Much of our activity on the Climate Action Plans Explorer (CAPE) over the last year has been supported by BEIS. This funding has given us the luxury of time and resource to develop new features, based on research into our core users’ needs.
We’ve made progress in four broad areas:
Different ways into the data
More intuitive routes for experts and non-experts to explore UK councils’ Climate Action Plans and understand more about each one.
- We developed a ‘nearest neighbour’ dataset, based on research with council officers.
This matches councils by more relevant criteria than just their location: see more details in this blog post and this update.
- We consulted local authorities and campaigners to understand more about what’s most important to them in local climate strategies, then put together a browse by feature page. This uses data from the Climate Emergency UK Scorecards project to create collections of plans that exhibit best practice in key areas. More in our blog post here.
- We included links to additional sources of data to every council’s page, such as the Tyndall Centre Carbon Budget, and Friends of the Earth’s ‘Near You’ tool.
Insight and oversight
By showing the scale of ambition amongst the most active local authorities, CAPE provides peer motivation for less aspirational councils.
- We collected the headline promises in which UK councils commit to the date by which they will reach net zero. More in our blog post here.
- We provided substantial technical support to Climate Emergency UK on their Council Climate Plan Scorecards project, which analyses comparable features across every plan in our database. The scores can now be easily compared across all authorities of a given type.
Seeding and nurturing open data
We’re supporting the monitoring and analysis of local climate response with a growing open dataset, and encouraging councils to publish better standardised data to allow CAPE and other similar services to be sustained more easily.
- We’ve added BEIS data on emissions for each council, broken down by source. We were able to calculate Combined Authority data from constituent boroughs/districts, so have also added a novel open dataset — more about that in this blog post.
- We created a new way to browse emissions reduction projects by Scottish local authorities.
- The total number, cost, and emissions reduction estimates of a council’s projects are also displayed on their CAPE page.
Awareness and uptake
We’ve been facilitating networks and ensuring that councils and other stakeholders know about, and can use, the resource.
- We presented at several online seminars and conducted outreach with local authority officers and councillors.
- We met one to one with a variety of organisations to let them know how CAPE could help them.
- We ran the first informal get-together for an international set of climate organisations — more are planned.
This work has brought us new understanding about what councils need; what the public understands; what data is available and what needs to happen in the future if local authorities are to be properly equipped to fulfil the net zero targets they’ve committed to.
mySociety believes in working in the open, so we share whatever insights we can through our blog and research portal, with the aim of facilitating quicker, more effective climate action across the UK.
New obligations are needed
Practically speaking, we’ve been able to provide new data for developers, researchers, councils — and anyone working on climate, especially in the digital realm.
But while the data we added to CAPE is substantial and useful, it only scratches the surface of what could be done if better data was coming from local authorities themselves.
Proactive data releases could bring immeasurable benefits to council climate officers, campaigners and researchers, but are unlikely to happen until reporting like this is made a statutory requirement for local authorities in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as they are in Scotland.
Reduced council budgets only increase the need for data
As is clear from the CAPE dataset, many local authorities have set themselves ambitious emissions reduction targets. More than 50%, 251 councils, are promising carbon neutrality as soon as 2030.
Ambition is admirable, but climate officers are grappling with the dual challenges of implementing widespread change across all of their councils’ activities, on a narrow budget with little statutory or regulatory backing. Many of them are defining their own roles even while they work, and are building their idea of an effective local authority climate response based on best practice observed in their peers.
This is why a large part of our work has focused on enabling quicker, more informed comparison between local authorities, encouraging a break from the usual preconceived comparison sets. Instead we facilitate the exploration of actions taken by councils in similar, specific situations.
But our work can only go so far, when reliable, up-to-date, and machine-readable data on councils’ climate actions is so thin on the ground.
Local authorities have almost no statutory obligation to measure or report on the emissions generated by their own operations or their area as a whole, nor on the actions they are taking to reduce those emissions.
This data must be provided in a machine-readable format, enabling automatic comparison across time periods so that impact can be tracked throughout multi-year emissions reduction projects.
Over the next few months we will be reviewing our Climate programme output, to inform policy recommendations. If you’re working in this area, we’d love to talk to you.
- We developed a ‘nearest neighbour’ dataset, based on research with council officers.
Donations to MPs are in the news again, and TheyWorkForYou allows users to easily see what any individual MP has received. In fact, the site has carried a copy of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests (in which, as Parliament’s website explains, “MPs must register within 28 days any interest which someone might reasonably consider to influence their actions or words as an MP“) since at least 2005.
This hasn’t always been straightforward, and has recently become slightly trickier.
The official register is published as static HTML or PDF, with a simple list of all MPs. We scrape that HTML, convert it into light XML and import it onto the site – which means you can easily see not only the current entry on an individual MP’s page, but also see a complete history of their register without having to view many different copies of the official register.
The XML contains all the data from the official register, but it only parses out basic information like the category of interest. Providing more detail would be great, but is quite a hard problem to tackle.
Recently, Parliament has started using Cloudflare’s bot-protection technology. We assume this change was made with good reason, but as a side effect it has prevented effective scraping of the website, as Cloudflare don’t distinguish between good and bad bots or scrapers.
We know that Parliament was working on an API at least as far back as 2016, from their now-removed data blog, but if this is still in development, it is yet to see the light of day. What they said at the time still stands: their website is still the only means of accessing this data. We don’t think it’s necessary to protect purely static HTML pages such as the Register in quite such a heavy-handed manner.
We do have ways of continuing to get the Register, and TheyWorkForYou is still up to date, so anyone else who has been scraping the official site and has hit issues because of this is welcome to use our data, either via the XML or our API.
Image: Adeolu Eletu
Identifying opportunities for levelling up and net zero both require high quality, comparable local data
The levelling-up white paper sets out the government’s direction and strategy for reducing regional inequalities, a much-needed objective as the UK has one of the worst regional inequalities in the OECD countries. The paper outlines new opportunities for local authorities to have devolution-style powers and gain more autonomy by 2030.
There is a large gap in the levelling-up agenda: the white paper does not put the recently published net zero strategy at its heart. Both levelling up and net zero require systematic changes to the role local government plays in directing the economic activities of their area, and engaging and working with communities and citizens.
Improving local data is important to boosting local economies while delivering a net zero transformation, and implementing those two as one comprehensive package will help fully embed environmental considerations in economic decisions.
Levelling up and net zero have to be approached as a mutually supportive package, and not as two separate packages. Their implementation will create new economic models and lead to new governance structures. Both require new transparency mechanisms to enable citizens to track progress towards commitments.
A new independent body to gather, enhance and make data accessible to local governments and citizens
Both the levelling up and net zero agendas would benefit from high quality, evidence-based, and comparable local data. In the current situation, local data is not easy to navigate and does not always allow easy data discovery, aggregation and re-use.
mySociety and Climate Emergency UK have been working to transform a situation where council’s climate plans are hard to find and understand by making council climate action plans accessible on a central website, and producing comparison tools and scores on the basis of written commitments found in climate emergency plans to spur comparisons, identify best practice, and improve performance.
The importance of improved local data is recognised in the levelling up white paper announcement of a new independent body (p. 138) to gather, enhance, and make data accessible to local governments and citizens. Creating central pools of information helps spread learning and improve accountability, without undermining the local innovation that devolving power and responsibilities to local authorities and communities unlocks. The stated goal of this new body is to improve local leaders’ knowledge of their own services while increasing central government’s understanding of local authorities’ activities. This new body can play a very important part in improving the local data ecosystem.
This new capacity is equally important to the goal of net zero. It would be a missed opportunity not to strongly consider how this body could support local governments’ move towards net zero, and enable a transparent and just transition.
Addressing the limitations
Creating high quality local data is important to improving outcomes, but will also demonstrate the limits of current financial constraints. To deliver ambitious and sustainable transformations in both regional inequality and net zero requires sustained and structured investment in the resources and capacities of local authorities. Addressing inequalities through better local data should not be limited to collating data on economic inequalities, and it is therefore critical that the new datasets also highlight local health inequalities and gaps in social care funding that significantly contribute to existing inequalities that, in turn, lead to poor engagement in climate action. Data should not be a stick to beat local governments, but a tool to help them articulate problems and find solutions.
The plan is for the new independent data body to be co-designed with local government, but it is also important that this reflects the needs of local communities and citizens. Citizen engagement and participation is vital for both levelling up and net zero. As outlined by the Climate Change Committee, 62 per cent of the measures needed to meet the country’s net zero goal will require some form of behaviour or societal change, and this should be reflected on how data is used to drive accountability and transparency.
As more plans about this new data body emerge, we will advocate for it to support the transition to net zero through promoting inter-council learning, central government understanding, and community accountability.
What mySociety is doing around net zero and data
mySociety is working to repower democracy and enable new approaches to reducing carbon emissions. We are taking our experience running services such as TheyWorkForYou, WhatDoTheyKnow and FixMyStreet to work with partners and explore new services to reduce emissions within the scope of local authority activities.
To date, we have worked with Climate Emergency UK on the Climate Action Plan Explorer and the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, making local climate action plans more discoverable and accessible for local governments, campaigners, and citizens.
We are currently embarking on a series of prototyping weeks to explore different possible approaches with different partners. To hear more about our work, sign up to our climate newsletter.
Image: Retrofitting homes in progress, by Ashden
February proved to be a month of relative calm for the mySociety Climate team, positioned as we were, between our previous whirlwind of activity delivering the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, and the imminent beginning of our ‘prototyping weeks’, introduced in last month’s notes by Lucas.
That’s not to say we didn’t get a lot done! Here’s a run-down of everything we managed to pack in this February, and some hints of what’s on the horizon.
Full steam ahead on our first two prototyping weeks
As mentioned before, over the first half of this year, we’ll be exploring some of the topics from our ‘hopper’ of ideas that have come out of all our research and development so far.
In a process inspired by Design Jams and the GV Design Sprint, we’ll be inviting external subject matter experts—council officers, tech and open data practitioners, local government suppliers, citizens, campaigners—to work with us for a week, on a topic they have experience of, so that we can quickly identify, prototype, and test services that will really move the needle on enabling a faster, more informed and more collaborative local response to climate change.
This month, we planned out exactly what these prototyping weeks will look like—for us, and external participants—and began approaching potential partners and stakeholders that we feel could contribute the most on our first two topics:
- Climate and local government procurement
- Enabling local climate action through ‘conditional commitment’
If either of these two topics interest you, fill in our signup form and Siôn will get in touch with more details.
Research on public understanding of local authorities and climate
One of mySociety’s key strengths has always been our ability to combine research and action, to make a difference on the problems that matter. Over the last few months, Alex has been working on beefing up our research capacity, so that we can understand more about the role local government plays in combating climate change.
After interviews earlier this month, our research comissioning process is now complete, and we are excited to have engaged a really excellent external researcher, Tom Sasse, to take on this important piece of work. More from them in due course!
Two new features for CAPE
This month we dramatically improved the way that CAPE displays emissions data, to help people picture which sectors (industrial, commercial, domestic, transport, etc) the most emissions are coming from in each part of the country.
We also introduced a new ‘Browse by feature’ page, allowing you to see councils whose plans scored particularly well in key areas we’ve identified as being of most interest to officers, campaigners, and community groups – from councils with the best approaches to adaptation and mitigation, or the best communicated plans, to the fairest plans for communities most directly harmed by climate change.
If you missed my blog post last week about bringing these two long-awaited features to CAPE, give it a read now.
Header image: A technician makes adjustments to a wind turbine, Dennis Schroeder / NREL.
Last month the project we’ve been supporting Climate Emergency UK on, their Council Climate Plan Scorecards, made a big splash with local and national news outlets.
But that’s not all mySociety’s climate team has been working on – we’ve also been putting effort into making CAPE, our Climate Action Plan Explorer, more useful to council officers and campaigners, through improved emissions data, and ‘features’ – a whole new way of discovering councils with exemplary plans.
Sectoral emissions breakdown
Until recently, CAPE displayed a small amount of emissions data on each council’s page – coming from BEIS’s annual estimates of CO2 emissions within the scope of influence of local authorities:
A key improvement we wanted to make was to better highlight the sources of emissions in a council’s area. The balance of emissions from different sectors (domestic, industrial, commercial, transport, etc) will be different for each council, and will influence their approach to emissions reduction.
Thanks to BEIS funding, we’ve been able to expand our emissions data to cover combined authorities and new 2021 authorities, and we’ve used this to display a new emissions graph on council pages that separates out the emissions of different sectors over time:
Find your council on CAPE today, to see how emissions stack up in your area.
We hope this improved breakdown will help visitors understand the actions their councils are taking, and the scope there is for improvement in the different areas. The graphs can be downloaded and re-used, with the data source and attribution already embedded. Hooray for transparency!
Browse by feature
And there’s more. If you’re interested in seeing, say, all the councils who are doing a good job engaging residents and other stakeholders on their climate plans, or maybe all the councils with a clear plan for upskilling the workforce in the face of climate change, then we’ve got a new feature for you.
Thanks to data from the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, you can now use CAPE to browse councils by ‘features’ we’ve identified, through our research, as being particularly interesting to council officers and campaigners – such as the best approaches to adaptation and mitigation, the best communicated plans, and the fairest plans for communities most directly harmed by climate change.
You can start by visiting the ‘Browse by feature’ page:
Or you can follow the links on any council’s page, to see other councils who also share the same features:
We’re looking to expand our selection of features over time, but we need to make sure these are based on an external dataset that we can import into CAPE. If you have an idea of something new we should include, let us know!
Today, Climate Emergency UK launches the Council Climate Plan Scorecards, an assessment of every UK council’s Climate Action Plan against several criteria of excellence.
mySociety provided technical support for the Scorecards project, which used data from CAPE which was then marked against Climate Emergency UK’s scrupulous Action Plans checklist, created with advice from Ashden, The Centre for Alternative Technology, APSE and Friends of the Earth. You can read about CEUK’s methodology here (and we recommend you do; it really helps one understand the scale of what they’ve pulled off here).
Our support for this project reflects the overarching mission of mySociety’s Climate programme, in making it easier for citizens to understand and engage with their local authorities’ actions in the face of the climate emergency; and the mission of the organisation as a whole in providing data and digital tools for meaningful citizen to government engagement.
Climate Action Plans are often long, complex documents. The Scorecards project helps residents, who may not be experts, to understand where their council is planning well and where there is still work to be done. It gives them a way to see how good their council’s preparation is in the context of the country as a whole, and understand what could be, but is not, in their local climate plan.
But another important aim of the Scorecards project is to benefit councils. Local authorities can now see how their Climate Action Plan compares to those of other similar authorities, and to learn from those councils who have scored better in specific areas. They should be able to see potential for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and improvement that perhaps weren’t immediately visible before this data was publicly available.
We were happy to provide support to this project because we’ve seen how meticulous CEUK’s scoring process has been at every step of the way. They’ve trained up an incredible cohort of dedicated volunteers, who dug into the work because they believed in doing something tangible for the good of the environment. They’ve sought feedback on the first round of marking from councils, folding in the right of reply to a second round; and they’ve worked to a double auditing process.
Meanwhile, mySociety’s input has been in two areas: help with technical development, and help in refining methodology. We were keen to ensure that the Scorecards were genuinely helpful to citizens and councils alike, rather than being a tool for mud-slinging. It’s a fact that councils are underfunded, managing multiple priorities, and dealing with a pandemic while trying to tackle their responsibilities in the face of the climate emergency.
We see public climate action plans as part of the conversation between citizens and government about how we can tackle this crisis together. Any public plan can be a starting point for discussion where we hope that councils and citizens will both ask themselves, ‘What can we do to improve this situation?’ For the fifth of UK local councils still have not published plans to tackle climate change, that conversation has yet to begin.
As part of this thinking, it was important for the design to make comparisons that are fair, and give useful contrasts to users in the public and in local government. Each council is compared only to those which have similar responsibilities. For example, district councils are grouped together and can be seen in the context of one another; and so can unitary councils, but you can’t compare a unitary council with a district council.
Within each of these groups, we’ve provided options to drill down further. We’ve made it easy to compare councils in the same region, the same political control, with similar urban/rural balance, or deprivation profile. We hope this tool is helpful for everyone in making useful comparisons, and for councils in helping them learn from their similar counterparts.
That’s it! In short: we hope you’ll learn from the Scorecard project, and we hope you’ll pass it on to others who might do so, too.
Image: Max Williams
Another productive month for the Climate team: Climate Emergency UK’s launch of the Council Climate Plan Scorecards project is very close. We’ve been providing them with technical help, designing and building the website, and it’ll all finally come to life very soon.
I’m happy to mention that this is my first contribution to mySociety’s blog. Hi everyone, I’m Lucas, one of the recent acquisitions on the Design team, and I’ve been working on the design and front-end aspects of the Council Climate Plan Scorecards for the past few months.
Without further ado, let’s see what we’ve been up to this month.
Council Climate Plan Scorecards
We have some exciting news regarding the Climate Scorecards. The CEUK team has led their teams of motivated, trained volunteers and consulted with local authorities to complete the right to reply followed by the second marking process. We’re now super close to launch.
CEUK have also been busy securing press coverage – it looks like at least one major national will be carrying the story in detail, and there’ll be a co-ordinated effort, again, made possible by those amazing volunteers – to ensure that regional press know the stories around their local councils’ scores, too.
Ideally this website will reach as many people as possible, hopefully then inspiring them to take further actions to combat climate change, encourage more communicative councils, and thereby strengthen local communities.
The design for the social media infographics has been approved, ready to be used and shared on Twitter and Facebook on the launch date. We want users to share their council’s score and celebrate those councils who have performed well in the different sections and, of course, in the overall scores.
The Scorecards design process
I started three months ago at mySociety as a Front-end/Developer to work and provide support across the wide range of projects we manage — but the Council Climate Plan Scorecards was the first big project that I had to design from scratch.
From the beginning, it’s been an interesting experience, getting to know key stakeholders such as CEUK, understanding their requirements for the Scorecards website and at the same time, getting familiar with mySociety’s procedures and processes.
When we started the design process, there was an idea, a concept, a “something” we wanted to achieve. That was enough to allow us to create the Scorecards’ grey wireframe model: not so good looking, but a great help and an efficient way to understand how users will interact with the tables, while also checking whether we’d planned all the right components for the website.
At this stage, Zarino and I were focusing primarily on the usability aspect of the site. With feedback from the team and CEUK, we were able to improve those wireframes and give them some light and colour, for a better representation of what the final experience would look like. At this point, we were still working on some of the components and improving the user interface and the usability side of things, especially for the tables and filters.
Weekly design/comms meetings helped us achieve the design we have now, and served as a basis for the front-end development of the website, while we could also keep up to speed on getting the word out about the launch.
And so, here we are today, about to launch the climate scorecards project. Let’s not forget to mention the amazing help from Struan on development, Zarino on design and Alex on methodology/number crunching.
Who’s got an idea?
The Climate team has started the new year recharged and ready to explore new ideas on how to maximise the impact of our work.
Zarino and Louise came up with the idea of exploring several promising ideas that we’ve had sitting in our Hopper, our list of ideas that have been sitting in the backlog waiting for the team to add some magic. This will happen via ‘rapid prototyping’ weeks – “six weeks to change the world”, as Louise put it.
The process we are developing leans heavily on Google Ventures’ sprint design process – albeit it will in all likelihood be collaborating to develop ideas rather than taking our solutions to partners / the ‘market’. In some weeks we might spend some time building rough versions of what they might look like, which then enable us to make decisions about whether they have the ‘legs’ to go further; in others it’ll be a looser exploration.
We’re aware that not all ideas will fit a prototyping approach, and we’re also keen to make sure those are given equal chance at implementation, so this isn’t the only way for ideas to be considered. But our first prototyping weeks are pencilled into the diary for this spring: watch this space for more progress.
We discussed several exciting new initiatives, some related to procurement, useful data for climate justice and tech action and finally, a pledge system to strengthen local communities.
Some more great news this month, around the research commissioning process we outlined in last month’s notes: bids for our first commission (“Public understanding of local authorities and climate”) closed last week. We’re glad to say that there are some really good submissions.
The team will review these in the coming days, and we’re also looking forward to releasing the next two commissions on “public pressure and local authorities” and “how local authorities make decisions around climate”.
That’s it for this month! Lots going on.
Image: Emiliana Hall
Another month, another chance to share progress from the Climate team. And this time, you get to hear it from a different person too – Hello! I’m Zarino, one of mySociety’s designers, and Product Lead for the Climate programme.
Over the last month, we’ve moved the programme on in three main areas: Adding some much-anticipated features to our headline product, the Climate Action Plans Explorer; continuing full steam ahead on development of Climate Emergency UK’s ‘Council Climate Plan Scorecards’ site, and setting up a research commissioning process that will kick in early next year.
New features on CAPE
Just barely missing the cut for Siôn’s mid-November monthnotes, we flipped the switch on another incremental improvement to CAPE, our database of council climate action plans:
CAPE now shows you whether a council has declared a climate emergency, and whether they’ve set themselves any public targets on becoming carbon neutral by a certain date. We are incredibly grateful to our partners Climate Emergency UK for helping us gather this data. Read my earlier blog post to find out more about how we achieved it.
As well as displaying more data about each council, a core aim of the CAPE site is enabling more valuable comparisons with—and explorations of—the plans of similar councils. Previously, we’d done this by allowing you to browse councils of a particular type (London Boroughs, say, or County Councils), and by showing a list of “nearby” councils on each council’s page.
However, we’re now excited to announce the launch of a whole new dimension of council comparisons on the site, thanks to some amazing work by our Research Associate Alex. To try them out, visit your council’s page on CAPE, and scroll down:
These five tabs at the bottom of a council’s page hide a whole load of complexity—much of which I can barely explain myself—but the upshot is that visitors to CAPE will now be able to see much more useful, and accurate, suggestions of similar councils whose plans they might want to check out. Similar councils, after all, may be facing similar challenges, and may be able to share similar best practices. Sharing these best practices is what CAPE is all about.
We’ll blog more about how we prepared these comparisons, in the new year.
Council Climate Plan Scorecards
As previously noted, we’re working with Climate Emergency UK to display the results of their analysis of council climate action plans, in early 2022. These “scorecards”, produced by trained volunteers marking councils’ published climate action plans and documents, will help open up the rich content of council’s plans, as well as highlighting best practice in nine key areas of a good climate emergency response.
As part of the marking process, every council has been given a ‘Right of Reply’, to help Climate Emergency UK make sure the scorecards are as accurate as possible. We’re happy to share that they’ve received over 150 of these replies, representing over 50% of councils with a published climate action plan.
With those council replies received, this month Climate Emergency UK’s experts were able to complete a second round of marking, producing the final scores.
Meanwhile, Lucas, Struan, and I have been working away on the website interface that will make this huge wealth of data easily accessible and understandable – we look forward to sharing more about this in January’s monthnotes.
Finally, as Alex recently blogged, we’ve been setting up a research commissioning process for mySociety – primarily to handle all the research we’d like to do in the Climate programme next year. Our main topics for exploration aren’t yet finalised, but we’re currently very interested in the following three areas:
- Public understanding of local authorities and climate
- Public pressure and local authorities
- How local authorities make decisions around climate
Watch this space for more details about these research opportunities, and how to get involved.
The Centre for Public Data has released significant new research on property in England and Wales that is owned by individuals based overseas.
The work is based on material released through Freedom of Information requests made to the Land Registry via WhatDoTheyKnow.com.
The headline findings include:
- Nearly 1% of properties registered in the UK are registered to individuals with an overseas correspondence address; this number has more than doubled since 2010.
- The number of properties registered to individuals with an overseas correspondence address is now more than double the number registered to overseas companies.
The work cites and links to the source data on WhatDoTheyKnow (and WhatDoTheyKnow in turn links back to the analysis and commentary).
One of the benefits of making FOI requests via WhatDoTheyKnow is the ability to easily link to the source when taking action based on released information. Citing sources gives work credibility, and it also makes it easy for others to verify what has been done, build on it, or conduct their own analysis based on their particular interests. We want to encourage this kind of exemplary use of WhatDoTheyKnow for well-referenced FOI based research.
The data obtained, and presented, by the Centre for Public Data in this case may inform debate on a range of socially important issues including how overseas property owners, who may well be investors, affect the supply and affordability of housing.
The Centre for Public Data have provided a tool enabling searching of the data – this means local journalists (or others with an interest in a particular area) can quickly obtain localised data.
Image: Gary Stearman
The Climate Action Plans Explorer (CAPE) is gathering together every Climate Action Plan from every UK council that’s published one. We’re actively adding more functionality on an ongoing basis; most recently, we’ve extracted the ‘headline pledges’ from each plan, like this:
Pledges like this give an idea of the council’s overarching priorities, but often have not been presented in isolation before, even by the councils themselves.
Why we did this
A core aim of our Climate programme is to improve the information ecosystem around local responses to the climate emergency:
“We’re improving the information ecosystem to allow local and national campaigns, policymakers and other stakeholders to undertake better scrutiny and analysis of local climate action, and develop evidence-based policies and solutions.”
We’ve already written about how we’re working with Climate Emergency UK to collect and score Climate Action Plans for every local authority in the UK. Providing people with an easy way into their local authority’s action plan will give them an unprecedented opportunity to gauge their council’s level of ambition in facing the climate emergency, and how they’re planning to turn those ambitions into actions.
But plans can be complex, and time-consuming to read. Another, faster way people can understand their council’s level of ambition is by finding any targets that it might have set itself for decarbonising either the entire area, or just the council’s own operations, by a particular date.
We call these ‘pledges’, and they’re typically not all that easy to find – they can be buried in council meeting minutes, or slipped somewhere into an unassuming page on the council’s website or action plan.
Knowing what date your council is working towards, and what they believe they can achieve by that date, fundamentally sets the scene when it comes to understanding and contributing to the council’s climate actions.
That’s why we decided to collect these pledges and share them on CAPE. Here’s where you’ll find them on each council’s page, setting the scene before you dig into the full action plan:
How we did this
Collecting these pledges from scratch would be a mammoth task. Luckily, we were able to build on two partial datasets that gave us a headstart.
An important thing to note is that we wanted to collect not only the scope (that is to say, whether the plan covers council operations only, or the whole area) and target date, but also the exact wording of the pledge, and the source where it was found.
We found that local authorities often use terms like ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ interchangeably, and the scope of pledges can sometimes be ambiguous. The most objective approach, therefore, was to present the entire pledge, as it was originally worded, and leave it up to the viewer to interpret the council’s intent. Collecting and exposing the source of the pledge would allow them to dig deeper and view the pledge in context, if they wanted to.
Our partners, Climate Emergency UK, had already been collecting climate target dates as part of their ongoing monitoring of council responses to the climate and biodiversity emergencies. But since the target dates were just one small part of a much wider database, they hadn’t collected the direct quotes that we wanted to present.
Still, in the Climate Emergency UK dataset, we effectively had a wide but shallow starting point, covering most councils in the UK, from which we could then proceed to fill in the detail by revisiting the sites, scanning them for anything that looked like a pledge, and pasting them into our database.
We were also incredibly grateful to receive a smaller, but much more detailed, dataset of climate commitments from the National Audit Office, which covered 70% of the principal local authorities in England, some of which had made no commitments. They themselves had manually gathered these commitments from public sources—council’s minutes, websites, and action plans—over April to June of 2021.
Combined with the Climate Emergency UK dataset, this data from the National Audit Office got us 75% of the way towards a full dataset of climate pledges from every council in the UK.
With the help of Climate Emergency UK volunteers, we filled in the gaps on this combined dataset, collecting direct quotes for both council-only and whole area climate pledges, for 341 of the 408 councils in the UK.
For the remaining 67 councils, we were unable to find a public climate pledge, or at least one with a concrete target date – but we’re hopeful that we might yet find this information, and the CAPE website includes a link on these councils’ pages through which visitors (or maybe councillors or council officers!) can contribute the data, if they’ve found a source elsewhere.
The data was collected via an online spreadsheet, making it fairly easy to import into CAPE, as part of the website’s existing data processing pipeline. This feeds the pledges through to both the individual council pages, and also the all councils page, where you can now filter the list to show only councils with a target in a given five-year period, or no target at all.
We will soon also be exposing these pledges via the CAPE API, so third parties can programmatically access and reuse the data in their own services. If this sounds like something you might find useful, do get in touch or subscribe to our Climate newsletter where we’ll be sure to share any news.
Image: Romain Dancre