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Sue Bridge: The future agenda for planning and planners

Sue Bride is the President of the Royal Town Planning Institute.

Climate Action underpins our 2020-2030 Corporate Strategy. Our vision is to be, “the world’s leading professional planning body.” This is supported by our International Strategy and underpinned by collaboration and partnerships. By joining The International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP) as a corporate member, the RTPI is working to strengthen our action on joint priorities, including the climate and sustainability agenda.  We were delighted to develop a close collaboration with ISOCARP during COP28, including a joint fringe event

The role of planning is pivotal in achieving the global sustainable development goals. While the challenges that planners face on a day-to-day basis, may be local, they can have global impacts.  As a global professional organisation, we can influence better outcomes, particularly in delivering SDG11: Sustainable Communities and Cities. It is therefore essential that we are part of the conversation and have a seat at the table. To do that, we need to build relationships and engage at the right time and in the right places. 

This year, for the first year ever, one of the main discussions at COP, the international climate meeting held each year by the UN, was ‘multilevel action’.  Until now, discussion has been focused on action by national governments., but this year was different, with a significant focus on devolving the need for action down to cities through local governments.

55% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, which contribute over 70% to greenhouse gas emissions. So, unless towns and cities and their respective communities are engaged, there is little chance that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) target of net zero by 2050 can be achieved.

Planning and planners are critical to building urban resilience and to the success of cities in mitigating and adapting to climate change. These were the main topics, together with planning for water, in the ‘Multilevel Action Pavilion’.  However, the speakers were mostly architects, engineers, lawyers, civil servants, and politicians. The voice of planners and the role of planning in achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was largely unheard, although as usual, the role of urban planning was on everyone’s lips.

This can change. One of the Outcome Statements from COP28 concerned Urbanisation and Climate Change, which I would urge you to read. It can be found here

National governments have committed to working in partnership with their subnational governments and a new way of approaching the development and implementation of their next National Determined Contribution (NDCs) in time for COP30 in Brazil in 2025. 

The summit launched the Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnerships for Climate Action (CHAMP) to enhance consultation and collaboration with local and regional leaders in planning, financing, implementing, and monitoring future NDCs. It is essential that our national government endorses CHAMP and agrees to work in partnership with local government in developing our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for COP30 in two years. 

The outcome of COP28 was not perfect, many wanted more and quicker, but the world is in a (slightly) better place than it was because of it.

The RTPI and our sister built environment organisations have a real opportunity to influence the direction of the UK government, the devolved national governments, the Mayors, the Combined Authorities, and local government at all levels in the development of our NDCs for COP30. This work should begin now, and I will be speaking to the Board of Trustees Climate Change Champion on developing an action plan.

I have come away from Cop28 with five key issues that could be incorporated into an action plan (in no order of importance):

  1. Top-down (the UK government) must meet bottom-up (local government and communities)
  2. Join the dots: climate, land, and water policies need to be considered at the national level. Wouldn’t it be great if Biodiversity Net Gain could be joined up with meeting our need for carbon sinks?
  3. Finance – the funding models must be reworked to reflect the reality of the climate emergency and the need to adapt and retrofit.
  4. We need storytelling to change the narrative by looking through the challenges of today to the opportunities of tomorrow. Communities need to be engaged in the conversation and become a force to drive institutional change.
  5. The structural inequalities that deter young people from meaningful engagement in the political process need to be removed. Our young people need a seat at the table.

The outcome of COP28 was not perfect, many wanted more and quicker, but the world is in a (slightly) better place than it was because of it. We can make a difference, collectively as the RTPI working in conjunction with the other built environment organisations but also as individuals working in our communities.

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