Much of our activity on the Climate Action Plans Explorer (CAPE) over the last year has been supported by BEIS. This funding has given us the luxury of time and resource to develop new features, based on research into our core users’ needs.
We’ve made progress in four broad areas:
Different ways into the data
More intuitive routes for experts and non-experts to explore UK councils’ Climate Action Plans and understand more about each one.
- We developed a ‘nearest neighbour’ dataset, based on research with council officers.
This matches councils by more relevant criteria than just their location: see more details in this blog post and this update.
- We consulted local authorities and campaigners to understand more about what’s most important to them in local climate strategies, then put together a browse by feature page. This uses data from the Climate Emergency UK Scorecards project to create collections of plans that exhibit best practice in key areas. More in our blog post here.
- We included links to additional sources of data to every council’s page, such as the Tyndall Centre Carbon Budget, and Friends of the Earth’s ‘Near You’ tool.
Insight and oversight
By showing the scale of ambition amongst the most active local authorities, CAPE provides peer motivation for less aspirational councils.
- We collected the headline promises in which UK councils commit to the date by which they will reach net zero. More in our blog post here.
- We provided substantial technical support to Climate Emergency UK on their Council Climate Plan Scorecards project, which analyses comparable features across every plan in our database. The scores can now be easily compared across all authorities of a given type.
Seeding and nurturing open data
We’re supporting the monitoring and analysis of local climate response with a growing open dataset, and encouraging councils to publish better standardised data to allow CAPE and other similar services to be sustained more easily.
- We’ve added BEIS data on emissions for each council, broken down by source. We were able to calculate Combined Authority data from constituent boroughs/districts, so have also added a novel open dataset — more about that in this blog post.
- We created a new way to browse emissions reduction projects by Scottish local authorities.
- The total number, cost, and emissions reduction estimates of a council’s projects are also displayed on their CAPE page.
Awareness and uptake
We’ve been facilitating networks and ensuring that councils and other stakeholders know about, and can use, the resource.
- We presented at several online seminars and conducted outreach with local authority officers and councillors.
- We met one to one with a variety of organisations to let them know how CAPE could help them.
- We ran the first informal get-together for an international set of climate organisations — more are planned.
This work has brought us new understanding about what councils need; what the public understands; what data is available and what needs to happen in the future if local authorities are to be properly equipped to fulfil the net zero targets they’ve committed to.
mySociety believes in working in the open, so we share whatever insights we can through our blog and research portal, with the aim of facilitating quicker, more effective climate action across the UK.
New obligations are needed
Practically speaking, we’ve been able to provide new data for developers, researchers, councils — and anyone working on climate, especially in the digital realm.
But while the data we added to CAPE is substantial and useful, it only scratches the surface of what could be done if better data was coming from local authorities themselves.
Proactive data releases could bring immeasurable benefits to council climate officers, campaigners and researchers, but are unlikely to happen until reporting like this is made a statutory requirement for local authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as they are in Scotland.
Reduced council budgets only increase the need for data
As is clear from the CAPE dataset, many local authorities have set themselves ambitious emissions reduction targets. More than 50%, 251 councils, are promising carbon neutrality as soon as 2030.
Ambition is admirable, but climate officers are grappling with the dual challenges of implementing widespread change across all of their councils’ activities, on a narrow budget with little statutory or regulatory backing. Many of them are defining their own roles even while they work, and are building their idea of an effective local authority climate response based on best practice observed in their peers.
This is why a large part of our work has focused on enabling quicker, more informed comparison between local authorities, encouraging a break from the usual preconceived comparison sets. Instead we facilitate the exploration of actions taken by councils in similar, specific situations.
But our work can only go so far, when reliable, up-to-date, and machine-readable data on councils’ climate actions is so thin on the ground.
Local authorities have almost no statutory obligation to measure or report on the emissions generated by their own operations or their area as a whole, nor on the actions they are taking to reduce those emissions.
This data must be provided in a machine-readable format, enabling automatic comparison across time periods so that impact can be tracked throughout multi-year emissions reduction projects.