LAST week, I was lucky to participate in discussions about an exciting partnership between the HSE and the Churchfield Community Trust to green the St Mary’s Primary Care Campus and make it a hub for the community in that corner of the city.
Across Cork, there are lots of groups working together to make Cork a better place to be and to support climate action. The VQ in the MacCurtain Street area, the Town and Village Renewal Scheme and the CORE City Centre Partnership are just three place-based examples of different stakeholders working together, with the city council, on a wide range of climate-friendly and sustainable projects.
In recent days, we heard more concerning news about the global climate and species decline. The World Meteorological Organisation reported with high confidence that, for the first time, the 1.5C warming limit, agreed by Ireland and most other countries in Paris, would be breached, at least temporarily in one of the next five years. This is because of greenhouse gas emissions that are still growing around the world combined with the expected impact of the El Nino effect.
Yet another red-light flashing for the world, and for us in Cork city. Are we going to notice it? Are we going to respond to it and, if so, how?
Our answer in the City Council is a determined and optimistic yes to both those questions.
In 2022, Cork was one of 100 cities across Europe selected to participate in the EU Mission for Climate Neutral and Smart Cities. The Mission is helping us to speed up our progress towards a sustainable, carbon neutral future, through innovation and partnership with our citizens, community groups, public and private institutions and enterprises throughout our city. As a Mission City, we have made the achievement of a just and fair transition a priority where everyone benefits from Cork becoming a better place to live and work.
One of our first steps has been to understand the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from Cork city and to identify where they are coming from. Working with the MaREI Centre at UCC, we have recently completed our ‘Baseline Emissions Inventory’. It shows us that Cork city is releasing nearly 1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the air every year. Residential buildings alone contribute 34% of the total, reflecting dependence on fossil fuel heating systems and inefficiencies in our home insulation. SEAI estimates that as of February 2023 only 15.2% of homes in Cork City achieve a BER of B2 or above.
Add in emissions of commercial and industrial buildings, and we see that 56% of our greenhouse gases are coming from our building stock. Road transport is the second single biggest contributor, at 30%. Cork’s CO2 reduction plans will concentrate on speeding up progress towards energy efficient buildings and decarbonized transport systems.
The city council has recently started a series of Climate Conversations with important partners to propose ideas for how to make Cork City carbon neutral as quickly as possible. Public sector organisations, including the HSE and our universities, who both own and operate big campuses in the city, got the ball rolling.
The community and business sectors will participate in upcoming conversations.
One of the main things to come out of the conversation was the need to collaborate because we are all in this together. This is a critical insight. It is all too common to hear about “silos” that can be “barriers to change” whether at work, in our communities, or reflecting on social media. Having the courage, support and energy to step outside of our silos and collaborate will be critical. As mentioned, many community groups are already doing this working with the likes of Cork City Council, other public bodies like the HSE and corporates.
Money to invest in action is also important. In April the council launched its Community Climate Action Fund, which will be open to applications from community groups until June 16. The fund will award up to €840,000, provided by the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), to groups working on a wide variety of community projects that will help to reduce the negative impact of climate change in the city. It’s only a small part of the overall investment that we will need, but its focus on supporting climate action through community groups is new.
If you are part of a community organisation that would be interested in applying, then there is still time. More information is available at www.corkcity.ie/communityclimatefund. We welcome project proposals that build partnerships, whether new or longstanding, and deepen collaboration across our city, whether your interest lies in reducing energy consumption in community centres, getting more people to walk or cycle, increasing recycling and building a circular economy, developing or extending community gardens or other green spaces. Talk to us about your ideas.
Taking climate action in Cork city should not be defined by a sense of loss. Most if not all the changes we need to make will turn out to be positive – warmer homes in the winter, more comfortable in the summer; better air quality; safer and greener streets; faster travel across the city; new economic opportunities that will create good jobs; and friendlier, more cohesive neighbourhoods enhanced by projects we work on together.
Institutions like the city council, other public bodies or the business community can take us so far, but ultimately, people will make the difference. Building a new collaboration for change, that brings us together to create the best possible version of the city, and overcome challenges in our community, will help us achieve those positive benefits faster. I’m in. What about you?
CORK CLIMATE CONVERSATIONS
Cork City Council’s Climate Action Unit will host its second Cork Climate Conversations on Thursday, June 1, from 6-9pm at the Clayton Hotel on Lapps Quay. This event is aimed at people involved in the community and NGO sector. Please RSVP to the event on Eventbrite.