How Extinction Rebellion protests have made the case for clean growth in Yorkshire – Jonathan Werran

DEPENDING on your view, Extinction Rebellion (XR) either brought a fortnight’s worth of provocative but non-violent piece of street theatre to the streets of Westminster and central London or revamped the worst kind of vacuous gesture politics.

Part of this year's Extinction Rebellion protest in Leeds.

Perhaps the most evocative XR tribe, before leaving town, was the Invisible Circus – a troupe of scarlet robed, white-paint faced improvisors who ghosted along the streets in a kind of meditative dance mime.

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As practitioners of the art, from Marcel Marceau to the late David Bowie have proved, mime does have a certain power.

Can the Extinction Rebellion protests shape public policy?

But equally local councils have a practical set of tools to deliver on the hard reality of attaining ambitious national net zero targets which might just help meet the contingencies of global climate change.

More than 230 local authorities to date have declared climate emergencies. The declarations span all hues of political persuasion – making this perhaps a wider and more deeply felt issue than the ‘‘nuclear free zone movement’’ declaration during the Cold War in the 1980s.

Our local and combined authorities have a voice and a mandate and, in the local industrial strategy, a dynamic tool to drive people and places into the era of decarbonisation.

However, in truth, there isn’t too much of a window to effectively and properly plan how we as a society will remodel whole swathes of what shapes and moulds our daily lives – such as construction, energy supply, manufacturing and transport. Maybe five years at a stretch.

To move from declaration of emergency to effecting a ‘‘just transition’’ that will take local economies, workforces, local leaders and residents alike on this journey will require strong practical action and robust leadership.

This is why Green Alliance and 
Localis have joined forces to see how clean growth can be harnessed through local industrial strategy – which is built on five foundations of ideas, infrastructure, people, places and business environment.

Our joint report,The route to clean growth – Using industrial strategies to drive change, explores what is happening on the ground at local level across the country to identify how we can speed this up.

We think clean growth should be a requirement written into all such industrial prospectuses and that government should consider if local areas are supporting the move to a decarbonised economy when signing off on them.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund should be ringfenced to projects delivering the infrastructure and supply chains required to drive decarbonisation.

A bit more devolution would never go amiss and the National Planning Policy Framework should give local authorities explicit permission to set more challenging low carbon standards for new homes.

And as well as powers, local areas need fiscal flexibility over revenue-raising and licence to alter business rates and council tax charges to stimulate improvements in existing commercial and residential premises. We’ve uncovered plenty of good practice and the main lessons for success in this new era of clean growth are the ability to work collectively to pool local skills, powers and resources over larger geographical areas.

What might this clean growth mean for Yorkshire? As a policy, industrial strategy has been set adrift from its original political sponsors. The current Government agenda suggests bigger and chunkier economic units – like the Northern Powerhouse?

A senior Whitehall source told me 
last week that as dreams of a One Yorkshire settlement remain distant, 
the region’s interests are best served through South Yorkshire’s attempts to link business and universities with other civic players. Similarly, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s clean growth plan for the Leeds City Region is understood and respected in the corridors of power.

Given the strong political commitment and spirit of collaboration within Yorkshire, the county has every reason to stand up and speak up as one of the strongest regional contributors to rebalancing and decarbonising the national economy through clean growth. Shout it from the rooftops – this should be no mime act!

Jonathan Werran is chief executive, Localis, an independent think-tank dedicated to issues related to politics, public service reform.