‘Greta Effect’ catapults climate emergency to the top of the urban political agenda

But city council leaders and mayors say urban issues are not front of mind for Government

Press release published on 2 December 2019

Urban council leaders and elected mayors now rank the climate emergency among the most important issues British cities face – but they say they need more support from Government to help them act.

In a sign that the ‘Greta Effect’ has cut through the political agenda, half of city council leaders and directly elected mayors contributing to the 2019 Centre for Cities / Arup Urban Voices study cited tackling climate change as a top priority – rising dramatically from just 5% last year.

But they say more funding and support from national government is needed to help them act.

In a message to national politicians fighting the General Election, more than two thirds (69%) of council leaders and directly elected mayors blamed insufficient funding as a barrier to action, while almost half (41%) cited deficiencies in national government as an obstacle.

Concern about the climate crisis has also affected their transport priorities. An overwhelming majority (75%) are encouraging the public to ditch cars in favour of cycling and walking, and over half are transitioning to more environmentally friendly council-owned vehicles. Encouraging bus use is also high on their agenda.

When it came to money, eight in ten (81%) urban political leaders would be willing to spend significant extra capital on combating the climate emergency – if it were provided by central government. Even more (94%) of them would allocate extra money from Government to public transport investment, further reducing car dependency in cities.

Not enough interest in cities from Government

Climate change is not the only issue where urban political leaders feel Government support could be more forthcoming.

Most (62%) urban council leaders and directly elected mayors rate the support that Government gives to tackling city-specific issues as unsatisfactory. Less than one in ten of them think the Government’s support is good.

Worries about post-Brexit access to workers

Six in ten (59%) urban council leaders and directly elected mayors expect Brexit to negatively affect employers’ ability to hire international workers. More broadly, 41% of them expect it to harm their city’s international reputation.

Over half (52%) also expect Brexit to negatively affect their city’s ability to access international investment. An existing lack of investment is already cited by many of them (41%) as the main factor limiting inclusive growth.

…But political leaders still expect job numbers to rise

Council leaders and directly elected mayors are more optimistic about job numbers in their cities. Most expect the number of jobs to rise, regardless of skill level, and they expect the number of high-skilled jobs to increase most of all.

Centre for Cities is using the findings to remind national politicians and the next Government of the importance of the people living and working in cities to the national economy.

Centre for Cities’ Chief Executive Andrew Carter said:

“Cities account for the majority of the country’s population and jobs but there is a concern in city halls that the urban agenda is being side-lined.

“If cities are going to lead the way on important issues such as climate change then the next Government should give them the power and resources that they need. The leaders of Britain’s largest cities still have less powers than their counterparts in New York, Tokyo and Berlin. The next Government should correct this inequality.”

Joanna Rowelle, Integrated City Planning Director at Arup said:

“From improving air quality and public transport, to increasing affordable housing and employment opportunities as well as tackling climate change, this survey shows that our urban leaders are prepared to shoulder more responsibility in taking on the most pressing issues facing their communities.

“It is encouraging to see the climate emergency ranked among the most important issues for British cities – but we also see significant barriers to action. These need to be urgently addressed.”

Notes to editors


  • The survey was first conducted in 2018 and was influenced by the USA Menino Survey of Mayors.
  • The survey was sent to 168 UK city leaders and received 32 responses.
  • It comprised 22 questions of which 16 covered topics, such as public services, housing, transport and climate change, and 6 referred to demographic details.
  • Although the sample size does not allow us to draw a statistically significant comparison between last year and this year, we do present the results from similar topics across both years to understand responses in the context of one another.

About Centre for Cities

  • Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.
  • We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies.
  • We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange.
  • For more information, please visit centreforcities.org/about

About Arup

  • Arup is the creative force at the heart of many of the world’s most prominent projects in the built environment and across industry. Working in more than 140 countries, the firm’s designers, engineers, architects, planners, consultants and technical specialists work with our clients on innovative projects of the highest quality and impact.
  • www.arup.com

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