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Forward, Faster, Together

Steve Burgess welcomes the first Report of the Edinburgh Climate Commission.

Cllr Steve Burgess
Cllr Steve Burgess

The independent Edinburgh Climate Commission was set up earlier in 2020 to bring together the whole city behind the target to be zero carbon by 2030. It is a recognition that the council has a leadership role but only a whole-city approach can deliver the change needed.

Its first report today (9 July) was, quite rightly, focused on the need for Green Recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Since March the pandemic has created huge economic and social shock to the city, with businesses, jobs, family life and community fabric all impacted dramatically.

So the task ahead is to restore normality but as a “new normal” – one which doesn’t simply lead out of one crisis straight into another.

And the report today seeks to navigate that course. Many of themes are familiar, of course. On transport, to shift the balance to walking, wheeling and cycling and to clean public transport; and to accelerate the transition to a smaller number of electric cars and vans. On energy, to focus on renewables, district heating and making existing homes and buildings more efficient. On recognising the huge asset of natural green space to the city. And much else besides.

This is familiar territory although no less important for that. There are some new twists too. For example, there’s a thumbs up for the “20-minute city” concept, where people should be able to access key services within a 20 minute walk of their home. After decades where public services have been closed and local shops have struggled this is a simple but radical reversal and recognition of how important proper neighbourhood networks have been during the pandemic. In the north of the city, the Granton Waterfront regeneration is presented as an opportunity to lead the way as Climate Innovation District. And the thorny issue of making real change to energy use is reflected in a Citywide Energy Challenge.

But really the substance of the report – and the test – is not so much on new ideas and policy innovation as to how to get the city machinery to make it happen. There is challenge for the council here in how it works on the 2030 City Plan, say, or on how it carries out its budget process. But equally, there is a lot riding on the willingness of adjacent councils, the universities and colleges and the business community to flex the £1.3 billion City Region Deal to support Green Recovery. The gauntlet is thrown down to the city’s huge and influential financial sector to demonstrate creativity in developing the financial instruments to fund longer term investment. The Scottish and UK governments are challenged to give councils the tools to do the job: for example, in making support for business conditional on delivering on Green Recovery.

This is all difficult and necessary in equal measure. The Climate Commission may be independent but both council leader and chief executive are among its members, so today’s report sets a new bar for the council and the city to aim for and one which cannot be ignored.