1. Council Climate Action scorecards support climate officers

    Lucie Bolton took the position of Climate Strategy Officer at Rother District Council in 2022. Since then, she’s found the Council Climate Action Scorecards project an invaluable support for her work. 

    Hearing this, we were of course keen to find out more — so we asked Lucie to share her journey, from brand new climate officer to now, a couple of years on, with a refreshed strategy and action plan in place.

    “The council had declared a Climate Emergency in September 2019, going on to adopt their Environment Strategy in 2020”, explains Lucie, “But the pandemic and staff changes meant the production of a Climate Action Plan was delayed. That’s not to say climate action wasn’t taking place, but there were no KPIs, and it wasn’t fully embedded across the organisation.”

    “Scorecards helped us reimagine both our content and project design.”

    Post pandemic, recognising a need for a more concerted approach, the council employed two new staff: Lucie as Climate Strategy Officer, plus a new Climate Project Officer.

    “I was brought in to refresh the Environment Strategy — which was renamed the Climate Strategy — and to develop and deliver the Climate Action Plan.”

    While Lucie had highly relevant experience in her background, the council context was new for her: 

    “I came from an environmental NGO, where I was involved with developing strategies, but I hadn’t developed a Climate Strategy for a local authority before. 

    “I performed the usual strategy development activities — gap analysis, evidence base and so on — and when I was looking at best practices across the sector, I came across the Council Climate Plan Scorecards.”

    The Climate Plan Scorecards, released in 2022, were the precursor to the Climate Action Scorecards. They scrutinised every UK council’s action plans, marking them to a wide set of criteria. 

    “This was a fantastic resource for me,” says Lucie, “as I was able to see what good looks like and what we should be aiming for. 

    “I used the Scorecards to look at neighbouring authorities, authorities with similar emissions, demographics et cetera. Along with other resources like the UK100 Powers in Place report, it helped me shape the Rother District Council Climate Strategy. 

    “I was also able to reach out to different authorities and speak to their Climate Officers, which was useful.”

    In 2023, the Council Climate Action Scorecards were launched, providing Lucie with still more invaluable data.

    “I found the methodology particularly useful for developing Rother District Council’s Climate Action Plan. It was also useful to benchmark against, to see what we have already achieved and where we could do better”. 

    “This was a fantastic resource for me, as I was able to see what good looks like and what we should be aiming for.”

    “Overall, the results were useful in demonstrating to colleagues the sort of things we could be doing and what our neighbouring authorities were doing.”

    Rother District Council adopted the refreshed Climate Strategy and Climate Action Plan in December 2023, and Lucie continues to dip into the Scorecards.

    “I am now using them regularly in the implementation of the Climate Action Plan. For example, we have an action to eliminate pesticide usage in the council’s grounds maintenance. Using the Scorecards, I can quickly find examples of other councils who have already done this, and access the information I need through the evidence links.

    “I’m really pleased to hear there will be another round of council scoring. I think Rother District Council will score better thanks to the action we have taken since the first round of scoring, though I am concerned the timeframe will mean some significant activities will still be in progress. Our new Local Plan, for example, is aiming to be ambitious and align with our 2030 target, but is unlikely to be ready to be examined in that round.”

    Thanks very much to Lucie for sharing her story. We hope it inspires other Climate Officers to explore how the Scorecards project can aid them in their work.

    Image: Chris McAuley (CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

  2. Machine learning can make climate action plans more explorable

    We’ve used machine learning to make practical improvements in the search on CAPE – our local government climate information portal.

    The site contains hundreds of documents and climate action plans from different councils, and they’re all searchable.

    One aim of this project is to make it easier for everyone to find the climate information they need: so councils, for example, can learn from each other’s work; and people can easily pull together a picture on what is planned across the country.

    The problem is that these documents often use different terms to talk about the same basic ideas – meaning that using the search function requires an expert understanding of which different keywords to search for in combination.

    Using machine learning, we’ve now made it so the search will automatically include related terms. We’ve also improved the accessibility of individual documents by highlighting which key concepts are discussed in the document.

    Screenshot of CAPE: Search results for "flooding" , including 41 related terms such as drainage, river, and flooding. Screenshot of CAPE action plan listing. Shows a climate emergency action plan, and some of 65 topics extracted from the document: e.g. air quality, biodiversity, carbon budgets

    How machine learning helps

    We’re already using machine learning techniques as part of our work clustering similar councils based on emissions profile, but we hadn’t previously looked at how machine learning approaches could be applied to big databases of text like CAPE.

    As part of our funding from Quadrature Climate Foundation, we were supported to take part in the Faculty Fellowship – where people transitioning from academic to industrial data science jobs are partnered with organisations looking to explore how machine learning can benefit their work.

    Louis Davidson joined us for six weeks as part of this programme. After a bit of exploration of the data, we decided on a project looking at this problem of improving the search, as there was a clear way a machine learning solution could be applied: using a language model to identify key concepts that were present across all the documents. You can watch Louis’ end of project presentation on YouTube.

    Moving from similar words to similar concepts

    Louis took the documents we had and used a language model (in this case, BERT) to produce ‘embeddings’ for all the phrases they contained.

    When language models are trained on large amounts of text, this changes the internal shape of the model so that text with similar meanings ends up being ‘closer’ to each other inside the model. An ‘embedding’ is a series of numbers that represent this location. By looking at the distance between embeddings, we can identify groups of similar terms with similar meanings. While a more basic text similarity approach would say that ‘bat’ and ‘bag’ are very similar, a model that sorts based on meaning would identify that ‘bat’ and ‘owl’ are more similar.

    This means that without needing to re-train the model (because you’re not really concerned with what the model was originally trained to do), you can explore the similarities between concepts.

    There are approaches to this that store a “vector database” of these embeddings which can be directly searched – but we’ve gone for a simpler approach that doesn’t require a big change to how CAPE was already working.

    Using the documents we have, we automatically identified (and manually selected a group of) common concepts that are found across a range of documents – and the original groups of words that relate to those concepts.

    When a search is made we now consult this list of similar phrases, and search for these at the same time. This gives us a practical way of improving our existing processes without adding new technical requirements when adding new documents or searching the database.

    Because we now have this list of common concepts, we are also pre-searching for these concepts to provide, for each document, links to where that concept is discussed within it. With this change, the contents of individual documents are more visible, with it easier to quickly identify interesting contents depending on what you are interested in.

    Potential of machine learning for mySociety

    Our other websites, like TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow, similarly have a large amount of text that this kind of semantic search can make more accessible — and we can already see how they might be useful to those relying on data around climate and the environment WhatDoTheyKnow in particular has huge amounts of environmental information fragmented across replies to hundreds of different authorities.

    Generative AI and machine learning have huge potential to help us make the information we hold more accessible. At the same time, we need to understand how to incorporate new techniques into our services in a way that is sustainable over time.

    Through experiments like this with CAPE, we are learning how to think about machine learning, which problems we have that it applies to, and understand new skills we need to work with it. Thanks to Louis, and his Faculty advisors for his work and their support on this project.

    Image: Ravaly on Unsplash.

  3. Climate monthnotes: May 2023

    As we barrel into Summer at full speed, here’s a summary of what mySociety’s climate team got up to in May.

    If you’re interested in working with us on any of this, or you want to use any of our data (or ask us to collect some data for you) then get in touch!

    Neighbourhood Warmth: alpha testing a vision of community-powered retrofit

    As Siôn blogged a few days ago, Neighbourhood Warmth has been, and will continue to be, a major focus for us over May–July this year.

    Last month, we grappled with some thorny design questions (how do we test appetite for community-led retrofit? how could a service support both climate activists and neighbours who just need lower energy bills?) and started building a working alpha, which we’ll be testing out in online workshops with a handful of pilot communities around the UK this June/July.

    We also had a number of really encouraging calls with other organisations working in this space – all of us keen on finding some way to square the circle of solving the UK’s massive domestic decarbonisation challenge. If you’re interested, you can read much more in Siôn’s seprate monthnotes for this project.

    CAPE: making sense of messy data around local authorities’ climate plans

    From our newest climate tool (Neighbourhood Warmth) to our longest running – CAPE. This May we progressed two big improvements to CAPE, which we’re hoping to deploy and test out in June/July.

    The first uses AI / machine learning to extract clusters of related topics from our database of every local authority climate action plan in the UK, so you can more find other plans which mention topics close to your heart. We’re hoping these auto-extracted topics will also make it easier to quickly see what’s inside a document, without reading it from head to foot.

    The second change is a big re-think of how we help local authorities find their “climate twins”, or other councils likely to face similar climate challenges. We’re in the early stages of this little mini-project, but I’m excited that we might be able to come up with something that really brings together all of the various datapoints CAPE holds on each council, in a way that you just can’t get anywhere else. More on this, hopefully, in our June or July monthnotes!

    Council Climate Action Scorecards: crowdsourcing and verifying council actions on climate

    May saw the end of the “Right of Reply” period for councils to contribute their feedback on Climate Emergency UK’s volunteer assessors’ analysis of their climate actions. All of this marking and feedback process has been handled through a webapp custom built by mySociety, and it’s encouraging to see that oiver 80% of local authorities in the UK logged into the site to check their score, and around 70% of local authorities provided feedback on their provisional marks!

    We’re really proud of how this year’s Council Climate Action Scorecards are shaping up, and can’t wait to start sharing them in the Autumn. Our partners, Climate Emergency UK, have put a huge effort into making these as fair and up-to-date a representation of actual local authority action on climate change. Now they enter their final “Audit” phase, consolidating councils’ feedback against the volunteers’ first marks, after which we’ll be able to calculate each council’s final score.

    Local Intelligence Hub: a treasure-trove of constituency-level climate data

    The Local Intelligence Hub—the face of our collaboration with The Climate Coalition—soft launched to Climate Coalition members at the end of April. But just because the site is now in the hands of members, doesn’t mean work stops! Alexander has been continuing to collect and import new datasets around fuel poverty, the cost of living, and child poverty – as well as improving the reliability of advanced features like shading constituencies on the map. Meanwhile, our other Alex has been grappling with some Google Analytics-related challenges (tracking Custom Events with cookie-less GA4 – one for the geeks!) which I’m sure he’ll blog about in due course.

    If you’re part of an organisation in The Climate Coalition, you can request a free account on the Local Intelligence Hub, and try out the tools and datasets for yourself. For everyone else, we’re still hoping to launch a public version of the tool later this year.

    Header image: Krista

  4. How The Commitment uses Climate Scorecards to inform political engagement

    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.” 

    Get involved

    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.

  5. CAPE is helping councils to put plans into action

    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.

    Image: Chesapeake Bay Program (CC by-nc/2.0)

  6. Innovations in Climate Tech: catch up – and bid for one of our grants

    Last Wednesday a varied audience convened online for our Innovations In Climate Tech event.

    The aim: to showcase some of the remarkable and effective projects being implemented in the UK and further afield, and to spark inspiration so that these, or similar projects, might be replicated in other UK regions.

    mySociety has three £5,000 grants to give to innovators and local councils who work together and trial something they’ve seen, or been inspired by, during the event.

    Missed the live version? Don’t worry: we have videos and notes, and you don’t have to have attended to be able to bid for a grant.

    Rewatch or read up

    Here’s where to find the various assets from the day:

    • Watch a video of all the morning presentations, followed by the Q&A. This video features:
      • Annie Pickering from Climate Emergency UK, on how they scored councils’ Climate Action Plans;
      • Ariane Crampton from Wiltshire County Council on how they tackled outreach to diverse communities with their climate consultation;
      • Claus Wilhelmsen from Copenhagen City Council on the practical ways in which they are tackling carbon cutting within construction industries;
      • Ornaldo Gjergji from the European Data Journalism Network on how visualising temperature data from individual cities and towns helps people better understand the impacts of climate change;
      • Kasper Spaan from Waternet on creating green roofs across the city to aid urban cooling and biodiversity.
    • The afternoon breakout sessions weren’t recorded, but you can read notes of the presentations and subsequent discussions for:
      • The Adaptation session (Padlet here) in which Josh Shimmin from Atamate talked about a data-driven approach to retrofitting housing;
      • The Engagement session (Padlet here) in which Susan Rodaway from Pennard Community Council presented on a community consultation tool that helped them decide what to spend budget on; and Arnau Quinquilla from Climate 2025 talked about mapping climate movements across the world;
      • The Spatial Planning session (Padlet here) in which Lora Botev from CitizenLab explained how their software enables councils to run consultations and grow an active group of residents who have a voice in decisions around climate;
      • The Equity, Diversion and Inclusion session (Padlet here) in which Emma Geen from the Bristol Disability Equality Forum explained how vital it is to include disabled people in a green transition, and the ways in which the group has taken action to make this happen.

    What’s next?

    On 19 October, we’ll be running an informal session online, explaining what we’re looking for in a grant pitch, and giving you the chance to explore your ideas with potential partners. Then, if you want to go forward and bid for one of three £5,000 grants, we’ll give you everything you need to make your pitch.

    You do not have to have attended the first event to join us at this stage. Please explore the resources above, add your thoughts to the Padlets, and sign up for this event via Eventbrite.

    What sort of projects will we be funding?

    To be eligible to bid for one of the grants, you must either be:

    • a council that wants to trial an idea; or
    • an organisation that wants to work with a council to trial your project.

    Partnerships can be between two or more organisations, but every partnership must include at least one local council (and might only consist of councils). But don’t worry if you haven’t got a partner in mind yet – you may find one at this event.

    • You might have seen an idea in the presentations that is directly applicable to your council area, and want to simply replicate it.
    • Or, in a less straightforward but equally valid scenario, you might simply have seen an organisation you’d like to work with, or had a completely new idea sparked by something you saw.
    • You might have no ideas at all, but a commitment to try something new… bring an open mind and see if anything at the event grabs you!

    Sign up for the upcoming event here.

     

  7. We want you to build on our local climate data. Tell us what you need!

    One of the things we want to do as part of our Climate programme is help build an ecosystem of data around local authorities and climate data. 

    We have a goal of reducing the carbon emissions that are within the control of local authorities, and we want to help people build tools and services that further that ambition. 

    We want to do more to actively encourage people to use our data, and to understand if there are any data gaps we can help fill to make everyone’s work easier. 

    So, have we already built something you think might be useful? We can help you use it. 

    Also, if there’s a dataset that would help you, but you don’t have the data skills required to take it further, we might be able to help build it! Does MapIt almost meet your needs but not quite? Let’s talk about it!

    You can email us, or we are experimenting with running some drop-in hours where you can talk through a data problem with one of the team. 

    You can also sign up to our Climate newsletter to find up more about any future work we do to help grow this ecosystem. 

    Making our existing data more accessible

    Through our previous expertise in local authority data, and in building the Climate Action Plan Explorer, we have gathered a lot of data that can overcome common challenges in new projects.

    These include:

    All of this data (plus more) can be found on our data portal

    We’ve also been working to make our data more accessible and explorable (example):

    • Datasets now have good descriptions of what is in each column.
    • Datasets can be downloaded as Excel files
    • Datasets can be previewed online using Datasette lite.
    • Providing basic instructions on how to automatically download updated versions of the data.

    If you think you can build something new out of this data, we can help you out! 

    Building more data

    There’s a lot of datasets we think we can make more of — for example, as part of our prototyping research we did some basic analysis of how we might use Energy Performance Certificate data (for home energy in general, and specific renting analysis). 

    But before we just started making data, we want to make sure we’re making data that is useful to people and that can help people tell stories, and build websites and tools. If there’s a dataset you need, where you think the raw elements already exist, get in touch. We might be able to help you out. 

    If you are using our data, please tell us you’re using our data

    We really believe in the benefit of making our work open so that others can find and build on it. The big drawback is that the easier we make our data to access, the less we know about who is using it.

    This is a problem, because ultimately our climate work is funded by organisations who would like to know what is happening because of our work. The more we know about what is useful about the data, and what you’re using it for, the better we can make the case to continue producing it. 

    Each download page has a survey that you can fill out to tell us about how you use the data. We’re also always happy to receive emails!

    Stay updated about everything

    Our work growing the ecosystem also includes events and campaigning activity. If you want to stay up to date with everything we do around climate, you can sign up to our newsletter.

    Image: Emma Gossett

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. 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