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‘Stern talking’ over York’s economic strategy

22 March 2012

York Environment Forum discussed  the economic case for prioritising environmental issues at the group’s recent meeting, highlighting the cost benefits of reducing carbon emissions to the city’s economy.

The discussion, in response to the consultation on the York Economic Strategy presented by City of York Council’s Economic Development Officer, Katie Stewart, addressed the financial advantages of investing in green technology and retrofitting programmes, actions vital for the city to reach its carbon reduction targets.

YEF Chair Kate Lock, who recently attended a seminar on behalf of the Forum with Professor Andy Gouldson, Director of the Centre for Low-Carbon Futures at Leeds, talked about the ‘Mini Stern Reviews’ for individual cities that Gouldson and his team have compiled – including  a Mini Stern Review for York– and suggested that YEP should adopt its recommendations.

She extended an invitation to Katie Stewart and members of YEP to meet informally with one of the report’s authors, Corrado Topi,  to discuss the findings and ways to incorporate them into the Economic Strategy.

The Mini Stern Reviews – inspired by the overarching review by Lord Stern in 2006, which put the economic case for acting on climate change – were first produced as an action plan for Manchester and subsequently for Leeds City Region. They have been well received by business communities, with more than 300 people attending the LCR launch. The Leeds Mini Stern’ shows 10 per cent of city-scale GDP leaves the city annually in payment of energy bills, and demonstrates how investment in energy efficiency and low carbon measures could reduce this to just over 1 per cent, as well as helping with financial viability, employment and increased wider economic and social benefits.

Leeds City Region now has a key ambition to be ‘a world-leading dynamic and sustainable low carbon economy that balances economic growth with quality of life for everyone’ and specifically identifies ‘facilitating a low carbon economy’ as a clear strategic priority.

The York Economic Strategy currently has no such ambition and does not identify commitment to a low-carbon economy as one of its objectives, despite the fact that a reduction in  per capita carbon emissions is one of its key indicators of success.

The Mini Stern concept is now being taken up by other cities around the world – Gouldson and Topi have been asked to take them to Denmark, Calcutta, Tokyo and Beijing – demonstrating an appetite for embracing the economic opportunities offered by low-carbon technologies by the new economic superpowers.

‘York aspires to be one of the top ten European cities for its size in terms of its economy, but other cities in Europe and around the world are far more forward looking than we are in terms of attitude to climate change and the green economy,’ said Kate Lock. ‘We have got to get York on board now with all of this. It’s essential for us to reduce our carbon emissions, and the targets will be very difficult to achieve as it is. If we do not start to integrate an ambition to become a low-carbon city now, as part of our economic strategy, then we will not only have no hope of reaching our targets but we will miss out on real opportunities to grow the local economy and provide much-needed jobs.’

Other Forum members also expressed their concerns about York’s insularity, complacency and lack of vision, as well as cynicism about their ability to affect the economic strategy.

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