UK’s most sustainable cities ranked in new report

Bournemouth was the top performer, according to the study

Southern cities outperform rest of UK in terms of environmental sustainability

A report released in July appears to reveal a growing north-south divide between UK cities when it comes to environmental sustainability, with locations in the South performing the strongest in terms of lower CO2 emissions per person and zero-emissions commuting.

According to a report from UK Powerhouse, law firm Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic & Business Research (Cebr), cities in the South have the strongest economies in terms of GVA* and dominate in a number of key indicators relating to sustainability.

The report says the three fastest growing economies in terms of GVA in Q1 2021 will be Milton Keynes, Oxford and Cambridge – the quarter when the transition period in the UK’s current Withdrawal Agreement is set to have ended.

UK Powerhouse also reveals that Bournemouth has the least amount of carbon dioxide emissions per capita at 3.0 kt CO2 per person. Other cities in the top 10 include Ipswich, Southampton, Brighton and London.

There were no locations in the North or the Midlands in the top 10 for the lowest CO2 per person.

UK Powerhouse partly attributes this finding to the South of England’s economy being mainly service driven compared to the majority of the UK’s manufacturing and industrial plants being situated in middle and northern England.

Although Inner London was 15th, it had the second largest year-on-year decrease in CO2 emissions of -8.4%.

Inner London came out top for the highest share of low emission transport** at 34%. However In larger cities outside of London, such as in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, the modal share of public transportation is relatively low – suggesting that many commuters still choose the car to get to work.

This finding was backed up by the report revealing that there was only one northern city in the top 10 for the share of population using zero emission transport***.

The highest ranked city for renewable electricity is Peterborough where 12% of all households in 2017 had renewable energy systems installed.

Out of all the English Powerhouse cities in the report, Stockport is ranked highest for waste recycling. Milton Keynes and Bournemouth are ranked 2nd and 3rd.

Vicky Brackett, CEO of Irwin Mitchell’s Business Legal Services division, said:

“In June, the UK has announced its ambition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the first major economy to do so. The ever-more urgent topic of climate change and sustainability has reached the highest level of government and it’s important that business recognise not only the important role they have to play, but also the opportunities that exist.”

Kay Daniel Neufeld, Head of Macroeconomics at Cebr said:

“Our analysis shows considerable variation among cities in their efforts to combine economic growth and environmental sustainability. Peterborough, for example, recorded the 6th highest GVA growth rate among the Powerhouse cities in the first quarter of the year. Furthermore, the city also boasts the highest rate of renewable power systems installed with around one in every eight households generating part of their electricity supply in a sustainable way.

“However, in terms of CO2 emissions per capita, the city in the East of England has still a lot of catching up to do. The better performing cities on this particular metric are those with a sustainable transport and energy strategy, as well as a focus on services and knowledge-driven industries.”

* GVA – gross value added
** Low emission transport includes travel by bus/coach, national rail and underground
*** Zero emission transport includes travel by walking or cycling