geothermal heating project in a sports centre in east Manchester. Businesses in the city-region have requested a single point of contact for advice on climate change matters and the agency will seek to provide this resource as well.

Law firm Eversheds has looked at how the agency should be constituted and proposed a statutory corporation as the best model. This may require primary legislation and talks with central government about whether this will be necessary are ongoing. An alternative would be a company limited by guarantee.

So the strategic direction called for in the mini Stern report is provided in the Manchester city-region through AGMA's leadership and its environment commission. Now the means to deliver a local economy geared to the demands of a climate change agenda is in place.

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