City regions in the UK can address the climate emergency through making connections between the transport, energy and built environment sectors, according to the Urban Transport Group (UTG).
The UTG’s report, Making the connections on climate, sought to highlight how cities have been delivered emissions reductions and wide benefits through making connections between different sectors. It noted that while UK CO2 emissions are 37% below the 1990 baseline, emissions from transport have dropped just 2% as of 2017. That year saw transport become the largest emitting sector, with it accounting for 27% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, citing research from C40 cities, the report noted that cities account for 70% of global CO2 emissions. In the UK, cities make up 54% of the population and are responsible for 46% of emissions.
While actions have been taking, including climate emergencies being declared, many drivers for how fast emissions can be cut remain outside of the control of local and city government. However, with control over how they deploy resources, the report explained city regions can make climate connections in a bid to cut emissions from different sectors and sub-sectors together, drawing on the transport, energy and built environment sectors specifically. Stephen Edwards, Chair of the UTG, said the report had sought to offer city region transport authorities “a sense of agency, and source of inspiration, on practical measures that can be taken to join the dots between transport projects, energy efficiency and adaptation to a changing climate.”
In the case of making connections between the transport and energy sectors, the report explained that while public transport consumes energy, it is able to generate it too. This often is in the form of heat. This presents the opportunity to reduce energy use, ensure the energy supplied to transport is from more sustainable sources and capture the waste energy generated as well.
It cited a range of examples, including South Western Railway’s (SWR) work with climate charity, Possible, on its Riding Sunbeams project. This has seen a series of feasibility studies conducted to explore how trackside community-owned solar farms could provide electricity for trains. In Rochdale, meanwhile, an £11.5mn transport interchange, linking bus and tram services, had a micro hydropower scheme installed to provide renewable power for the site. It produces 86,000 kWh of electricity per annum and has aimed to reduce the interchange’s carbon footprint by a quarter. It is set to deliver lifetime CO2 savings of 1,900 tonnes.
Improved management of heating, cooling and lighting were all noted as ways to improve the energy efficiency of interchanges and stations, before exploring projects looking at ways to recover the waste energy generated by transport, such as HS2’s plan to recover heat from the brakes and engines of its trains. It will use this to supply hot water to around 500 nearby homes. On current energy prices, HS2 would expect to recover its costs in around four years while cutting the carbon footprint of the homes it serves by 22% in comparison to heating through conventional gas boilers.
With regards to the built environment, the UTG noted it contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. This includes energy used in buildings and infrastructure. While new buildings are more efficient than existing ones, 80% of the buildings in use in 2050 have already been built. This makes improving the current building stock important.
The report highlighted the idea of green-blue infrastructure to deliver sponge city concepts. This can help to mitigate climate change, ensure cities are more resilience to extreme weather events and healthier, more liveable places. Green-blue infrastructure includes green roofs and walls as well as sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDs) and water management.
It added that many of these interventions can be incorporated into transport infrastructure developments, using Manchester as an example. It outlined how the city has a strategy for protecting and enhancing its green-blue infrastructure. Actions under this include planting 4,000 new trees a year, establishing new community gardens and food growing programmes, supporting people to protect and enhance private gardens, and retrofitting new green infrastructure for existing buildings.