Ministers’ rejection of One Yorkshire is an opportunity to give Yorkshire’s cities the powers they need

Clouds over the dales. Image: Getty.

On Tuesday the Government revealed its long-awaited response to the proposal for a One Yorkshire devolution deal. James Brokenshire MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, wrote to all the councils that had sought a Yorkshire-wide plan setting out his views as to why he was rejecting this plan and also setting out that his preferred way forward is to adopt the city-region model.

The rejection of the One Yorkshire proposal for devolution will be a blow to the 18 Yorkshire authorities who first came together publicly to push for it in August 2017. Aside from the effort and money invested in the One Yorkshire plan, the delay has meant Yorkshire cities and towns have missed out. The Sheffield City Region devolution deal was put on the back burner as councils pursued a county deal. This has left the city region without access to a £30m investment fund that had been set aside for them.

Meanwhile, metro mayors in neighbouring Tees Valley and Greater Manchester have been accessing extra government money and using extra policy freedoms and flexibilities to invest in growth.

The Secretary of State’s letter now provides some clarity on what devolution the government will support in Yorkshire: an empowered Sheffield City Region deal, and then deals for the Leeds City Region, Greater York and the Humber Estuary. Irrespective of whether it is their preferred devolution model, at least leaders in Yorkshire now have the outline of a viable offer that they can accept or refuse, and other places also have more of a sense of the government’s thinking about the future of English devolution.


Sweetening the devolution deal

The government’s position is a reflection of the importance of Yorkshire’s city-regions in driving the Yorkshire economy. But it’s also a recognition that increasing the prosperity of the city-regions requires giving the local leaders need money, as well as power over areas such as skills, transport and strategic planning.

This is the economic rationale for devolution; it recognises that the policies needed in Leeds city-region will look different to those in the Hull and Humber city-region, and that the benefits of investment in one city-region will be largely restricted to that city-region.

Devolving power to functional economic geographies with clear and accountable leadership should be restated as the model for devolution that government has rightfully, if slowly, got behind.

Now the government has shown its hand on the preferred geography for Yorkshire devolution, it should also take this opportunity to go further on the devolution agenda.  In addition to offering all of what’s already on offer to other places, it should also offer Yorkshire’s city-regions additional fiscal powers and flexibilities – from devolved Vehicle Excise Duty, a slice of local VAT revenues, tourist taxes or council tax flexibility – and a guaranteed increase in funding from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.

Yorkshire’s city-region economies are too big and too important to the county, and the country for any more time to be wasted.   In May 2020, over 20 million voters across the seven mayoral combined authorities and London will have the chance to have a greater say over their economic destiny. Government and local leaders from the West Riding to the East can’t allow voters in the majority of Yorkshire’s cities to miss out again.

Simon Jeffrey is a policy officer at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

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The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.


Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.