How to give Exeter’s climate emergency plans some welly

The coronavirus crisis has led to some reworking of the actions to develop a practical response to the climate emergency in Exeter.  This could be an opportunity to make the plans more robust.

Yesterday, 26 March, should have been the climax of public engagement activity in the development of a “roadmap” to a carbon neutral city by Exeter City Futures (ECF). What was planned was a “summit”, to be held at Exeter City Football Club – though presumably not on the pitch – at which various significant persons would outline their thoughts and then the rest of us who had registered to attend would offer our input.  The aim of the summit was to give a final steer to the roadmap, due to be handed over to Exeter City Council at the end of March. However, the summit has become a predictable victim of the coronavirus crisis.

Readers unfamiliar with key events since Exeter City Council declared a climate emergency in July 2019 will find this article in the Exeter Observer a helpful briefing.

As I noted in that article, a key weakness of the ECF Blueprint as a basis for public engagement was the absence of data to enable people to make informed choices about which of the 89 specifications for a carbon-neutral Exeter they considered the most important. Nor was such information available in the mobile “creative conversations” van from Totnes that popped up around the city, breakdowns permitting.

Since writing the article, I’ve come across some potentially very useful work carried out by Ashden, a sustainable energy consultancy, and the campaign group Friends of the Earth. Their project sets out an evidence-based list of the 31 most effective actions councils can take on climate. But this is not just a list, as in the Blueprint. It comes with a downloadable spreadsheet packed with empirical data which can be applied to each of the 31 actions for any given population. What the data does is enable anyone to rank the actions according to their effectiveness in reducing carbon emissions, factoring in costs and ease of implementation. The narrative highlights additional benefits from particular actions, such as improvements to health, resilience and equity.

Of course there’s a risk if a formulaic tool is followed without regard for local circumstances. But it’s better than anything we’ve had on offer locally, and could serve as a valuable starting point for an informed discussion of priorities.

Meanwhile, the postponement of the summit has led to some confusion. In a statement ECF stated that although the summit would not now take place as scheduled, the plan (aka the Routemap) would still be delivered to the City Council “on schedule”, in other words very soon. This raises an interesting question: if the plan can be handed over to the council without the benefit of input from the summit, then what exactly was the point of the summit?

ECF has given itself some wriggle room. Having told the Council’s Strategic Scrutiny Committee on 16 January that the final plan would be delivered to the Council’s Chief Executive by the end of March, the Net Zero Exeter website – also operated by ECF – now gives the date as being “April 2020”.

So, let’s hope that the extra time allows the Ashden work or something like it to be used to transform the Blueprint into a useful plan.


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