The National Infrastructure Commission makes the case for improving intra-city transport

A Transpennine Express train leaves Manchester Piccadilly. Image: MattBuck/Wikimedia Commons.

It is a fact of life that the debate about big infrastructure projects in the UK is often focused on major inter-city connections that make it easier for people to travel between major conurbations. Projects such as High Speed 2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail regularly hit the headlines – usually with much celebration of their purported productivity impacts.

But in a recent speech to the UK Infrastructure Show in Birmingham, National Infrastructure Commission chief executive Phil Graham pointed to intra-city transport as an area of major underinvestment for cities outside of London. Drawing a contrast with the “genuine devolution and long-term funding” of London’s transport system, Graham highlighted the “fragmented and piecemeal system of funding” that other cities are subjected to as a key obstacle in the way of achieving their economic potential.

The Centre for Cities endorses his call for a three-part approach to redressing this skew towards inter-city and international transport infrastructure. It consists of proper funding devolution with long-term settlements, a significant increase in capital funding for infrastructure in cities, and new powers and duties for city authorities to make the most of this funding.


These reforms must come as a package, with any one alone not sufficient to achieve the infrastructure that cities need. Provided these powers and funds are devolved to genuine economic areas, then Graham is right in suggesting that cities of all sizes should have the opportunity to benefit.

Our support for this course of action is based on our previous work on this topic. Our research into the Northern Powerhouse, based on comparisons with European urban agglomerations, highlighted that commuting overwhelmingly occurs within city regions, rather than between them, and indicated that poor city economic performance is more likely to be caused by weak intra-city connectivity than weak inter-city connectivity. Our earlier work on making transport work for cities outlined a plan for improving urban transport, including devolution of regulatory powers, long-term capital settlements for cities, devolution of fundraising powers, integrated management of urban transport networks, and targeting transport interventions where they will support economic growth.

Pushing for a greater focus on intra-urban journeys for infrastructure is not about defunding committed inter-city schemes, or suggesting that inter-city journeys do not matter. Improving inter-city connectivity is popular, and indeed, helps workers moving to agglomeration economies to remain connected to their friends and families.

But the problem is that, for too long, intra-city improvements outside of London have not been prioritised in national infrastructure planning. And ultimately, it is in intra-urban contexts where transport can make a real difference to productivity. In eroding the barriers between workers and jobs in agglomeration economies, intra-city infrastructure improvements can help to ensure that workers are matched to jobs as efficiently as possible, and in doing so, drive productivity growth.

Matt Whearty is a researcher at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

 
 
 
 

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.