1. Local authorities, healthcare and climate change

    Climate change threatens to have huge impacts on human health and wellbeing. At the same time, the measures local authorities are putting in place through their climate action plans have great potential to bring positive impacts to health and well-being.

    As we clean up the air we’ll see less respiratory disease; fewer toxins will mean lower cancer rates; better insulated houses will result in less damp in our homes; and better access to nature will bring benefits to mental health.

    Yet it’s not a clearcut case of climate action bringing benefits to all. Councils who suffered more from austerity cuts may be less able to implement the changes needed to face the climate emergency, and as we’re already well aware, we’re not starting on a level playing field: levels of deprivation and life expectancy vary across the country.

    Data Science Institute Lancaster university logoWe’ve been hearing from Heather Brown, Professor of Health Inequalities at Lancaster University, on how data from our Climate programme has been feeding into a current research project that interrogates all of these points and more, with the help of the Climate Action Plan Explorer and the Council Climate Scorecards site.

    Funded by the National Institute of Health and Care, the research will:

    • identify the actions and policies which local authorities can take to limit climate change; and 
    • identify actions and adaptations which can mitigate the health (both physical and mental) and health inequality impacts of climate change.

    Climate change and human health are interlinked

    The effects that climate change may inflict upon human health and wellbeing are huge and multifarious: from the physical health risks of extremes in temperature; shortages in food and medical supplies; water shortages and contaminated water supplies; to the mental health impacts that include anxiety, grief and loss. 

    It’s well recognised that these effects will, without intervention, be distributed across our population unfairly, with those already in the most deprived regions likely to be hit hardest and soonest.

    Well-implemented and properly funded climate action provides an opportunity for turning these issues into positives for public health. In many cases, interventions fall within the provision of local authorities, and the action they take around climate change will have beneficial effects on health, whether intended or not.

    As an example, a switch to more people using sustainable transport modes such as cycling and walking will not only cut carbon emissions, but will have both physical and mental health benefits for the population. 

    Informed by climate action plan data

    Professor Brown explains that the first task in the project is to see what research is already out there on the health impacts of climate change: “We will be undertaking a systematic review of the existing literature to synthesise the findings on the impacts of climate change on individuals, communities and the health system’s lived experiences in relation to physical and mental health and health inequalities in a UK context.”

    Part of this will involve using our CAPE database to identify local authorities to speak to. Professor Brown says:

    “Based on what we find, we want to talk to people working in local authorities, and identify the perceived barriers and facilitators towards collaborating or co-constructing action plans with local communities, in relation to mitigating physical and mental health impacts and health inequalities. 

    “We also want to identify how local authority leads are using evidence to support the development of their climate action plans. And finally we’ll explore factors which may impact  the implementation of the climate action plans and identify areas which could support them.”

    At this point, data from our and Climate Emergency UK’s Council Climate Plan Scorecards site will be brought into play, interestingly with other datasets as well:

    “We’ll use the Scorecards site to explore how the ratings of climate plans correlate with funding cuts associated with austerity at the local authority level; as well as population health (life expectancy), and area level deprivation.

    “Then, given our findings, we will speak with people working in local authorities to understand what factors related to health were seen as priorities or not when developing climate plans.”

    An increase in our understanding

    This research will go back to the National Institute of Health and Care to inform their future funding; it will also feed into academic publications, and on a practical level, it should help local authorities with their decision making. 

    We were really glad to know that our services are playing a part in research that will increase our understanding of these issues. If this case study has suggested synergies with your own work, Professor Brown says that her team is happy to consider potential collaborations or further ideas for future research. Her contact details can be found here.

     —

    Image: Fritz Bielmeier

  2. School meals and climate action plans

    When we and our partners at Climate Emergency UK began work on CAPE, the Climate Action Plans Explorer, it was with a strong sense that gathering together local councils’ plans would be useful to many types of user. We could see how such a dataset would help councils themselves, as well as informing campaigners, researchers and members of the public.

    But of course, when you put data out into the open, you discover the specific ways in which these sectors will put it to use. We’re really enjoying hearing from the varied organisations who’ve been telling us how they have used CAPE and the Scorecards: some we were already quite familiar with, some we’d never heard of, and others in sectors where, while the application becomes obvious as soon as it is mentioned, we just hadn’t foreseen usage.

    The reason for such variety is clear when you think about it: transition to carbon zero will touch every area of our lives, and so this data will be relevant everywhere.

    That includes those working towards moving society towards more sustainable choices in what we eat. We blogged about Sustain’s work around food and farming not long ago; and now we hear from ProVeg UK, who are also working on making sustainable food choices a part of the nation’s landscape.

    ProVeg UK

    Proveg logo ProVeg UK are one of ten country teams that make up ProVeg International, a global non-profit food awareness organisation with the mission to reduce the global consumption of animals by 50% by 2040.

    They began operating five years ago, and focus solely on making school food healthier and more sustainable by increasing the quality and quantity of plant-based food in schools through their School Plates programme.

    The organisation supports local authorities, multi-academy trusts and individual schools throughout the UK to help school menus become healthier, more sustainable and save money through menu reviews, plant-based recipe development, and both online and in-person plant-based cooking in schools workshops with catering staff.

    The team have so far helped to swap over 6.4 million meals from meat-based to meat-free or plant-based, and are currently supporting 35 major catering partners (including 29 local authorities), responsible for over 3,500 schools, and over 580,000 children.

    Underpinning action with data

    With more and more local authorities declaring a climate emergency, ProVeg UK quickly realised that the Climate Actions Plans site was the perfect resource to help them prioritise their outreach to those councils who were actively looking to reduce their emissions. The team’s job is to show councils the significant role food plays in cutting emissions and to offer their free support to make it happen.

    It is so much simpler and efficient for us to know all this information can be found in one easy-to-access place.

    Colette Fox, Programme Manager at ProVeg UK, told us that even just being able to quote the overall number of local authorities who have declared a climate emergency was useful in showing how much work is left to be done.

    She said, “The Climate Action Plans Explorer is our go-to resource to check any new declarations and to reference when we quote the current percentages for the UK and by individual nations.

    “Without the site we would have had to check every council’s website and search for their climate action plans. It is so much simpler and efficient for us to know all this information can be found in one easy-to-access place.”

    Recipes and advice

    You can find out more about the School Plates programme on the ProVeg UK website, and if you scroll down you can download The Recipes – 35 plant-based recipes designed for primary schools. Each recipe has been created to comply with the School Food Standards, and includes the cost per portion (the average is less than 44p), the carbon footprint, key nutrients and allergens.

    Although these recipes are designed for schools, they can of course be made by anyone looking to try more plant-based dishes.

    And if you are involved in school food for a local authority or multi academy trust, ProVeg UK provides free menu review, plant-based recipe development, and in person training for your caterers – all free of charge.

    ProVeg UK also offers free monthly online cooking workshops to individual schools, to help show why it is so important to eat more plant-based foods. If you’d like to learn more, they’d be very happy to hear from you at schools@proveg.com.

  3. Climate monthnotes July 2022: Preparing for a Summer of events

    There’s lots, as ever, to report from the Climate team this month, so I’ll try to pick some highlights… this time with a Shakespearean flavour, as I (mySociety’s Liverpool correspondent) celebrate the opening of the Shakespeare North Playhouse in the nearby town of Prescot. May the bard’s lyrical visions propel us into a summer of climate action!

    All things are ready, if our mind be so

    In the previous monthnotes Jen trailered Innovations in Climate Tech – our online, half-day event, featuring inspirational examples and discussion about how civic tech projects are supporting climate action around the world, and how we might be able to seed more projects like this, with the cooperation of local authorities, here in the UK.

    This month Jen’s been lining up speakers for the event (which takes place on 21st September), and Siôn has been planning how we can use workshops in the second half of the event to share best practice and build more connections between technologists and local authority officials.

    If you’re from a local authority, or you’ve been involved in a climate-related technology project, and you’d like to share your work at the event, there’s still time to submit a proposal for inclusion in the programme.

    We’re also excited to find we’ve been accepted to speak at the upcoming Code for All 2022 Summit (also happening in September), so we’re looking forward to working our sessions there into our wider plan for building connections between the climate and civic tech communities.

    And finally, to complete the Summer events trifecta, we’ve been laying plans for an informal online get-together about energy efficiency and retrofit, since it’s proved such a popular subject during our prototyping weeks, and we’d really like to find the most impactful contribution we could make in the space, especially with fuel costs expected to continue rising well into 2023. If this interests you, share your availability for the week in which we’re planning to meet and join our climate updates newsletter to hear how things develop.

    Once more unto the breech dear friends

    All good things must come to an end – and our series of six rapid prototyping weeks has certainly been a good thing! This month we’ve been preparing for the final week in the series, focussing on how improved collection and sharing of MP, constituency, and local climate action data, between environmental charities and organisations, could enhance public understanding of climate challenges and solutions, and build networks across local communities.

    We’re really excited to be working on this with a number of really big names in the space—including The Climate Coalition, Green Alliance, Friends of the Earth, the Wildlife Trusts, Hope for the Future, WWF, and Climate Outreach—and we’re really excited to see what recommendations come out of the week.

    We’re also putting the final touches to our write-ups of the last two prototyping weeks (on fair transition and energy efficiency for private rental tenants) and will be posting them on our Climate Prototyping page shortly.

    Friends, romans, countrymen, lend us your ears!

    Siôn has been sharing our procurement and energy efficiency prototypes with a whole range of organisations, getting their input on next steps we should take, and potential collaboration opportunities. So far we’re excited to have met with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies, UK Green Building Council, Architects Climate Action Network, Living Rent, Energy Local, Connected Places Catapult and Citizens UK.

    Meanwhile, Myf has been renewing our efforts to promote CAPE to journalists, as one of the core audiences where we think up-to-date, accessible data on local authority climate action could really enable a new level of scrutiny and cross-pollination of climate actions around the UK. We’re looking to potentially speak at a few journalism conferences in the coming months, and we’re planning to prepare a set of online resources that might give journalists an idea of how they can use our data to find stories.

    We also presented CAPE and the Scorecards at Friends of the Earth’s Environmental Data for Change event—which I was honoured to be asked to facilitate on FoE’s behalf—right at the end of June. It was an absolutely packed call, which left everyone buzzing with ideas for the future. We’re continuing to work with Friends of the Earth, and other attendees from the event, on how we take the this great momentum, and shape a community of practice around sharing and building on the rich environmental data available in the UK, to power more informed climate action.

     

    Photo by Red Zeppelin on Unsplash.

  4. Green Finance Institute’s Local Climate Bond campaign

    CAPE, the Climate Action Plans Explorer, is at its heart a collection of data. It began life as a searchable database of councils’ climate action plans, and over time we’ve added other useful datapoints and links.

    Why have we gone to the effort of collating and sharing this information? Because it’s our belief that when climate action plans are in one place, easier to find, compare and analyse, they will have utility far beyond the sum of their parts.

    In the spirit of open data, we hope to see our projects in the Climate programme feeding in to all kinds of initiatives, campaigns, organisations, stories and research that will, in one way or another, facilitate faster, more effective climate action at the local level.

    When we hear of the ways in which CAPE data is being used, we’re keen to share the details in the belief that this can spark new inspiration, and in that spirit, here is a case study demonstrating how it has furthered a really beneficial strand of innovation for local authorities.


    One way in which CAPE‘s data can be used is as a directory: if your organisation offers a service to local authorities that is designed to help with their action on climate, it’s useful to be able to look a council up and understand their plans before making an approach.

    Green Finance Institute logoAnd that’s just how the Green Finance Institute have been using CAPE, and specifically the accompanying Scorecards site. This government-backed organisation was founded in 2019 with the aim of removing barriers to investment in climate solutions. As their Associate Alessandra Melis explains, the Institute’s three objectives can be neatly summed up as “Greening Finance, Financing Green, and Knowledge Exchange”. 

    Their Financing Green objective predominantly works through a coalition-based model, forming taskforces of experts who are able to identify the barriers to green investment in that sector and then co-designing solutions and tools to help lift those barriers. They have active coalitions working on decarbonising the built environment, in road transport, and in nature.

    A simple way for residents to invest in the climate activities of their local authority

    Green Finance Institute Local Bond CampaignThe Green Finance Institute, along with Abundance Investment, are the body behind the Local Climate Bond campaign, an initiative launched in 2021 and also supported by Innovate UK, UK100 and Local Partnerships. These present a simple way for residents to invest in the climate activities of their local authority. 

    Alessandra explained more about what exactly Local Climate Bonds are: “They’re a form of Community Municipal Investment that present a simple, proven, and lower cost way for local authorities to finance local net zero solutions, diversifying their sources of funding, engaging the local community, and helping meet net zero targets. The ethical investment platform Abundance provides the regulated crowdfunding platform for the administration of the bonds issued so far.

    “Basically, they enable local authorities to raise money directly from the public. Investments in the bonds can be anything from as little as £5, so they’re accessible to almost everyone.”

    Using Climate Action Plan data

    Clearly, the first step towards getting the scheme going in a local area is getting the local authority on board. The Green Finance Institute found it very helpful to be able to have an informed discussion with a council about their climate ambitions and their existing level of engagement with local citizens before moving on to the question of whether the scheme would help to achieve their net zero goals.  

    We really recognise the value that local government has in addressing climate change and the climate emergency”, says Alessandra. “We are always on the lookout for organisations who are actively aware of the power and value of local councils and who are engaging practically and pragmatically, and we found the Scorecards site through this research.”

    So how did they utilise it? In this case, through a bulk download of every councils’ assessment, available on the homepage of the Scorecards site.

    “The Scorecards helped us examine the climate plans on a per-council basis: whether they had a net zero target, when it was set, what their current community engagement looked like. All this was a really useful diving board for deeper research and further conversations.”

    Enabling local climate projects to flourish

    What type of project do the Local Climate Bonds help bring about? Alessandra is quick to provide examples.

    “In West Berkshire, the million pounds raised from 643 residents was used to build Solar PV roof-based projects on council facilities, and there was enough left over to fund other projects like urban tree planting, wildlife improvement and travel infrastructure.

    “Then in Islington, 661 investors contributed to the council’s ongoing efforts to improve air quality, and adding EV charging points; in Camden, the investment made by almost 400 investors will also go towards EV charging points as well as replacing the council’s fleet with green alternatives. Among the projects that are still crowdfunding on the Abundance platform, we see plans like Cotswold District Council’s energy efficiency improvements for the council’s offices. Telford are looking to make energy improvements to their temporary and supported housing stock.”

    That sounds like a lot of progressive climate activity! How many councils have introduced the Bonds so far?

    “The first Local Climate Bonds were issued by West Berkshire Council and Warrington Council. Then seven more pioneering councils joined around the time of COP26. From these, the London borough councils of Islington and Camden, plus Cotswold District Council and Telford & Wrekin have been the first to subsequently successfully issue a Community Municipal Investment to put money into low carbon projects, bringing the total number of issuances to six so far.”

    For councils, Alessandra says, the benefits are clear. 

    “One great thing the Local Climate Bonds bring about is the opportunity for residents to get involved in their council’s climate projects. But beyond that, of course, there are economic benefits: the Bonds offer a lower cost of funding to the local authority than the one offered by the main source of funding from central government, the Public Works Loan Board.

    “It’s even better for the council when investors — as has been the case for West Berkshire and Warrington — decide to donate all or part of their interest payments back to them. Respectively 16% and 11% of investors in the first issued bonds did this, to finance specific projects, such as a wildflower verge restoration project in West Berkshire.

    “Councils have particularly praised the engaging way of utilising a lower-cost form of borrowing for their net zero ambitions, and the possibility of giving citizens the opportunity to make a positive contribution towards a carbon neutral future, while also providing them with a financial return and deeper engagement.”

    Engaged residents

    Great stuff for councils then, but how about the residents?

    As we’ve already mentioned, councils enjoy the increased engagement from their residents. This goes both ways. The Bonds allow people to have a real stake in the climate action happening in their local area. One might say, no pun intended, that they are more invested.

    Alessandra points out, too, that the Local Climate Bonds offer a very low risk investment by taking local government risk rather than project risk: “This means that these regulated instruments are secured against the ability of the council to pay the returns, rather than the successfulness of the projects invested in.”

    Local Climate Bonds can also be eligible to be held in Innovative Finance ISA, which means they can offer investors to earn tax-free returns.

    More to come

    The Green Finance Institute and Abundance Investments are continuing to hold discussions with councils and private investors across the country to respectively stimulate more issuances and scale up the investment opportunity.

    Councils interested in exploring Local Climate Bonds can get in touch via their website or by sending an email to localclimatebond@gfi.green.

    And if you want to buy a Bond? “Interested investors can visit the Abundance Investment website to see the full range of Community Municipal Investments available — you don’t actually need to live in a council area to be eligible to invest in its activities. Follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn if you want to be kept informed about the latest issuances.”

    The Green Finance Institute are also always very happy to hear from organisations that are interested in helping to raise awareness of this solution, that can offer on the one hand a cost-effective and engaging way for councils to fund hundreds of green local projects; and on the other, a low-risk and fixed return investment to citizens who want to support their local green initiatives.

    And we at mySociety are always happy to hear from organisations, campaigns and people who are using CAPE or the Scorecards site as one part of their efforts around climate action — please do let us know if you have a story we could tell.

    Subscribe to mySociety’s newsletter for a monthly update on all our climate-related activities.

  5. Notes from TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery #5: Learning from climate action

    Last week saw us come together for the fifth online TICTeC Civic Tech Surgery, our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech.

    Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion on one topic area affecting the civic tech community. Interested parties can then apply to take suggested ideas forward in a smaller working group, building solutions with the aid of a grant.

    This time, the discussants examined issues faced by those tackling the climate emergency with civic tech: what are some of the blockers they face, how can these be overcome, and what could a small grant do to help with one or more of those challenges?

    Discussants were Laura Brown, Chief Marketing Officer of ISeeChange, Jacopo Ottaviani, Chief Data Officer at Code for Africa and Laurence Watson, Head of Technology at Subak.

    For a high-level view, read on. We’ve attempted to capture all the ideas discussed, but if you’re keen not to miss anything, access the notes from the meeting, as well as the full recording of the session and the AI-generated transcript.

    Problems

    A summary of the issues identified during the chat and by the audience.

    Data and understanding

    Access to data – there is a lot of relevant data out there, but much of it is behind paywalls, expensive, or relies on an understanding of jargon. It is difficult to get reliable data for many areas that are needed.

    People aren’t experts: To what extent do you need to hold their hands and tell them what to do with complex datasets? The very people who are impacted by climate change impacts do not understand the terminology: climate communication should be localized for people to understand and get involved in the fight.

    Experts in climate data aren’t experts in communications – they need to learn how (or employ staff) to make their messaging easier for those at the receiving end. As a techie, it’s relatively easy to build solutions, but there’s a whole different skillset involved in publicising them and getting people onboard with them.

    Apathy and mistrust

    There’s general apathy from the public over a problem that seems too big or difficult to solve, or which has ben talked about for such a long time with no seeming progress.  People think they’ve heard it all before, and don’t believe this time will be any different. They also don’t think small local changes can make enough of a difference.

    Mistrust of government: the diminishing levels of trust, especially in national government, affects how people regard the data they provide (and possibly the data provided by all authorities).

    Governments shift responsibility between levels and governments are complex to navigate.

    It’s hard to persuade people to make difficult changes  – it’s easy enough to suggest them, but harder for tech to push them to actually see it through. The challenge is in getting people to accept short term inconvenience or risk, for a long term (and often non-individual) return. Incentives are tricky to identify and then communicate.

    The public has a short attention span and climate is a longterm, slow burn issue.

    Ways of working

    Startups also tend to work to short timescales and need to see quick results.

    NGOs don’t work together: there may be infighting as NGOs jostle for the same resources, which wastes their energy and disregards opportunities for working together. There are many organisations  working on similar-but-different solutions, making for a lot of wasted/duplicated effort. Non-profits often are funded for very specific things that they can deliver individually, so they are not incentivised to put effort into working with one another.

    Too many projects have no Theory of Change – they’re just created because it seemed like a good idea.

    It is difficult to measure impacts when asking people to take action in the real world. Particularly for projects that aim to create or open up information that could be used by a wide variety of stakeholders

    Societal issues

    Citizen action can only go so far – governments need to lead the way with legislation.

    Dis- and mis-information from climate denialists makes the job harder. The for-profit practices of social media and mass media are amplifying division. For all the energy and money going into advocating issues and their solutions, there seems to be an effective amount of money and energy preventing those solutions.

    Logistics

    Access: In countries with poor Internet coverage, there is a very basic problem of poor connectivity. This makes all sorts of things difficult, but the example given was about the difficulties of journalists in central Africa accessing training resources.

    Financial stability of newsrooms in Africa – many are relying on grants, which is fine for the short term, but can pose problems for sustainability.

    Trying to train up people with differing levels of experience: for example, training journalists who might not have used Excel before, in the same group as people with a bit more expertise.

    Possible solutions

    Making data accessible

    Employ data guides – make experts visible and available (perhaps at set times). These people could aid less experienced people in how to use complex data, like a reference librarian.

    Distil expert views and make them available so that people can understand them without ploughing through masses of data or content.

    Humanise the data – journalists can portray the human stories behind the facts and figures. See Lungs of the Earth and vox.com for some great examples; animations can be appealing and Johnny Harris from Vox does explainer videos that show how these can be made cheaply.

    Reaching people with meaningful messages

    If only a small proportion of people are likely to act, speak to those people. Find the ‘champions’ and don’t worry about communicating to the others just yet – they may follow on.

    Put attention on to those living low-carbon or low-plastic lifestyles, rather than shaming them. For some reason, we as a society seem to have taken this path with plant-based diets (influencers have led the way in normalising veganism) but not with other climate-friendly practices.

    Go where the people are – if that means learning how to utilise TikTok, the most-used social channel at the moment, so be it! Learn how to visualise data and include robust and useful climate change information within the TikTok vernacular.

    Games that help us envision the future: There is a disconnect between local discussions on local issues and the big changes that are coming, ‘like the end of the private motor car that in 15 years will be no more relevant than the horse and cart’. Could games help people understand?

    Roadshows Done well, a travelling event with a single message can be very effective.

    Hyperlocal webinars Match local interest community groups with experts in their area, like an e-bike expert talking to cycling groups; a food and growing expert to local gardening groups.

    Systemic change

    We need an effective, overarching law – like GDPR- designed to stamp out mis- and dis-information on the social media platforms.

    Working together

    Open and scaleable solutions When groups create something, they should do so with reuse in mind – create the documentation and support that will make it easy for other groups to pick up and adapt internationally.

    Identify & connect with climate officials working on a topic internationally

    Collaborate internationally or cross-country with other initiatives to collect data.

    Winning elections: Encourage more people to stand for election on a climate platform.

    How the grant could help

    Some ideas for spending the grant.

    Develop the results.org model for mobilising people, with an emphasis on climate.

    Create a model example for how to respond to your council’s Climate Action Plan that people could use as a template.

    Financial support for a data librarian who is available at set times of the week.

    Recruit, train and support ‘community climate champions‘ based in research teams, policy units, universities etc. We couldn’t fund this long term but could dedicate seed funding for an agency to pilot the idea.

    Infographics based on Climate Outreach’s work on persuasive language around climate.

    Give grants to college students who will be able to use them efficiently – with a little going a long way.

    Set up a table at climate protests to seed action in  people who are already feeling passionate, eg ask people to write a letter to their MP that you can gather up and send en masse the next day.

    Run a hackathon or challenge for students to come up with new solutions.

    Research into how communications can be used to overcome climate denialism.

    Make climate change data journalism micro-grants in under-reported regions.

    Communications between climate champions and citizens: Help, for example, the local authorities that have declared climate emergencies to engage citizens with their actions so there is mutual understanding, with a combination of engagement software used in public consultation with local data and the psychology used by Climate Outreach to reach different audiences.

    Action lab

    Some of this discussion also took place on Padlet and you can see more ideas there.

    We are now inviting people to join the working group (aka Action Lab), which will comprise up to six people who are keen to use this discussion to inform the group as they pin down how the grant will be spent.

    To keep an eye on this progress, and to know more about the next Surgery, see the TICTeC website or sign up for email updates.

  6. Food, farming and climate action plans

    Sustain's logoSustain is the Alliance for Better Food and Farming, working to create a better food system for people and the planet.

    Like mySociety, the charity has identified local government as an area where meaningful change can be achieved — and they’ve been using CAPE, our climate action plans explorer tool, to help them bring it about.

    Councils have a role in the sustainable food transition

    We spoke to Ruth Westcott, Climate Change Campaign Coordinator at Sustain, to find out more about the organisation, and how CAPE has been of use to them. To kick things off, she explained why they’d been looking at councils’ climate action plans in the first place:

    “One of our aims at Sustain is to tackle the enormous environmental hoofprint of food and farming. We need, as a country, to transition to agroecological farming, using sustainable methods that work in harmony with nature.

    “And we need to reassess our diets so that they reflect the climate and nature emergency — as well as to tackle injustice and exploitation.”

    Of course, we can’t argue with that — but where does local government come in?

    “Councils have a huge role to play in making climate-friendly food the norm,” says Ruth. “They buy a lot of food for schools, care services and events. Lots of councils have planning power, and can support sustainable farming and food growing — in fact, some councils even own farms and farmland.”

    And those aren’t the only ways that which councils can contribute to their net zero targets through the areas of food and farming. “Food runs through so much of where councils have influence. They can help minimise food waste and the emissions that come out of it; educate citizens on sustainable diets and support good food businesses in their area.”

    Climate action plan data

    When Ruth spells it out like that, it is indeed clear just how much sway local authorities have over food and farming-based emissions. But she says that back in 2020, Sustain had the impression that not many councils were seeing it that way, nor had many included food in their climate action plans.

    That’s where CAPE came in: Ruth used the data on the site to produce a report, An analysis of UK Local Authority plans to tackle climate change through food. This sought to depict how well councils are considering action on food in the context of the climate and nature emergency — and if you want a spoiler, “not at all well” is Ruth’s succinct summary.

    “Using CAPE, we were instantly able to see which councils have declared a climate emergency, which had released an action plan, and (amazingly!) find all the action plans in one place. That allowed us to do an analysis of how many councils were including food in their action plans, recognise and congratulate some leaders, and identify those that could do more.”

    Some of the standout findings were that only 13 out of 92 climate emergency plans released by UK councils at that time included policies to tackle food emissions at the scale needed; and two thirds (67%) of climate action plans contained no new or substantial proposals to tackle food-related emissions at all, even though the food and farming sector is the source of 20-30% of emissions globally. 

    Sustain will be repeating the exercise this year and hope to see some substantial improvements.

    “I don’t think we would have published that report without your website”, says Ruth. “It’s hard to say how we would have gathered together all 400 or so action plans in one place – we simply don’t have the resources to do this!

    “Once we’d compiled the report, it allowed us to drive awareness with councils and get them to register on our Every Mouthful Counts toolkit.”

    Resources for councils and citizens

    Every Mouthful Counts helps councils identify where big emissions savings can be made through food, with links to helpful resources. If you’re from a council yourself, you can register and record all the actions you’re taking in this area – see this page for the councils already doing this. 

    On the other hand, if you’re an interested citizen, you can check the map to see whether your own local council has signed up — and what strategies or projects they’ve already put in place.

    Can’t see your own council? Then you might consider dropping an email to your councillor to ask them to register and report what they are doing around food and climate change.

    Many thanks to Ruth for explaining how CAPE was employed to get this project underway — we hope that by writing about it, we might inspire projects in all sorts of sectors to use the climate action plan data in similar ways. Subscribe to the mySociety Climate newsletter and you’ll be the first to know about other such innovations.

    Image: Rasa Kasparaviciene

  7. June Monthnotes from the Climate Programme

    It’s the end of June already and we’re now over half way through the year, the solstice has passed and the days are starting to get shorter! Since the start of April the Climate team have been in a whirl of prototyping weeks which has made time feel like it’s speeding past at a high rate.

    So what have we done this month?

    Trialing Github projects

    Being an open source technical organisation, mySociety does a lot of its development work in GitHub, but on the Climate team we were using a mixture of Trello, spreadsheets and documents to track our priorities and progress. Having everything spread across so many places was causing the team confusion when it came to updating on progress and figuring out which tasks were the next most important.

    So, at the start of June we switched to trialling GitHub’s Projects feature. This seems to answer a lot of our needs right now – everything is in one place, we can use status labels to track the progress on the project and add custom ones which relate to project milestones. It has the bonus effect that we’re not doubling up work by having the same tickets in GitHub and Trello. We’re only two sprints in so far, so still early days but we’re hopeful this might be a simpler way of working.

    Prototyping weeks

    There’s only been one prototyping week in June: A fair transition. This was a tough week as it was such a broad subject and it was difficult to work out what exactly would be most useful for us to work on. This is what we came up with.

    We’ve also been planning for Week 5 – Energy efficiency for rental homes which takes place from 5 -11 July. There’s still time to apply if you’re interested in joining us on this one!

    Communications

    It’s been a busy month for Communications – we’ve put together a pitch for MG OMD, the global marketing agency that will be volunteering their time for us through the Weston Communicating Climate training programme that Myf, our Communications Manager, has been following. It gives us the opportunity to have a big agency input into our plans and maybe give us ideas for new ways of reaching people.

    Myf has also been working on some case studies – one from Sustain and one from Green Finance Institute. They’ll really help to highlight why the climate action plan data we have is so important to making positive change on reducing local climate emissions.

    Data

    Alex has been working hard on our data ecosystem and we now have the local authority data up in a better format. You can find it here: https://mysociety.github.io/uk_local_authority_names_and_codes/

    Events planning

    Finally we’ve been working on events. We have our first Prototyping Show and Tell on Friday 1 July from 2pm – 3:30pm BST: do drop us a line to be added to the event if you want to come along and hear all about how prototyping works and what we’ve found.

    We’ve also started looking at our September event, Innovations in Climate Change, which will be held on September 21 2022 on Zoom. We’re super excited about this and our aim is to bring together local councils, international actors and technology people to share their tech based climate change projects and hopefully inspire some new work to reduce local climate emissions. If any of that sounds like you, sign up to present or keep your eyes peeled for an Eventbrite page to register your attendance.

     

    Image: Natosha Benning

  8. Innovations in climate tech: global inspiration for local climate action

    Call for speakers

    Are you using digital technology or data to tackle the climate emergency at a local level?

    Could local councils or other organisations benefit from trialling or implementing your tech?

    If so, come and help spark inspiration by showcasing your project on September 21, via Zoom. Spark inspiration, and maybe find partners to implement your project.

    At mySociety, we’ve been making our own services, bringing our expertise of data and civic tech together to create online tools that empower citizens and councils to act on climate. We’re focusing on climate action at the local government level, because we believe this is the area where effective change can most easily be made — see more on our Climate page.

    Now we want to share what we’ve made, and hear about your work too. In the spirit of open data and collaboration, we want to help create ideas, inspiration and even partnerships that will amplify the effect of all our work in this area.

    What we’re looking for

    • Are you working on an emissions reduction project using digital technology?
    • Perhaps you’re a data journalist, bringing change by writing stories that interrogate the data around climate change.
    • Or you might be working for a campaigning organisation that uses tech like crowdsourcing or location-based digital services to accelerate climate action.

    If your ideas are new, innovative or outside the box, so much the better!

    We’re currently looking for people to showcase, discuss and potentially spark collaborations in hour-long afternoon sessions, with civic tech practitioners, council staff and others working around climate. Tell us about what you’ve been working on and chat with others about how they could adopt and build on your ideas.

    Sounds good? Sign up here before August 5 and we’ll get back to you by August 26 to let you know if you’ve been selected.

    Subscribe to mySociety’s newsletter for a monthly update on all our climate-related events and activities.

    Image: CJ Dayrit

  9. Climate action and innovation, powered by funding from BEIS

    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.
    The Browse by Feature page on CAPE
    • 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.
    a colourful graph showing CO2 emissions breakdown by sector
    • 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.

    Conclusions

    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.

     

    Over the next few months we will be reviewing our Climate programme output, to inform policy recommendations. If you’re working in this area, we’d love to talk to you.

  10. Prototyping week 5: Improving energy efficiency in the private rented sector

    The goal of mySociety’s Climate programme is to reduce the carbon emissions that are either directly controlled or influenced by local government in the UK. 

    From 5-8 July, we will run a prototyping week to understand what mySociety could bring to the problem of improving energy efficiency in the private rented sector.

    If you’re interested in being involved with discussions, brainstorming, testing out whatever we build — or all of the above, please fill in this short application form

    We’ve already run one prototyping week exploring conditional commitment and home energy, but the private rental sector has different challenges, and a different role for local authorities. 

    Far more than for owner-occupiers, there is a strong opportunity for local authorities to enforce energy efficiency standards in the private rental sector. The strength of the required standard and the effort needed to enforce it will go up in the next few years. 

    Currently there are major problems in enforcement, that unaddressed will mean failing the 2030 deadlines for substantial improvements to the private rented sector stock of houses. 

    We want to think about how we could build a service that helps local authorities enforce standards, and/or helps tenants understand and use their existing rights. 

    Our initial scoping research can be read online. It summarises existing research into the problems in enforcement, and identifies some potential areas where there might be a mySociety-style approach to the problem. 

    If you think you have something to contribute to our discussions and would like to join us as we co-create and test a prototype, for as much or as little time as you can spare, you are very welcome. 

    If you are renting from a private landlord right now, we’d really welcome your input. 

    Of course, we’re also keen to hear from anyone who can bring lived experience or sector-based knowledge from every angle around the topic. Please tell us all about your areas of knowledge in our application form.

    Image:  Tracey Whitefoot: pilot net zero retrofit, Melius Homes, Nottingham (CC/by/2.0)