Laura Robertson-Collins, Liverpool’s first ’Climate Champion’, talks to SmartCitiesWorld about her new role and its remit.
The City of Liverpool in North-West England recently followed in the footsteps of hundreds of other cities worldwide and declared a climate emergency. The City also appointed Laura Robertson-Collins, Cabinet Member for Environment & Sustainability and (Labour) Councillor for Greenbank Ward, Liverpool City Council, as Liverpool’s first ‘Climate Champion’.
Liverpool’s plans include a policy of only buying green energy, installing 27,000 LED streetlights across the city, investing in solar panels in major venues such as the ACC Liverpool convention centre and introducing ultra-low-emission vehicles into the Council’s fleet. As a partner in the URBAN GreenUP project, Liverpool will also be investing £4 million into new green infrastructure to tackle climate change impacts, as well as investing in cycling.
SmartCitiesWorld talks to Councillor Robertson-Collins about how she plans to take on the challenge of our time.
SCW: What is the remit of your position as ‘Climate Champion’? Why is a designated role important?
LR-C: The remit is to have political overview of Liverpool Council’s services and ensure that the things we are responsible for are delivered in a way that works towards us using less carbon and eventually being carbon-neutral, in the widest possible sense.
It is also about making sure we protect our natural environment. Designating this role sends out an important message that we are taking this agenda extremely seriously.
Liverpool City Council has faced criticism – as have many local authorities – for being seen to prioritise economic growth over sustainability and wider environmental concerns. Liverpool as a city suffered economic decline and depopulation throughout the latter half of the last century so we do need growth – and it has to be sustainable.
SCW: What is the role of cities in tackling the climate crisis?
LR-C: Cities are fundamental in this, as such a large proportion of the world lives in cities and this is increasing globally as well as in the UK. Cities have to now start aiming to be carbon-neutral as soon as possible.
Cities have to now start aiming to be carbon neutral as soon as possible.
Cities also have democratic oversight and they have elected leaders so they have to both lead their citizens and respond to them.
SCW: What does it mean for Liverpool to declare a Climate Emergency – there is no agreed definition so what is the significance/meaning of the declaration?
LR-C: It is a public declaration of Liverpool prioritising this agenda. It raises the profile of the issue and generates interest. However, declaring is the easy bit; delivering is, of course, extremely challenging and will involve everyone as individuals, employers and organisations. It will change how we all do things and we all must make sacrifices where needed.
The target is for the Council to be carbon-neutral by 2030. The Council leads the city in many ways, whilst not having direct control over [all] elements of it. The [climate emergency] motion we agreed on July 17 set out some specifics and as a local authority, we have a transparency that other types of organisation do not.
It also sets out how the council will work as widely as possible with communities, the City-Region Combined Authority, other local authorities and academics to try to do the best we can on this.
SCW: What part does the Smart Liverpool smart city initiative play in tackling the climate crisis?
LR-C: It is a contribution and all initiatives and new technology will need to be embraced. We need to look at how smart city initiatives can be utilised to improve all the issues I’ve listed and more. Nothing is off the table.
Tackling the climate crisis: "Nothing is off the table."
SCW: What is your number-one priority right now?
LR-C: Protecting our natural environment, reducing waste and improving air quality – that is three but any one of these is the number-one priority at different points in the day!
SCW: What do you think will be your biggest challenge in acting as Liverpool’s Climate Champion?
LR-C: It’s a massive agenda and a big, growing city with so many partners and agencies involved, and so many things going on. We are expanding as a tourist destination, which means more flights and more cruise ships – how do we counter this with greening the city and burning fewer fossil fuels?
How do we build more homes that are fit for the future in ecological terms? How do we improve our public transport in an era when government is slashing local councils’ resources?
SCW: If you weren’t doing this job, what do you think you might be doing?
LR-C: I’ve been in politics so long – either as an activist, an elected representative and in my work role – most of my life so I can’t imagine not doing this job or one very similar. This job is a fabulous opportunity as well as a massive challenge.
SCW: What keeps you awake at night?
LR-C: Other than a scarily right-wing government taking over in Westminster and Trump in the USA? Did I mention protecting our natural environment, reducing waste and improving air quality?
I am also accountable to my electorate, I have my part-time (paid) job and I have a family to care for. Like most working women, I’m usually too tired not to sleep at night.
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