A broad range of organisations and individuals are active on climate — and our services can help them to be more effective, from grassroots movements right up to institutional authorities.
Here’s an example of the latter: the Council Climate Plan Scorecards site, for which mySociety provides technical support, was cited in oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament Committee by the Accounts Commission for Scotland.
Commission Member Andrew Burns used data from the site as evidence of inconsistencies across councils in the UK, supporting the Commission’s view that Scottish local councils need to work together more effectively – as reported in the committee transcript (page 9).
The Accounts Commission holds councils and other local government bodies in Scotland to account, and helps them improve, by reporting to the public on their performance.
As the need for cutting emissions becomes ever more pressing, it’s vital that the public can keep an eye on how resources are being allocated and whether authorities are fulfilling their pledges. In November 2021, the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee of the Scottish Parliament launched an inquiry into the role of local government and its partners in financing and delivering a net zero Scotland.
The inquiry aims to seek out the main barriers at a local level to Scotland reaching its target of being net zero in emissions by 2045. It will consider what practical steps councils are taking to break them down, in partnership with business, the voluntary sector, and local communities.
It is also considering what role the Scottish Government and its agencies can play in both supporting and, where necessary, challenging local government to work well with its partners to deliver net zero; and how local government can play its part in ensuring a ‘just transition’ to net zero, ie one that is economically and socially fair.
A source of climate data
And that’s how the Scorecards came in useful for the Accounts Commission. They first discovered the website when collating evidence for their publication Scotland’s councils’ approach to addressing climate change.
“The Scorecards Project gave us a specific comparison across many UK local authorities, including some councils in Scotland, as regards their approach to climate action and achieving Net Zero”, said Andrew. “The variation seen in the scorecards confirmed the need for Scotland’s councils’ targets and plans to be scrutinised further.
“Our interest in this area is ongoing, as is the work of the Scottish Parliamentary Committee”.
The Scorecards site and its sister site CAPE show at a glance that there are big differences in the targets that councils have set and their timescales for reaching net zero. With further scrutiny, the Accounts Commission arrived at the conclusion that increased collaboration across councils and with key partners and local communities is needed.
Across Scotland, the Accounts Commission found that 28 councils had declared a climate emergency at the time of the report, with 81% setting a target for the council’s own emissions and 53% a more ambitious target to cover emissions for the whole area. The Accounts Commission report also clearly sets out which years the different councils are aiming to reach net zero by.
And will the next version of the Scorecards, which aims to measure concrete action from councils, be useful as they progress?
Andrew has no doubt: “Absolutely yes, it will be”.
We thought so too! After all, this is an ongoing process for councils everywhere, and the bodies that keep them accountable. We’ll go on putting out the data and we hope to hear many more instances of its use like this.
Image: Mike Newbry
The climate and nature are more important than party politics — that’s the principle behind The Commitment. They are an impartial organisation working across the political spectrum to ensure that the health of the planet is prioritised, regardless of who is elected.
They invite you to make a pledge that, whatever the election, at whatever level of government, you’ll vote for the politicians who are promising to work for urgent action on the climate and nature.
When you sign up, there’s also the chance to add your reasons for doing so. These are shared with representatives as evidence that climate action is a vote winner.
Head of Political Engagement Carina Mundle-Garratt notes, “Our research shows that it only takes around 50 Commitments to get a politician’s attention — and in some cases as few as 20. Every pledge matters.”
Understanding what councils do around climate
When we heard that The Commitment uses the Climate Climate Plan Scorecards to support this work, we were eager to hear more. How did they first discover the service? Good old Googling, as it turned out.
“We came across the website on our mission to understand not only the remit and capacity of local councils”, said Carina, “but the specific action they could take to address climate change and biodiversity loss at a local level. This involved sifting through a lot of noise on the internet!”
Preparing for informed conversations
And how is the data helping with The Commitment’s mission?
“Within our Political Engagement team, they help us to engage with local councillors.
“We use them initially to help us assess the quality of a council’s climate action plan with regard to climate and nature. We then look at the individual components of the council’s score, cross-referencing it with other available information to develop relevant local requests to make of councillors. In relation to the Scorecards these may be to improve, update or execute parts of their climate action plans.
“For example, we have previously asked councillors to update their action plans to include provisions for agricultural land use, nature restoration and targets for improvements to housing stock efficiency.”
Carina continued, “Using Scorecards has really helped us to streamline our research, giving us a local starting point for assessing the performance of a council on issues of climate change and biodiversity loss and showing action plans for other comparable areas meaning that we can help join the dots and facilitate learnings between councils on good and bad practice. It really helps us to take an individualised approach to each council we work with, and by extension to each councillor we engage.”
A resource for informing followers
It’s great to see our work helping to ensure that conversations with representatives are informed and productive. And the Scorecards are useful as a resource for The Commitment’s followers, too:
“Our Commitment Gathering team use them as an impartial resource to signpost Committers to when they want to learn more about their local council”.
Unsurprisingly, then, they’re excited to see Climate Emergency UK’s recently-published methodology which has moved forward from scoring councils’ climate action plans, onto their actual action — and The Commitment plans to incorporate the new Scorecards into their work too, once they’re complete. “As we grow, we’ll seek to track and monitor more and more politicians, so Scorecards will be an invaluable resource for us in helping us to determine the progress that councils are making for more action on the climate and nature.”
If you’re interested in the work that The Commitment are facilitating, you might want to explore further. We asked Carina where to start.
“The most important thing we would ask you to do is to make your Commitment. This means that you promise to vote only for politicians who work for urgent action on the climate and nature and then you tell us (and them) why you are doing this. Your story is important.
“After that, the second thing that we would ask you to do is to spread the word and get others to make The Commitment too.
“We know many people are voting with the future of the planet at the heart of their decision, but we want to make that decision count more often than just once every five years, by regularly reminding politicians how important these issues are to their voters.”
Thanks very much to Carina for talking to us — we love to hear about this type of informed activism based on our climate data and services, and especially when they’re underpinning such a well co-ordinated campaign.
Local authorities across the UK have committed to net zero carbon emissions by a set date, and drafted the plans that show how they intend to get there – and now the really hard work has begun. With their roadmap in place, councils are beginning to translate those plans into action.
Our partners at Climate Emergency UK are starting the process of assessing the action that councils are taking toward their carbon reduction goals – see how they’ll be doing it here.
When you read any climate action plan, it becomes clear that the green transition touches practically every part of what councils do: from the vehicles they drive, to the policies they draft; the buildings they operate within; the food they source or the means by which they dispose of refuse.
New ways of doing things
A key part of a council’s transition involves reskilling both their workers and their residents, as they bring on board new, low carbon ways to tackle a multitude of daily operations. And, as every council in the country is going through much the same process, it makes sense for them to learn from one another as they do so.
That’s where our CAPE and Climate Emergency UK’s Scorecards project can come in useful, helping councils to identify others who can share their experience or embark on a new learning process together. This means that authorities need not be entirely in the dark when implementing new ideas, and the risk of spending time, money and resources on unproven solutions is minimised.
Reskilling a county
Luke McCarthy, Senior Green Skills Specialist at Surrey County Council, is one person who knows this very well. As his title implies, it’s his job to oversee green job growth across Surrey, ensuring that there are ample opportunities for all in the low-carbon services sector. Employers, training providers and residents will all need to gain new skills to bring the ambitions of Surrey’s climate action plan to fruition.
Luke explains, “A lot of my work is in ensuring we have the right green skills provision in place to meet employers’ needs, and that local residents know about these.”
His role is relatively new, so his first task has been to develop a green skills strategy for Surrey, prioritising which sectors have particular needs and what the role of a council might be in meeting this.
Finding best practice
Luke told us how CAPE, the Climate Action Plan Explorer, and the first iteration of the Council Climate Scorecards site, which assessed councils on their plans rather than actions, have been useful in helping with these aims:
“The sites helped me find other councils doing good stuff on skills training for residents, and I discovered some example initiatives which we can either bring to Surrey or at least learn from.”
The Browse by Feature page on CAPE groups councils’ action plans by the areas that they are strongest in, including Green Jobs, Skills and Training, giving an overview from which it’s possible to dig in more deeply.
CAPE links to its sister site, Council Climate Scorecards, where each plan is given detailed marks on over 70 different requirements that go to make up a good climate action plan.
“The question I was really interested in was Does the plan identify the training and upskilling of the workforce that is necessary to transform the local economy at the scale and pace needed?”
A tool for making connections
When we built CAPE, we hoped it might lead to council staff opening discussions with their counterparts in other authorities — and that’s just what Luke went on to do.
“I’ve contacted two of the three councils I identified as doing interesting things on green skills training for residents. I’ve had a call with someone from one council who was very generous with his time and sharing of information. And another contact has shared some research reports — we’re hoping to speak soon.
“These conversations reassured me that our current thinking on key sectors and issues aligned with their focus and areas of work! I was also able to gain insights into how they’d approached understanding the green skills requirements across different sectors.”
Additionally, Luke says he picked up new ideas on how to promote roles in the low carbon/green economy to residents who might not be aware of them: “We are already planning to take steps to improve the provision of careers education, advice and guidance around the green economy, working with local partners including schools and careers advisors. The insights from other councils certainly speed up how quickly we will be able to develop solutions, or that we can do something of higher quality.”
Many thanks to Luke for letting us know of the small part we’ve played in helping forge links between councils.
Both we at mySociety, and our partners Climate Emergency UK were delighted to hear of this type of usage of our services. We hope many more councils will use our services to share ideas and consolidate their plans as we move to a greener future.
If you’re from a council, or perhaps have a wider interest in climate, don’t forget to check out Climate Emergency UK’s methodology for the next phase of the Scorecards project.
The first TICTeC Labs subgrant project provides practical examples
How has civic tech helped protect the health of a small rural community in Chile, engaged citizens in decisions about their local areas in China, improved the electricity supply to a village in Kyrgyzstan and assisted people with visual impairments to take part in participatory budgeting in Argentina?
This month sees the first output from our TICTeC Labs subgrants.
TICTeC Labs is our hands-on programme for fixing some of the prevalent problems in civic tech, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy. Each TICTeC Lab begins with a public discussion – Civic Tech Surgery – on a topic affecting the civic tech community, followed by an Action Lab, a working group who meet to discuss the challenges and commission some work to help provide solutions.
Tackling the challenges
At the first Civic Tech Surgery, in October 2021, the challenges of public-private civic tech projects, as well as possible solutions to tackle them, were discussed by Aline Muylaert of CitizenLab, Amanda Clarke of Carleton University, Gabriella Razzano of OpenUp in South Africa and Ebtihaj Khan from Code for Pakistan, with valuable input from our Surgery attendees.
Action Lab #1 then convened to decide what would help the global civic tech community to work more effectively with public and private institutions. They agreed to commission a piece of work that showcases examples of where civic tech interventions have resulted in tangible improvements and benefits for governments/public institutions and their citizens, aiming to promote the benefits of civic tech and inspire and motivate government actors to start similar civic tech projects in their contexts.
Showcasing successful projects
The Action Lab #1 subgrant was awarded to People Powered, who approached the organisations who were highly rated on their digital participation platform to provide examples where their work has resulted in clear improvements and benefits for governments, institutions, and communities.
The case studies all include key lessons learned and recommendations on how to use digital platforms effectively:
- Digital platform and training boost participation in rural Kyrgyzstan – this World Bank project demonstrates how the government can empower local communities to make decisions, facilitated by a digital platform.
- In China, a popular social media platform is harnessed to increase participation – China’s Participation Center developed a “mini app” for the popular WeChat platform, and engaged 3000 of the 3,044 neighbourhoods in Chengdu city in participatory budgeting.
- Participation must be designed to ‘leave no one behind’: Argentina case study – Argentina’s municipality of Rosario is so committed to digital transformation that it has integrated it into every aspect of its operations, from education to participatory budgeting, including a commitment to make the process totally accessible to individuals with visual disabilities.
- Chilean institute harnesses digital platform to engage young people as change agents – Youth are the leaders of tomorrow (and today!), and progress toward a sustainable environment can only be made with their full engagement. Chile’s National Youth Institute understands this, and knew that to involve as many young people as possible, a digital platform was needed. It chose CitizenLab, and this post explains how the institute uses it to find and develop new leaders.
As it turns out, our projects have a lot in common. Both aim to make it easier for everyone to understand and assess the progress a council is making towards cutting carbon emissions, a field where the picture can be complicated and difficult for the average person to follow. That starts with data.
Rebecca explained, “Identifying the path to carbon neutrality is not straightforward, and the data that would enable organisations to know where they currently are on this path is very weak.”
To address this, ReForest Brighton is developing an interactive website to show in real time the progress that each local authority has made in relation to its individual carbon neutral targets.
Naturally, the project began by looking at the organisation’s hometown of Brighton, which has a target of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030. That’s just the start, though; the model is replicable for any other local authority in the UK, allowing their own carbon neutral targets and the actions determined by their climate action plans to be slotted in.
“The aim,” says Rebecca, “is to provide real time quality data that will enable decision making around policy and practice.
“So for example, if it’s clear that maintaining the current level of action won’t bring a city to carbon neutrality by their set date, the council can refocus their efforts to reduce emissions and sequestrate more carbon.”
The ultimate target? “To make local authority councils more ambitious.”
Carbon neutral dates
So where do CAPE and the Scorecards site come in? As Rebecca explained, CAPE was useful mainly for a single datapoint amongst the many that it provides.
“The main way we’ve been using it is to retrieve the carbon neutral dates of all the individual local authorities in the UK.
“Without this data being easily accessible it would’ve taken us a long time and lot of resources to go through more than 300 local authorities and dig out their target dates.”
And as for the Scorecards site, this has been more of a sanity-check tool: “We used it once we’d completed our calculations, to check our ratings of each local authority against the Scorecards rating.
“For example, if our calculations rated a local authority with high climate action but the Scorecards had it as low, then we’d analyse and reassess our ratings.”
As well as the interactive map, their project will produce predictive data to show how much progress the council will have made by their target zero emissions date.
For those who like the technical details, Rebecca is keen to oblige: “Our categorisation is based on a calculation of emission trends from 2016-2020. The trends allow us to predict where each local authority will be by the carbon neutral target date we downloaded from CAPE, using the ‘forecast’ formula (=FORECAST (x, known_ys, known_xs)).
“There is actually 15 years’ worth of emissions data available, but we chose this five-year period because climate action has only started becoming a consideration for local authorities in the last few years.
“Basically, we look at the predicted emissions on the authority’s carbon neutral date and categorise them accordingly — and if a local authority had no carbon neutral target or plans, it is automatically rated zero.”
A knock-on effect
ReForest Brighton wants to make it easier for the public to understand how their local authority is doing in achieving its carbon reduction targets — and they have another aim, too:
“We would like the public to push local governments to take faster, more effective action, and we’re planning to help them do this by giving them the means to write to their elected representatives, and to share the website with their friends and contacts.
“But even while hoping that councils will be making as much progress as possible, we’re also pushing for transparency. We’d even encourage an authority to push their carbon neutral target date further back if it gave a more honest picture of where they are at.”
Brighton Peace and Environment Centre are a registered charity and they welcome volunteers: get in touch if you would like to know more.
You can also make a donation to them, using this link.
Image: Aaron Burden
The TheyWorkForYou alerts system will send you an email every time your chosen keyword is mentioned in Parliament. A recent survey revealed that this system is being used by a broad range of different organisations and individuals. We’ve been speaking to a few of them to find out more.
First of these is Ben Leapman, Editor of Inside Time, the national newspaper for prisoners and detainees, circulated to all of the UK’s 141 prisons.
A unique publication
As Ben explains, “Each issue includes news, features, advice, puzzles – and eight pages of readers’ letters, which provide a fascinating insight into what’s on the minds of men and women behind bars.
“We’re a not-for-profit publication and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the New Bridge Foundation charity, which was founded in 1956 to create links between the offender and the community. We’re funded by advertising revenue. As far as we’re aware, no other country has a national prison newspaper. We’re unique!”
As Editor, Ben commissions articles, decides which stories go on which pages, fact-checks, and plenty more. But he also writes news stories. We were, of course, interested to hear how TheyWorkForYou alerts can help with this.
Parliamentary mentions of prisons
“I use the alerts service to monitor for the keywords “prison” – it’s as simple as that,” says Ben.
“Prisons are a crucial public service, but sadly they don’t get as much attention from politicians or voters as schools and hospitals – it’s a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. So the volume of daily mentions is manageable, and I’m able to look at them all.”
These simple alerts have resulted in Inside Time stories such as this one, about an innovative scheme to reduce violence, being trialled at 18 prisons.
“I don’t think there has been any public announcement or press release about it,” says Ben: “I hadn’t heard of it until I saw the parliamentary question.”
And here’s another recent story, this time prompted by a House of Lords debate in which Lord Farmer, who wrote two Government reports on the importance of family visits to the rehabilitation of prisoners, says that Covid restrictions in prison visits halls are doing harm.
Stories can arise from all types of parliamentary activity: “I’ve found news stories in Commons and Lords debates, Select Committee hearings, written answers to Parliamentary questions in the Commons and Lords, Scottish Parliament proceedings, even the proceedings of Bill committees.”
Communication is key
Finally, we asked Ben what he thinks the impact of such stories is.
“I’m a news journalist – I think it’s always important that people are well-informed. For the general public in a democracy, exposure to news is essential so that people can cast their vote in a well-informed way.
“In England, prisoners are denied the vote – but there are other ways that reading news can be a direct benefit. Say we report on a new course or initiative that’s happening at a particular prison. If one of our readers reads that story and likes the sound of it, they could apply to transfer to that prison – or they could ask staff why it’s not happening at their prison.
“Prisons are rather secretive places, they’re not great at communication – so it’s often the case that both prisoners and prison staff are unaware of things going on around their prison or in other prisons, both the good and the bad.”
Thanks very much to Ben for giving us these insights into how he uses TheyWorkForYou alerts in his work.
It’s certainly one area that we’d never have imagined before he filled in our survey — but we are very glad to know that our services are helping with the admirable aims of Inside Time.
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.
We’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
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 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 email@example.com.
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.
And 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
The 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.”
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.
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.
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Sustain 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