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New approach to city planning could help people of Leeds and the planet thrive

Press release

The city of Leeds has a huge opportunity to meet the needs of all of its citizens and improve the health of the planet, according to a new report.

The report, called the ‘Leeds City Portrait’, provides a snapshot of the social and environmental conditions in the city using the groundbreaking Doughnut Economics model.

It shows that each person in Leeds is currently responsible for 9.3 tonnes of carbon emissions per year, which is almost six times more than the ‘safe’ limit. It also illustrates serious inequality, with the highest 20% of earners in Leeds responsible for nearly four times as many carbon emissions as the lowest 20% of earners.

The ‘Leeds City Portrait’ was produced by a team of researchers and practitioners from the University of Leeds  and Climate Action Leeds.

Paul Chatterton, Professor of Urban Futures at the University of Leeds and Strategy Lead with Climate Action Leeds co-authored the new report. He said: “We are living in a time of converging crises – social, climate and ecological. Our report shows that many aspects of life in Leeds are falling below a basic safety net, and exceeding boundaries for a healthy planet.

“We are now facing a decade of transformation where we need to turn things around with bold and rapid action. The Doughnut Economics approach offers us a route for this – how Leeds can meet its local aspirations while also living up to its global responsibilities.”

“Our report shows that the doughnut approach can provide an alternative to the broken economic system based on perpetual economic growth and resource use that has caused so much harm to society and the natural world. Our aim is simple – how can we all live well within limits. Of course for this to happen we will need national change. But there’s lots that communities in Leeds can do. That’s where our doughnut approach comes in.”

Climate Action Leeds is a five-year programme funded by The National Lottery, which aims to help Leeds become zero carbon, nature friendly and socially just by the 2030s.

For the first time in Leeds, Oxford economist Kate Raworth’s approach has been used to show where people lack essential services and where the city is living beyond the physical limits of the planet.

This unique approach brings together both social needs and environmental limits into a single framework. It can therefore be used to help address challenges like the climate emergency whilst simultaneously improving quality of life for the many people who currently struggle to make ends meet.

The doughnut model has two ‘rings’, with the inner ring showing the essential aspects needed to live a good life. These include access to water, food and quality housing, as well as income, education and gender equality. The outer ring shows the Earth’s biophysical boundaries, which, if crossed, would damage the ozone layer, climate, oceans, and biodiversity.

Leeds Doughnut Portrait. Credit: Jenny Bull

The aim of using the model is to enable everyone to live in the safe space in the middle of the doughnut, where everyone’s needs are met without damaging the planet.

The new research shows that the city of Leeds falls short of meeting nearly all social needs of its citizens locally – from health, to housing, energy to social equity.

At the same time, it shows that 6 environmental limits are being breached on a global scale – from carbon emissions to ocean acidification, global biodiversity to land use – whilst local nature is not being supported so it can support life in Leeds.

The portrait also looks at Leeds’ social impact on the rest of the world, highlighting that in 2018, there were more than 21,000 child labourers in the global supply chains of goods and services consumed by people in Leeds.

In 2020, Amsterdam became the first city to adopt the doughnut model after producing their own city portrait in 2015. As a result, leaders committed to ambitious policies ranging from increasing the number of parks to building sustainable food systems and creating a fully circular economy by 2050.

It is hoped that this city portrait for Leeds will be used by politicians, policy makers, social entrepreneurs and activists to work towards making Leeds a thriving and safe place for everyone.

Councillor Neil Walshaw, Chair of Leeds City Council’s Climate Emergency Advisory Committee, spoke at the launch event. He said: “We need to act with real urgency if we want to secure a safe future, and we can only do that by meeting people’s fundamental needs, whilst living within the limits of our natural world. I am excited to see how this new economic model might help us make great improvements to people’s lives across Leeds.”

Kate Raworth, Senior Associate at Oxford University and author of Doughnut Economics, said: “It’s fantastic that Leeds has decided to be one of the pioneering cities in the UK, taking on the ambition of our times to become a thriving, regenerative place to live. I can’t wait to see how such a creative and vibrant city will put Doughnut Economics into practice – in communities, in policymaking and in business.

“I’ve no doubt that what you set in motion in Leeds will inspire many more towns and cities, in the UK and far beyond.”