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.
November was another busy month for our Climate programme, with progress on a number of fronts – from the return of an old friend, in the shape of the Council Climate Scorecards; to the development of two new ones, as a result of our prototyping process earlier this year. We’ve also been working hard to share our data and tools with new audiences. Here’s a quick round up:
Constituency data for climate campaigners
As Alexander mentioned in October, we’ve been working on a Beta version of platform that brings together data about MPs, constituencies, and local climate action, as part of a project with The Climate Coalition. The aim is to help campaigners at both national and local levels to understand where to focus their efforts on enabling real local action on climate goals.
This month—thanks to the involvement of not only Struan and Alexander but also Graeme, on loan from our Transparency programme—we’ve made lots of progress, adding the features and importing the datasets we’ll need for testing out the minimum viable product with target users in the New Year. I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming months!
Exposing high-emissions local authority contracts
Another service that’s come out of one of our earlier prototyping weeks is ‘Contract Countdown’, which aims to give citizens advance notice of large, high-emissions local authority contracts that might be expiring in six, 12, or more months.
This November, Alexander finished developing the final pieces of a working Alpha version – including the use of real contracts from UK Contracts Finder and the Find A Tender service, and pulling in the details of local authority climate officers and councillors with climate/environment responsibilities (so we could test the idea of helping users contact these representatives).
And Siôn and I have been testing the alpha with target users – including local and national journalists, local authority climate officers and procurement officers, and local climate activists. We aim to continue getting feedback on the Alpha throughout December, and maybe January, after which point we can make a decision on whether to develop and launch a full service later in 2023.
Climate Action Scorecards 2023
Speaking of next year, preparations are already underway for next year’s follow-up to the Council Climate Scorecards project—this month saw Lucas and I work with Climate Emergency UK to design and publish their draft methodology for the assessment that will begin next year.
With CEUK’s assessors now looking at councils’ climate actions, in addition to their plans, we wanted to make it as easy as possible to understand precisely which questions your local authority will be scored on. I think we came up with a nice solution, where you can filter the list of draft questions by your local authority name or postcode, as well as by local authority type.
Sharing our data and tools
In other news, Alex updated our deprivation and urban/rural classification datasets to show relative figures for local authorities and Westminster parliamentary constituencies. We also published a local authorities lookup dataset that makes it easy to convert between the many names and codes used to identify local authorities.
If you want to use these new datasets—or any of our data in fact—Alex runs drop-in office hours on Thursdays and Fridays to talk about just that. We’re also happy to help collect or analyse climate-related data for free, as part of our work on supporting the UK’s climate data ecosystem – you can read more about that here.
Finally, Myf and Siôn in particular have continued to share and talk about our tools, and how people are using them to support local climate action, this month. Highlights include attending the Natural History Consortium’s Communicate conference; giving a hands-on workshop about all of mySociety’s tools for London’s small charities and community groups at Superhighways’ “Where’s The Power In Data” conference; and publishing a really exciting case study about how an officer at Surrey County Council used CAPE to share experiences and best practices with other similar councils elsewhere the UK.
Yesterday was the second Innovations in Climate Tech event. People from councils and organisations came along and discussed all kinds of projects and ideas.
The key question? What they might do with a small injection of money designed to kickstart digitally based, local climate related projects.
If you’re ready to go ahead with your application, start here. Otherwise, read on.
Projects beginning to form
You can see all the ideas that were floated in our first meetup on our Padlet, but here are a few of the projects that emerged and appeared to be gaining the most momentum yesterday.
- A national knowledge sharing tool This project would seek to create a comprehensive list of what has been done digitally around Climate Adaptation, showcasing lessons learned, successes and failures. The instigators could also develop playbooks, open source tools and a knowledge sharing forum for councils and citizens. Notes here.
- Community resilience to extreme weather events A plan to bring people together to embed community resilience, sharing information about flood risk, how to make your home more able to cope with the effect of climate change and extreme weather events. There was also a suggestion of broadening the existing community warden role to encompass community resilience issues. Notes here.
- Adaptation gardens Showing people how they could garden in a different way to adapt to a changing climate: eg with drought resistant plants, water conservation methods, pollinator friendly plants and other eco-friendly methods. Notes here.
- Digital toolkit for events Putting together a digital toolkit that people can use for climate-related community events, ensuring it’s accessible and reusable in lots of different situations. Notes here.
Seen a project that you’d like to try too?
Maybe you’re a council officer who thinks one of the ideas above would fit well within your constituency.
Or maybe you’re a community group that could help shape the project and replicate it in your area.
There may be an opportunity to join up with other folks working on the idea, and perhaps expanding their plans into more than one region.
Feel free to fill in our form and indicate that you are open to working with others on one of the existing ideas.
What you should know about the grants
- You do not have to have attended either of the prior sessions to bid, but please do give consideration to what we are looking for: small, locally-based trials of projects that work with a local council at the intersection of democracy (broadly defined) and climate. A local authority must be involved in the project.
- Need to find a partner council? Let us know and we’ll shout out on Twitter for you.
- This is seed funding, designed to allow for testing, planning and trying new approaches; things that aren’t possible with restricted grants. So don’t worry about having a detailed plan — your application can be short and simple.
- Applications close at 23:59 on Monday 31st October 2022. We aim to have made our decisions and awarded the grants by Monday 7th November 2022.
- Funding will cover the period until March 31 2023 — though your project may continue onwards for as long as you like. We’ll hold a wrap-up event in spring showcasing the work to date.
Ready to bid? Apply here.
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.
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!
- Watch a video of all the morning presentations, followed by the Q&A. This video features:
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.
- A swiss-army knife/skeleton key/useful spreadsheet that lists all current local authorities, and helps transform data between different lookups.
- Mapit An API that can take postcodes and tell you which local authority they’re in (and much more!) Free for low traffic charitable projects.
- Datasets of which authorities have published climate action plans.
- Datasets of which authorities have published net zero dates, and their scopes.
- A massive 1GB zip of all the climate plans we know about.
- Measure of local deprivation across the whole UK.
- A simplified version of the BEIS local authority emissions data.
- Measures of similarity between all local authorities (emissions, deprivation, distance, rural/urban and then all of those things together).
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
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
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.
Subscribe to mySociety’s newsletter for a monthly update on all our climate-related activities.
Can you bring about more transparency with a simple map?
Apparently yes – that’s what the Alaveteli site Transparencia.be have pulled off with their interactive map of Wallonia.
This shows which municipal councils in the region are making useful documentation publicly available ahead of their committee meetings.
If the district is coloured green, they’re proactively publishing the documents; amber shows that they are publishing, but only on request; and red indicates a complete lack of publication. A decree going through Belgium’s lawmaking procedures will require such proactive publication, and while some are ahead of the loop, others have a way to go.
“The law is going through the last phase of regional parliament”, said our contact at Transparencia, Claude Archer, last week. “Lawmaking is slow, but this does now look like it’s reached the final step.”
And that progress would have been even slower if it weren’t for Transparencia’s efforts. That it has come this far, says Claude, is “a direct consequence of the heatmap. The heatmap forced them to go faster and not to forget the decree. We’re two years away from the next local election, so we have to keep pressure up if we want to see results!”.
Municipalities must publish an agenda ahead of their meetings, but this is often very concise and the titles of the various points aren’t always self-explanatory.
The heatmap forced them to go faster and not to forget the decree.
And minutes of the meeting are shared afterwards — but by then it is, of course, too late for an interested party to intervene. For the sake of transparency, the ideal is to provide citizens with a bit more detail before meetings go ahead.
This isn’t a huge burden: it only requires the councils to publicly share documents that they would already be preparing for councillors — a summary of the topics to be discussed, and the ‘draft deliberation’, which gives a rough indication of what is likely to be said during debates.
This pre-publication would allow citizens to see if a topic they are interested in was about to be discussed or voted upon. They might alert their representative if they see any factual errors in the proposed points of debate, says Claude in a news story published by the popular Belgian daily Le Soir. But he adds that it would also be “a symbolic measure, [showing] that democracy is everyone’s business and not just that of elected officials”.
So, what does this map do, and how did Transparencia create it?
Transparencia used Alaveteli Pro to obtain the underlying data for this project. Claude explained how it has had such a decisive effect on the local municipalities’ commitment to transparency. If you run your mouse over the map, you can see that for each municipality, it says whether or not they are publishing documents ahead of council meetings. There are 262 municipalities in Wallonia, and for each one, an FOI request was sent to ask what their policy is around these documents (examples can be seen here – in French).
It’s the number one topic of conversation within the municipalities every time we update the map.
The data-gathering has taken more than two years, and has grown beyond a project of a small transparency organisation – they’ve extended their reach by training up journalists and showing what can be done with data from FOI requests. This has been an interesting exercise in itself, says Claude, who notes that while Transparencia are more about using FOI for activism, journalists can use it in their ‘everyday generic investigations’. And of course, journalists are the ones who can get stories in front of readers.
Alaveteli Pro is the add-on for Alaveteli sites, providing a suite of features for professional users of FOI — here in the UK we run it as WhatDoTheyKnow Pro, but the same functionality can be added to any Alaveteli site. Among these features is ‘batch request’, which eases much of the hard work involved in sending FOI requests to a large group of authorities, and managing all the responses.
Claude explains that Transparencia made the first wave of requests themselves, but they sensed that the project would get more leverage if it belonged to a couple of prominent newspapers, Le Soir and Le Vif. “We gave them ownership even though the project was instigated by Transparencia.”
Divide and conquer
So, for the second wave, “We divided the country into six regions. We allocated one journalist to each region and they made batch requests to the municipal councils in that region through their Pro account. We then exported the spreadsheet from the batch requests and from that we could build the maps with a bit of Python code and boundaries in a GIS system.”
And what’s the result when the municipalities see the map? “They don’t like being red or orange when their neighbour is green,” laughs Claude. “It’s the number one topic of conversation within the municipalities every time we update the map, and it makes a lot of new municipalities join the commitment to publish.”
So things were looking positive — and then, yesterday, we received an ecstatic update from Claude. “Exactly one year after Transparencia’s hearing at the regional parliament, and six months after publication of the heatmap in the press, the Walloon parliament passed the bill this afternoon in the special commission, and it will be officially adopted 15 days from now.”
Pop open the bubbly, that’s a win for transparency; and it’s not just Claude who thinks so: “I have just proudly received a congratulatory text from the head of the Green Party, Stéphane Hazée, at Walloon regional parliament”, he tells us, sharing the screenshot:
(Translation: Just a word to inform you that the proposal for the ‘publicity decree of municipal councils’ was adopted this Tuesday in the PW committee. Thank you again for your involvement which clearly helped to convince. Sincerely.)
We’re always pleased to see our tools being used to bring about tangible change; and increased local transparency is something that’s very much on mySociety’s mind at the moment, as you can see in our work around climate.
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.