This map shows how prepared for climate change 30 UK cities are

Many councils, like this driver, are unprepared for flooding. Image: Matt Price/Flickr.

How prepared is your city for climate change? This research, originally published in 2013, may hold some answers.

More than half the world’s population now lives in cities or urban areas – which means our vulnerability to the impacts of climate change is tied up with cities' ability to cope.

Responsible for more than 70 per cent of carbon emissions, it is increasingly understood that cities must lead in tackling these problems and adapt to changes in weather patterns. This has led to a proliferation of urban plans for climate change.

To gain some perspective on how well planned and implemented such plans are, the team I work in at Newcastle University devised an Urban Climate Change Preparedness Score, which can be applied to other cities and countries, for comparative analysis. It charts progress against assessment, planning, action, and monitoring, for both adapting to climate change and mitigating its effects. This Preparedness Score allows a comparison of climate change strategies across urban areas, and makes a comparison against other cities here and abroad possible.

Gauging a city’s planning and preparedness is typically based on questionnaires or interviews of city officials. But instead we compiled and assessed only agreed and published planning documents drawn up and released by town and city councils in order to gain an insight into how prepared the cities were.

We analysed climate change strategies from 30 urban areas, representing around 28 per cent of the UK population; the results were published in the journal Climatic Change.

A map of climate change preparedness shows many towns and cities have a long way to go. Image: Oliver Heidrich/Climatic Change.

Typically, climate mitigation activities across all cities were more advanced than climate adaptation plans. Emissions reduction targets ranged from 10–80 per cent, with differing baselines, timeframes and scopes, for defining and meeting these targets; a similar wide range was observed for adaptation plans. A combination of incentives and regulation, such as signing up to the Covenant of Mayors, the Nottingham Declaration, or the Scottish and Welsh equivalents, seemed to stimulate more comprehensive strategies in many cities.

The measures planned or put in place ranged from the general, such as improving energy efficiency and energy savings; to the specific, such as introducing electric cars for transport (as in Newcastle), or heating generated from renewables like wind, biowaste or tidal power.

Where possible cities built on existing infrastructure. For example, Coventry and Sheffield plan to build upon and improve existing waste-to-energy plant; but in London, proposals focus on decentralised infrastructures, such as district heating. Despite the fact it is recommended in planning guidance, only 15 cities propose using such district heating in their climate change strategies.

The highest priority among the measures intended to adapt to the affects of climate change was flood protection, studied by 79 per cent of cities; urban planning and development was also seen as important.

Councils are also keen to identify areas where benefits overlap: green space in urban areas and shaded areas to lower heat levels (as in Lincoln), or encouraging better health through exercise (in Nottingham).

Overall, the highest scoring cities are Leicester, London and Manchester. They provide separate plans for adaptation and mitigation, integrate these plans with their core strategy, and provide regular reports and carbon footprints.

On the other hand, Derry in Northern Ireland and Wrexham in Wales only recently embarked on climate change planning and scored lowest. Although the councils consider climate change preparedness to be a performance criteria worth measuring, it has not yet implemented any planning or monitoring process to do so.

Generally, two groups of cities are more advanced in their planning and implementation of strategies and score better: those which are required to report on climate change (for example Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow, under Scottish Parliament legislation) or those which volunteer to do so, such as through the Covenant of Mayors.

Conversely, among the weakest scores were Derry and Belfast in Northern Island, which has no statutory commitment equivalent to the Nottingham Declaration or Scottish or Welsh Climate Change Declarations.

As the causes and impacts of climate change do not fall neatly into the administrative boundaries of councils, it is clear that most policies will be more successful if implemented over broader areas and across boundaries. But local authorities are pivotal to achieving global climate targets – and this research reveals the missing, inconsistent and poorly planned policies that must be urgently addressed.The Conversation

Oliver Heidrich is senior researcher in Urban Resource Modelling at Newcastle University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Leeds is still haunted by its pledge to be the “Motorway City of the Seventies”

Oh, Leeds. Image: mtaylor848/Wikimedia Commons.

As the local tourist board will no doubt tell you, Leeds has much to be proud of: grandiose industrial architecture in the form of faux-Egyptian temples and Italian bell-towers; an enduring cultural legacy as the birthplace of Goth, and… motorways. But stand above the A58(M) – the first “urban motorway”  in the country – and you might struggle to pinpoint its tourist appeal.

Back in the 1970s, though, the city council was sufficiently gripped by the majesty of the motorways to make them a part of its branding. Letters sent from Leeds were stamped with a postmark proudly proclaiming the city's modernity: “Leeds, Motorway City of the Seventies”.

Image: public domain.

During the 1960s, post-war optimism and an appetite for grand civic projects saw the rapid construction of motorways across England. The construction of the M1 began in 1959; it reached Leeds, its final destination, in 1968. By the early 1970s the M62 was sweeping across Pennines, and the M621 loop was constructed to link it to Leeds city centre.

Not content with being the meeting point of two major motorways, Leeds was also the first UK city to construct a motorway through the city centre: the inner ring road, which incorporates the short motorway stretches of the A58(M) and the A64(M). As the council put it in 1971, “Leeds is surging forward into the Seventies”.

The driving force behind Leeds' love of motorways was a mix of civic pride and utopian city planning. Like many industrial cities in the North and Midlands, Leeds experienced a decline in traditional manufacturing during the 1960s. Its position at the centre of two major motorways seemed to offer a brighter future as a dynamic city open for trade, with the infrastructure to match. In response to the expansion of the roads, 1970s council planners also constructed an elevated pedestrian “skywalk” in an attempt to free up space for cars at ground level. Photos of Leeds from that time show a thin, white walkway running through blocky office buildings – perhaps not quite as extensive as the futuristic urban landscape originally envisaged by planners, but certainly a visual break with the past.

Fast forward to 2019 and Leeds’ efforts to become a “Motorway City” seems like a kitsch curiosity from a decade that was not always known for sustainable planning decisions. Leeds’s historic deference to the car has serious consequences in the present: in February 2019, Neville Street – a busy tunnel that cuts under Leeds station – was found to contain the highest levels of NO2 outside London.

City centre planners did at least have the foresight to sink stretches of the inner motorways below street level, leaving pedestrian routes largely undisturbed. Just outside the centre, though, the roads can be more disruptive. Sheepscar Interchange is a bewildering tangle of arterial roads, Armley Gyratory strikes fear into the hearts of learner drivers, and the M621 carves unsympathetically through inner-city areas of South Leeds with pedestrian access restricted to narrow bridges that heighten the sense of a fragmented landscape.


Leeds inner ring road in its cutting. Image: author provided.


The greatest problem for Yorkshire's “Motorway City” in 2019, however, is not the occasional intimidating junction, but the complete lack of an alternative to car travel. The dire state of public transport in Leeds has already been raised on these pages. In the early 20th century Leeds had one of the most extensive tram networks in the country. The last lines closed in 1959, the same year construction began on the A58m.

The short-sightedness of this decision was already recognised in the 1970s, as traffic began to build. Yet plans for a Leeds Supertram were rejected by successive Conservative and Labour governments unwilling to front the cost, even though smaller cities such as Newcastle and Sheffield were granted funding for light transport systems. Today, Leeds is the largest city in the EU without a mass transit system. As well as creating congestion, the lack of viable public transport options prevents connectivity: the city's bus network is reasonable, but weaker from East to West than North to South. As a non-driver, I've turned down jobs a short drive away that would be a logistical impossibility without a car.

Leeds' early enthusiasm for the motorway was perhaps premature, but there are things we can learn from the 1970s. Whatever else can be said about it, Leeds' city transport strategy was certainly bold – a quality in short supply today, after proposals for the supertram were watered down to a trolleybus system before being scrapped altogether in 2016. Leeds' rapid transformation in the 1960s and 70s, its grandiose visions of skywalks and dual carriageways, were driven by strong local political will. Today, the long-term transport strategy documents on Leeds City Council's website say more about HS2 than the need for a mass transit system within Leeds itself, and the council has been accused of giving up the fight for light rail and trams.

Whilst central government's refusal to grant funds is the greatest obstacle to Leeds' development, the local authority needs to be far more vocal in demanding the transport system the city deserves. Leeds' desire to be the Motorway City of the Seventies might look ludicrous today, but the political drive and utopian optimism that underpinned it does not.