Civic Plan for a Climate Emergency

wierd city buit si-fi environment

Building the 1.5 degree, socially-just city

Discussion document for policy makers & civic leaders

Paul Chatterton, School of Geography, University of Leeds, UK. Full text HERE

This climate emergency is also a ‘city emergency’. Most of the world’s population will soon be urban. Cities are locked in to high energy throughputs, are responsible for about three-quarters of global GHGs and energy use, have ecological footprints larger than their city limits, and remain locked in to high-growth, high-consumption lifestyles.

In the context of growing awareness of the severity of climate breakdown, the central role cities play in this, and the lack of rapid action, municipalities around the world are declaring ‘climate Emergencies’. To date 40 municipalities in the UK have signed such a declaration. Worldwide around 50 million now live in cities that have declared emergencies. This is an exciting addition to city level action through, for example, the C40 Leadership Group and the Global Covenant of Mayors.

Tackling head-on the way we live in, manage and design cities makes sense in terms of responding to the climate emergency. Changing city 4 life offers significant and immediate GHG reduction potentials. It also offers a range of co-benefits. City redesign can address long standing urban problems – poverty, segregation, planning blight, air quality, environmental degradation, land ownership, and citizen disengagement.

This discussion document is intended for all those who are interested in supporting city redesign in the face of the current climate emergency. It focuses on four action areas of a city roadmap that respond to the 1.5° GHG reduction challenge. Together, they represent ideas towards a Civic Plan for a Climate Emergency that can be used by policy makers, researchers, civic and business leaders alike to start to understand and take action on the scale and nature of the task.. . . .

Climate Emergency …………………………………………. 1
City Climate Emergency …………. ..    …………………… 3
The 1.5 City Definitions & Challenges ………….. 5
City Climate Emergency. FOUR ACTION AREAS … 10
City action 1 Create zero emission civic energy …..10
City action 2 Create car-lite, climate safe, socially just mobility……..12
City action 3 Create a new City ‘nature deal’…………13
City action 4 Create City Common-wealth …………….14


 A first step is creating a Climate Emergency Hub. Key to unlocking rapid and meaningful change in cities is a broad and comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced and the kinds of solutions that will work. While the urgent scientific and policy messages around the climate emergency are readily available, they are inconsistently understood and applied locally.

The Hub fills this gap. It initiates collaborative learning, peer-to-peer exchange, in-depth training, demonstration, information sharing and coproduction. It involves basic foundational training in key issues around the climate science of the 1.5° target as well as how these are translated into ‘step change’ city public policy choices. Playing a key role here will be community based knowledge about what works supported by expert research knowledge about the detail of the challenges and technical issues. City wide commissions or forums along with university and research partners will be vital in terms of creating a knowledge base, networking, linking and supporting.

Key to the work of the Hub will be understanding change that is both
rapid and deep, but that also is economically feasible, socially fair and
‘brings people along’. It will focus on the positive vision for change and
the co benefits that can be delivered. A key element will be sharing
demonstration and replication, setting aside city land and assets to
rapidly prototype, share and learn from emerging best practice. These
kinds of hubs will have a bigger impact through a network of venues
spread across a locality.


In the context of an emergency, we need a new kind of civic politics.
After declaring a climate emergency at a city scale, a second essential
element is to reach out far and wide across diverse communities.
While much is known about the technical issues of carbon reduction
roadmaps, the challenge is engaging the hearts and minds of citizens,
understanding, listening and empathising with fears and concerns,
gathering ideas for positive action, and getting to grips with the kinds
of changes in everyday practices that need to be made within
institutions and neighbourhoods. This ultimately leads to the creation
of a ‘Citizen Climate Emergency Plan’ and neighbourhood-based
structures which can create ownership of the challenges and translate
these into action on the ground.
A citizens assembly can be supported by online platforms such as those used during the West Midlands and Manchester mayoral elections The assembly would be formed from a broad spectrum of city voices. Established forms already exist such as the ‘Democracy Matters’ citizens assembly model. In this format a Citizens’ Assembly is a group of people brought together, broadly representing the diversity of the population, to deliberate on issues.

The design of a Citizens’ Assembly provides an opportunity for a cross-section of the public to hear from experts and campaigners and to engage in considered, thoughtful and reasoned discussion of the issues, while calibrating action to the challenges. The end goal of the assembly is to work closely with the municipality, to make recommendations and play a scrutiny and oversight function, holding elected leaders to account on key milestones and deliverables.

The above represents a brief introduction to key issues and action
areas. The aim for municipalities now is to declare meaningful climate
emergencies and set up mechanisms and processes to begin
substantial debate and action planning on the first critical decade
ahead. Clearly, there are limits to the powers and resource base of UK
cities, and these limits needs to be addressed urgently. City plans
need to be supported by national climate emergency plans, with a
commensurate transfer of resources and powers. There needs to be
national alignment through favourable national primary legislation to
fundamentally shift the allocation of subsidies, infrastructure planning
and taxation.
From this needs to emerge a new positive vision for city and town life
as they embark on a 1.5° zero carbon roadmap. Foundational to this is
understanding, listening to and connecting with the real and everyday
concerns that people have in the context of rapid change. Positive
changes and co-benefits in well-being, mobility, homes and
neighbourhoods, workplaces and finance need to be highlighted and
celebrated. City leaders and citizens need to come together and jointly
own the actions and benefits associated with the changes ahead. While
this is a climate emergency, it has the potential to be deeply positive,
addressing many of the stubborn problems that have plagued cities for
generations. From hereon, every year counts. We need to think big,
start small, but act now.

# # #

About the author:

Paul CharttertonPaul Chatterton is Professor of Urban Futures in the School of Geography, University of Leeds. Paul is also co-founder and resident of the award winning low impact housing co-operative Lilac, Leeds Community Homes and Kirkstall Valley Development Trust. His recent
books include Low Impact Living (Routledge) and Unlocking Sustainable Cities (Pluto Press) (
Image Credit: James McKay

About World Streets program coordinator : 

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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