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The true carbon footprint of Manchester

Activists call for a radical rethink of carbon footprint measurements in Manchester. Stefano Fumagalli and Jenny Nelson report

October 10, 2014
3 min read


Jenny NelsonJenny Nelson is a Red Pepper web editor.


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Wilmslow Road in Rusholme, Manchester

The People’s Environmental Scrutiny Team (PEST) have published a 12 page report, Total carbon footprint – time for a second step, assessing the progress of and prospects for Manchester’s consumption-based carbon footprint metric.

The authors, Joe Blakey and Claire Woolley, both from Manchester, argue that current carbon emission measurement techniques are inadequate. The conventional measurement technique, based on the Kyoto Protocol, has a territorial approach, excluding exports and products that are consumed – but not produced – in the area of study. From this point of view the UK is responsible for only 2% of global carbon emissions, a claim that Dr Alice Bows of Manchester University has labelled ‘irresponsible’. Blakey and Woolley call for the adoption of a consumption-based metric, Total Carbon Footprint.

In 2009 the City Council of Manchester made a commitment to monitor their total carbon footprint using a consumption-based approach to emissions. Unfortunately this was not achieved by the target date of 2013 and momentum now seems to be lost. The report cites the financial crisis, among other factors, for the lack of progress made, despite evidence that building a low carbon community could boost the local economy.

Local democracy and climate change

This month’s global protest and next year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris suggest that climate change is moving to the center of the political agenda. Those who seek local solutions will be interested in the activist group behind the report, PEST—named after a long-awaited council initiative—who act as a capacity building and network-weaving hub for campaigners.

PEST Founder Marc Hudson explained his group’s involvement in the report: ‘For me the most important and interesting thing is to help unlock the skills that already exist within and between people . . . so the reports that we produce are a means to an end’.

In recent years, several efforts have been made to scrutinise and push forward the local council’s commitment to tackling climate change. Yet Hudson believes it will take some time to get the city’s carbon footprint seriously addressed: ‘We are not expecting early success, this is a marathon, not a sprint’.


Jenny NelsonJenny Nelson is a Red Pepper web editor.