Benefits of strong leadership

An inspiring vision, an evidence-based approach and effective communication and engagement are essential.

Climate change festival 2008. Photo by Michele Turriani.

Climate change festival 2008. Photo by Michele Turriani.

Leading on climate change and sustainability requires a cross-cutting approach. By taking firm action on climate change mitigation and adaptation that also delivers sustainable places, leaders will, at the same time:

  • increase energy security
  • increase employment opportunities
  • protect vulnerable people
  • improve health and wellbeing
  • build community and economic resilience
  • promote sustainable communities and places.

The best approaches to addressing the impacts of a changing climate will be based on understanding places as a complex, connected systems. This means a cross–disciplinary approach which identifies the win-wins across the whole of the neighbourhood, town or city.

There are multiple benefits to be seized. Stabilising the climate now saves considerable costs and impacts in the future, and improves health, well-being and quality of life.

Stern’s economic rationale

The costs of doing nothing about climate change should be argument enough for change.  In 2006 the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change indicated that countries needed to spend 1 per cent of their GDP to stop greenhouse gases rising to dangerous levels. Failure to do this would lead to damage costing much more - at least 5 per cent and perhaps more than 20 per cent of global GDP. In June 2008, further research suggested that the cost of averting disaster is now 2 per cent of GDP. Stern’s message is clear: ‘The costs of stabilising the climate are significant but manageable; delay would be dangerous and much more costly.’

Read Sir Nicholas Stern’s March 2009 interview in the Guardian, ahead of the publication of his book, A Blueprint For a Safer Planet, in which he calls for investment of 2 per cent of global GDP per annum in measures to prevent climate change.

Climate change mitigation must be viewed as an investment in the future to avoid much more costly defensive actions. The UK is already experiencing some of the negative effects of a changing climate, and the economic and social costs these entail. The UKCIP scenario-based projections show the frequency and severity of these events and their costs will increase in the future. Therefore we must adapt to make our cities more comfortable and resilient during extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods.

Using whole life cost and valuation techniques, which takes account of social and environmental impacts, is critical to making development more sustainable. It provides clear economic arguments to allocate resources to solutions that are more viable in the long term. In addition, the common assumption that sustainable solutions are always more expensive can be properly evaluated and the low cost of many of the passive measures highlighted.

Towns and cities with local low carbon and renewable energy supplies are likely to be more resilient to the economic shocks of fluctuating fuel prices and fuel insecurity as peak oil and dependence on imported gas become increasingly significant.

Health and wellbeing

Neighbourhoods, towns and cities have an opportunity and responsibility to deliver a low-carbon future and adapt to a changing climate at the same time as delivering a better quality of life and improving health and wellbeing.

The changing climate and changing demography mean that an ageing population will be increasingly vulnerable to periods of sustained high temperatures, particularly hot summer nights as a result of the urban heat island effect. Possible fuel insecurity, high fuel costs and poor quality housing mean that more vulnerable people are less able to deal with extreme weather. A report by the Roundtable on Climate Change and Poverty in the UK emphasises the interconnectedness between climate change and poverty – and that it is possible to tackle both together.

The ‘business as usual’ scenario investigated by the Stern team found that including the direct impacts on the environment and human health increases the (conservative) estimate of the total cost of climate change from 5 per cent to 11 per cent of global per-capita consumption. Importantly, they found that if climate policy is designed well, it can contribute to reducing ill-health and mortality from air pollution.

Future health: Sustainable places for health and well-being explains how good planning and design make places healthy. For example, evidence increasingly suggests that people with access to quality green space are healthier. Building design can improve occupants’ health and wellbeing. This includes reducing illness, absenteeism from work and school, fatigue, discomfort and stress, and improving indoor air quality. Research from the US government’s Federal Energy Management Program and the Usable Buildings Trust argues for increasing personal control over temperature and ventilation, access to daylight and views, and connection to nature.

Quality of life

The design and management of local neighbourhoods has well-documented social impacts. Actions to tackle climate change can improve quality of life. For example, you can enhance a sense of community through the introduction of facilities such as sheltered seating in open spaces and civic areas. Providing more better-quality green space enhances wellbeing and opportunities for social interaction. At the city scale, better public transport and facilities for walking and cycling can make it easier for people to move around, benefiting local businesses and supporting access not just to employment but all essential amenities across the city.

There are very few human activities that are not influenced by climate. Different parts of the UK will be affected in different ways and the social impacts may well be more pronounced in poorer areas.

Sustainable places are those where people choose to live so assessing how the changing climate will affect neighbourhoods, towns and cities is an important task for local authorities. London is one of the first cities in the UK to consider the impact of climate change on social infrastructure as part of the overarching London climate change action plan. This identified the main dangers as flooding, drought and heatwaves. Over one million people are at risk of flooding, along with almost half a million properties, 441 schools, 75 underground and DLR stations and ten hospitals. The Thames region in which London sits was highlighted as having lower water availability per person than Morocco - but despite this, Londoners consume on average 18 litres per day more than the national average.


CABE and Urban Practitioners
with the cities of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield