Doctor of University of Northumbria, Former Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Dr. O’Brien has retired from the City parliament in 2019. During his term of office, through the formulation of energy policy, the construction of low-carbon city and the promotion of green technology, Newcastle has become one of the most sustainable cities in Britain and even Europe, and enjoying a high reputation in Europe. His book The Future of Energy Use is now an essential bibliography for UK energy policy makers. In China, he also directed the Youth Olympic Games · Nanjing 58 km long waterfront scenic belt renovation project.
What we have learned is that COVID-19 originated in the animal community and because of our increasing proximity to wildlife, similar pandemics are likely to be more frequent in the future. China was a little slow in making the pandemic public and this meant that people infected with disease were able to travel. When the Chinese authorities recognized the seriousness of the problem, they acted quickly and quarantined the affected areas. As the disease spread, many countries adopted the same approach, for example, EU nations such as Italy, France and Germany. The UK was a little slow and at first decided to adopt a “herd-immunity” approach. This idea was dropped when scientists estimated that this would lead to some 250,000 deaths. The UK then adopted the social isolation and quarantine approach that many countries had taken.
Sadly, the UK was not well prepared. There was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and ventilators. There are estimates that the current death rate of over 40,000 would have been much less if the UK had acted more quickly.
At present the number of infections and deaths is falling and the lockdown will be partially lifted in the near future. The UK government is very keen on stimulating economic activity. It is also keen on developing “Test and Trace” facility so that future cases can be easily tracked. Some have pointed out that WHO has a system and that it would make sense to use that as opposed to developing a new system. So what can we learn from this?
First, we need to ensure that further outbreaks of a pandemic are quickly made public.
Second, we should have a standard approach to dealing with an outbreak. It does seem that quarantine is a good approach. Nations should work through the UN and WHO to develop guidelines for dealing with outbreaks.
Third, we need to have guidelines of the levels of PPE that should be kept in storage.
Fourth, we need to have a standardised Test and Track system.
Changes in air pollution levels in major cities around the world during the lockdown
Sadly, as lockdowns have eased, pollution levels have increased, particularly vehicle pollution. We did use less energy during the lockdowns but governments across the world are keen to restart economies. This will mean that energy use will increase. Both energy suppliers and producers will want to grow the market back to its original size. Governments will want the taxation income associated with energy. I do not believe that the recent shift will encourage new research into climate change. It is highly likely that current research will continue.
Governments across the world will want to grow employment – this both increases taxation income to government and simultaneously reduces welfare spending. Many governments are concerned about increasing national debt driven by the pandemic. So, it is very unlikely that public money will be made available for climate research. It may be the case that business might fund additional research. However, what is more likely is the plans that BP have will be taken up by other oil suppliers and producers. They plan to stop using oil in ten years. They plan a shift to gas and renewables. It is likely that others will do the same. However, there may be some interest in exploring how climate change can bring fauna and people closer.
I tried to implement Local Agenda 21 in Newcastle. There was little support. The reason I believe is that business and individuals need to see economic improvement driven by a green agenda. Most people perceive that the green agenda will lead to additional costs. We need to work on how being green will benefits individuals and society as a whole. COVID-19 has shown that environmental improvement can occur but essentially the focus has been on how lonely many people feel in lockdown.
In the UK the building standards for housing are the lowest in Europe. By improving the insulation standards and introducing renewable technologies such as roof mounted solar water heaters and air source heat pumps. These type of upgrades will be done by home owners. But we found a general reluctance because of costs and a perception that returns would be low, and that climate change was not a problem. The following table shows that the percentage of owned housing is quite low. The majority of housing is rented. It is up to the landlords to introduce improvements. The council was very interested in making improvement and did so where it could. However, the vast majority of other landlords were only interested in rental income. In short it was problematic.
|Tenure||Newcastle upon Tyne||England|
|Social Rented (Council)||23.3%||9.4%|
|Social Rented (Housing Assoc)||6.4%||8.3%|
Yes of course, such models can contribute to promoting sustainability. I found leading projects in Newcastle very challenging. The one I was most successful was New Deal for Communities. The main reason was that central government providing funding over the ten years of the project, we were able to make real changes. In short, we need to have government commitment and funding. However, at present there seems little likelihood of governments providing real funding to support dramatic changes to our cities.
This the website for New Deal for Communities
During New Deal we agreed to establish a charity to carry on new deal work after the ten-year programme ended. We named the charity Centre West. I sat on the board until 2019 when I retired from the Council.
The following is a national evaluation of the whole New Deal programme.
It is likely that there will be a greater shift to home working. This does not mean that business placed work will cease. But it will mean that demand for transport and business may well reduce. This is likely to mean less demand to develop new business spaces and less investment in upgrading transport systems. In the longer term there may well be more development of city residential accommodation. That will have implications for schooling and shopping for example. Cities are likely to be more family oriented.
This is a tricky question. In terms of education we need to have a greater focus on environmental issues. But we also need to involve pupils and students in a variety of environmental projects. And we also need to ensure that there is a greater understanding of how governments work. In the UK for example, there is little education on how government works. Younger people need to know how they can access funding and expertise to support a project they might like to undertake. It’s never quite as straightforward as one would think. Learning about process is important.