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How Greater Manchester plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2038

The city-region of Greater Manchester is made up of ten local councils (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan) and the Mayor. Known as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), it works together with other partners and local services on issues that affect everyone in the region, such as the environment, transport, regeneration, and attracting investment.

By Greater Manchester Combined Authority Environment Team

Greater Manchester is one of the UK’s most advanced municipalities when it comes to climate protection and the energy transition. Located in the North West of England, the metropolitan area with its 2.8 million inhabitants has already won prizes[1] for its green efforts. It also made it to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s 2019 A-List of cities who are leading efforts to tackle climate challenges.[2] Between 1990 and 2015, Greater Manchester’s total carbon footprint fell by 39%.[3] Now it aims to be carbon neutral by 2038, a full twelve years before the national deadline, and has already halved its emissions since the 2009–10 baseline.

Starting with a plan

Greater Manchester’s biggest strength is integrated planning and translating national requirements to the local landscape. In 2019, the municipality published its first five-year Environment Plan,[4] which laid out what needs to be done by 2024 in order to reach the goals of carbon neutrality by 2038, meeting World Health Organization guidelines on air quality by 2030, and recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2035.

The plan uses different methods―a SCATTER analysis (Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reductions – a greenhouse gas reporting tool from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research)[5] and the Energy Technologies Institute’s Energy System Modelling Environment (ESME)[6] ―to design two possible pathways to these goals, one with less and one with more local control.

Carbon budgeting is one of the main tools applied by the city. The Tyndall Centre has calculated that Greater Manchester has a total budget of 71 million tonnes of CO2 between 2018 and 2100 in order to comply with the Paris Agreement, which has been split into individual five-year budgets until 2038.[7] In order to stay within these budgets, Greater Manchester needs to reduce its carbon emissions by about 13% every year―and plans are in place to achieve this. In addition, all ten councils have declared a Climate Emergency, and Manchester City Council plans to reduce carbon emissions from its buildings, energy use and transport by 50% before 2025.

Everything set for the energy transition

Greater Manchester’s five-year Environment Plan has four focus areas in the energy sector: energy storage, decarbonization of heat, low-carbon transport, and diversity and flexibility across the network.

The first priority is to increase local renewable electricity generation by 45 MW before 2024, by constructing on-site solar and wind generators on council land and buildings. This will save an estimated 7,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

A pioneering project, Unlocking Clean Energy, will develop 10 renewable schemes across the city including solar PV, battery storage and electric vehicle charging. Led by Energy Systems Catapult, it brings together four councils (Manchester, Stockport, Wigan and Rochdale) to create a blueprint that can be replicated in other regions across the UK aiming for net zero carbon emissions.[8]

To make it easier for residents to switch to renewable providers, the GMCA introduced the Greater Manchester Energy Switching Scheme,[9] which supports residents in finding 100% renewable and significantly cheaper energy and gas options. This also helps the fight against energy poverty.

Streetlights in Manchester City Centre are being replaced with low-energy LEDs (56,000 between 2017 and 2020), which is estimated to save 220 tonnes of carbon emissions annually. And 27 of Manchester City Council’s old refuse collection vehicles will be replaced with electric vehicles, saving 900 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Reforming the heating sector

Credit: Salim Virji on Flickr

The heating sector offers further potential to reduce carbon emissions. By 2024, Greater Manchester wants to add at least 10 TWh of low-carbon heating using a variety of solutions to meet the differing challenges we face. The Homes as Energy Systems project in Manchester and Stockport will retrofit homes with smart and flexible energy technologies, including PV solar panels and battery storage, new heating systems and heat recovery ventilation.[10]

Manchester City Council’s Civic Quarter Network project will create a shared heat network between council-owned buildings and a few private properties near the Town Hall. This shared network is estimated to lead to an annual carbon saving of 1,600 tonnes.

Many residents of Greater Manchester suffer from energy poverty and some cannot afford to heat their homes sufficiently in winter. As a first step to tackling that issue, the municipality set up the Warm Homes Fund in 2018, under which 500 households were to get a new central heating system fitted for free.[11] This target was achieved in November 2019 and a second round has started. The eligible households are also visited by an energy advisor who provides advice on saving energy, switching energy tariffs, and identifies any other ways in which they can reduce their bills.

Large-scale retrofitting

The region’s districts have combined to standardize building data, enabling them to identify the buildings that consume the most energy. This has led to 133 buildings receiving heating, generation and or lighting surveys to support future energy-related programmes. The retrofitting of some 250 publicly owned buildings could lead to a reduction of 1,800 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2038, the council wants to have retrofitted 61,000 buildings each year throughout the city. Furthermore, it is mandatory that all new buildings will be net-zero emissions on an operational basis by 2028.

Bringing all actors together

Credit: Fraser Cottrell on Unsplash

Greater Manchester’s administration understands that carbon neutrality can only be reached when everyone acts in concert. Green Summits are held regularly and offer a wide range of workshops for a diversity of actors, from citizens to businesses. A Green Summit on 25 March 2019 brought together 1,700 participants and saw the launch of the five-year plan.[12] A Green Summit held digitally in September 2020 gave young people, businesses, communities and partner organizations the chance to share their experiences and the actions they’re all taking to achieve net-zero in Greater Manchester.

Greater Manchester follows a mission-based approach which reinforces ‘bottom up’ engagement as a core principle. It is a truly cross-sectoral approach that focuses on specific challenges facing society rather than specific sectors.

Other measures for a green city

Financing solutions for investment in Greater Manchester’s natural environment are being developed under the headline IGNITION.[13] Since data suggests that 250,000 properties are at risk of being flooded, the project aims at increasing green infrastructure in the city-region by 10% by 2038 in order to use nature-based solutions to combat urban over-heating (provision of shade and evaporative cooling) and flooding.

A large number of other initiatives are helping to make Greater Manchester more environmentally friendly. For example, Recycle for Greater Manchester aims to change people’s mindset about waste and encourage them to manage their waste responsibly and recycle more.

Finally, the Manchester Tree Action Plan intends to plant 1,000 new trees, 1,000 new hedge trees and four community orchards a year.

About the GMCA Environment Team:

Along with the region’s Green City family of leading businesses, community and voluntary, third sector and charity organizations, green influencers, schools and individuals, the GMCA Environment team facilitates action and supports progress on the Five-Year Environment Plan. Please help us to share Greater Manchester’s achievements on social media and across your networks, your feedback will be gratefully received.

Welcome to the family.

This blog article was co-created by Josephine Valeske and is part of the mPOWER blog series in which cities and towns share how they are building better energy futures. The article was originally published on https://municipalpower.org/articles/how-greater-manchester-plans-to-reach-carbon-neutrality-by-2038/. This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 785171.


[1] Greater Manchester was one of three UK cities/councils that reached the international finalist stage of WWF’s One Planet City Challenge Competition for 2019-2020: http://gmgreencity.com/theme/economy

[2] https://www.cdp.net/en/cities/cities-scores

[3] https://www.edie.net/news/9/Manchester-City-Council-spells-out-five-year-action-plan-to-halve-emissions/

[4] https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/media/1975/5_year_plan_exec_summ_digital.pdf

[5] https://www.anthesisgroup.com/scatter-greenhouse-gas-tool-offers-a-quicker-easier-solution-for-cities-to-deliver-comprehensive-climate-action/

[6] https://www.eti.co.uk/programmes/strategy/esme

[7] https://energy-cities.eu/best-practice/from-spinning-yarn-to-carbon-budgeting/

[8] https://es.catapult.org.uk/impact/projects/ucegm/

[9]  https://bigcleanswitch.org/gm/

[10] https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/media/2085/pp-haes-press-release.pdf

[11] https://www.gmpovertyaction.org/access-to-services/warm-homes-fund/

[12] https://www.greatermanchester-ca.gov.uk/what-we-do/environment/green-summit/greater-manchester-comes-together-a-review-of-the-second-green-summit/

[13] https://www.uia-initiative.eu/en/uia-cities/greater-manchester

Title Image Credit: William McCue on Unsplash


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