1. New feature! Scorecards Question Pages unlock hundreds of brand new datasets

    This year’s Council Climate Action Scorecards involved thousands of hours of volunteer time, hundreds of FOI requests and a lot of scrolling through local authority websites. Now we’re excited to launch a brand new filtering tool that lets you unlock the value of all of this amazing new data: question pages

    These individual pages allow anyone — from campaigners to council officers — to unlock the most interesting data from the Scorecards. You can now view a dedicated page for each question, which is itself a brand new and comprehensive dataset of local authority action. This will filter by type, rank all the councils from highest to lowest scoring, show the evidence for why councils scored point(s), and will tell you how many councils achieved each of the possible available marks.

    Find these pages by clicking through from the question you’re interested in from any council’s page.

    screenshot of a question page on Scorecards - Does the council use peat free compost or soil in all landscaping and horticulture?

    This allows anyone to:

    • Get a sense of where best practice is happening in the country, by policy area
    • Share examples of best practice, so that more councils can more easily access the policy solutions they need
    • Evaluate trends in where local authority action is succeeding or stalling across the country.
    List of councils with their scores for the question 'Does the council use peat free compost or soil in all landscaping and horticulture?'

    Not sure where to start? Below, we’ve pulled out three really interesting brand new datasets. And, because these illustrate some of the gaps that we identified in our Fragmented Data report, we hope they’ll show just how useful this kind of nationwide picture would be if they were being published as standard.

    3.1 Is the council’s area wide net zero target a strategic objective of the Local Plan?

    socrecards question page: Is the council's area wide net zero target a strategic objective of the Local Plan?Local Plans are the key piece of local authority policy that guide how a council will run its operations. We want to see climate action and net zero move beyond siloed ‘Climate plans’ and into day-to-day local planning. On Scorecards, councils scored the one available point for this question if the Local Plan included reaching net zero as a strategic objective, and if the council’s net zero target date is a) area wide and b) also found within the Plan. See this question page here.

    Through volunteer research, we now know:

    • 44 out of 186 single tier councils got full marks for this question.
    • 31 out of 181 district councils got full marks for this question.
    • 0 out of 24 county councils got full marks for this question.
    • 0 out of 11 Northern Ireland councils got full marks for this question.

    This is a great example of something you can ask your local council to do that doesn’t cost them any money, but will make a huge difference to day-to-day climate policy in your local area. Using the questions page, we can highlight councils of the same type that score well, in order to surface the evidence, allowing them to share it as best practice.  

    In this case, you may wish to share Wakefield’s recent local plan with your council

    4.3a Is the council reporting on its own greenhouse gas emissions?

    Scorecards question page: Is the council reporting on its own greenhouse gas emissions?Our Fragmented Data report details why we think it would be useful for central government to support local government in compulsory and collaborative reporting standards for local councils, especially on climate action. We can’t know the progress made and the progress yet to happen without better data – and the Scorecards project would certainly be a lot easier if we had more data published in more useful formats! See this question page here.

    A council got a point on this question if it is reporting its own emissions and fulfils all of the following:

    • the council states whether they are using the Environmental Reporting Guidelines from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the GCoM Common Reporting Framework (CRF), the Greenhouse Gas Accounting Tool (from the LGA), the Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Cities (Community Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventories) or for Corporate Standards to develop their inventory.
    • the inventory covers a continuous period of 12 months, either a calendar year or a financial year
    • there is data from 2019 and 2021 (or the financial year 2021/22)
    • the council is measuring their own scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions

    Thanks to hundreds of hours of volunteer time, we now know:

    • 69 out of 186 single tier councils got full marks for this question.
    • 48 out of 181 district councils got full marks for this question.
    • 11 out of 24 county councils got full marks for this question.
    • 1/11 Northern Ireland councils got full marks for this question.

    We have lots more on why climate data is so essential, and the sorts of climate data we need, in this blog post

    If you’d like to share best practice with your council, take a look at Westminster City Council. You may also want to encourage your council to participate in the CDP reporting programme, a brilliantly in-depth reporting framework that is used across the globe, and published in the open.

    6.3 Has the council lobbied the government for climate action?

    scorecards question page - has the ouncil lobbied the government for climate action?This is such an interesting question — the results of which have been uncovered through FOI  — because it gets at the often-obscured links between local and national climate action. Local authorities are undoubtedly limited in their ability to act by budgets and resources handed down by national government, but they too have a voice in asking national government to prioritise climate spending. See this question page here.

    Councils got a point in this question if they:

    •  sent a letter or had a meeting with national or devolved governments calling for the government to take further action, 
    • or asked for councils to receive more funding, powers and climate resources to take climate action.

    Through FOI requests sent via WhatDoTheyKnow, we know:

    • 86 out of 186 single tier councils got full marks for this question.
    • 59 out of 181 district councils got full marks for this question.
    • 11 out of 24 county councils got full marks for this question.
    • 5 out of 11 Northern Ireland councils got full marks for this question.

    Across the board in this question, about half of councils have lobbied national government for climate action, with district councils lagging slightly behind. 

    Once again, this is an example of an council action which requires no additional cost and very little resources. If you’d like to email your council to ask them to start lobbying national government, or to do more, you could point to the great example from Chorley Council.


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    Image: RMHare (CC by-sa/4.0)

  2. Climate monthnotes: October 2023

    As the seasons change and the leaves start to fall, grab your big scarf as we sum up what the climate team have been up to recently.

    We’ve been talking about scorecards for much of the year, and this month the work has fallen into place and the Climate Action Scorecards have launched. There was a load of work done, not least by our designer Lucas and the team at CE UK in the lead up to this, to get the site polished and all the data finalised and published.

    Since the launch we’ve been making tweaks and sanding off the odd rough edge. While we’ve been doing this, CE UK have been promoting all the hard work they and the volunteers have done with the result that there’s been a lot of press coverage. You may have seen some in your local paper.

    If you want to see how your local council did then check out the site. If you’re an organisation or researcher interested in using the data underlying this then it’s available to buy from CE UK in a handy, easy to process format.

    We, for Alex values of we, wrote a bit about some of the tech behind the Scorecards crowdsourcing effort.

    On the Local Intelligence Hub front we’ve been making progress on supporting multiple versions of constituencies. For those of you who don’t breathlessly follow political boundary news there was a review of the size and shape of Westminster Parliamentary constituencies which has resulted in many of these changing.

    The changes will take effect at the next general election, whenever that happens, so we need to support them, while also supporting the existing ones. Alexander has been working away on enabling the Local Intelligence Hub to display data for multiple versions of a constituency. This will also help if we want to add data for other types of area in the future. This is all working towards the new public launch date of January 2024 so you can make using local climate data part of your New Year’s resolutions.

    Should you be in a position where you need to care about constituency changes, we have some potentially helpful data and code for making the transition from the old to new boundaries. If you don’t have to care but are interested there’s also some background on the hows and whys of the changes there too.

    On the Neighbourhood Warmth front Siôn is continuing to talk to potential partners and funders, while sharpening up our plans for the next stage of development. As always more details on everything Neighbourhood Warmth can be found in its very own monthnotes.

    On the policy side Julia has been lining things up for an event about Fragmented Data which is part of our work to explain how better data will help reach climate targets. Look out for more news on that in the coming weeks. Scraping in under the spooky decorations as I write this on All Hallow’s Eve, Zarino is at the Net Zero Festival where our CEO Louise will be, or indeed was, talking about the work we do to help involve people in matters climate related.

    Image: Aaron Burden

  3. Council climate scorecards are back — and this time they’re measuring action

    Today, we’re happy to join in the excitement around the launch of the Council Climate Action Scorecards.

    Just over 18 months ago, we were pointing at the first iteration of this work by Climate Emergency UK (CE UK), which marked every council’s climate action plan according to a detailed schema. Back then, we were impressed by the scale and quality of what they’d pulled off, and pleased to have been a partner in delivering the work.

    But if that was impressive, what’s been achieved this time around is even more so. While climate action plans are simple documents, with all the information in one place, unpicking how climate action is progressing at the local government level is a much more complicated matter. 

    Once again, CE UK amassed a large cohort of volunteers, trained them up and set them the task of obtaining information about the state of play in every council area via a variety of means: news stories, meeting minutes, websites and strategy docs; and where the information couldn’t be found by any publicly-available source, with FOI requests. It is a real testament to people power, coupled with one of mySociety’s longtime favourite methods of breaking daunting tasks into more manageable chunks by crowdsourcing.

    To ensure the data is meaningful, CE UK have completed the work with the oversight of an advisory panel, of which our Head of Research Alex Parsons was one member. mySociety have again played an active part in the project, building a tool on which volunteers assessed action, developing and designing the website, and helping send the FOI requests to multiple councils via our WhatDoTheyKnow Projects tool.

    We hope that the Council Climate Action Scorecards will help councils and other key actors such as central government to see where they could be doing more, and to knowledge-share with others. More than that, we hope that campaigners, researchers, journalists — and individuals who want to understand how their councils are doing on climate — will dig into the data and learn more about both the local and nationwide pictures.

    At mySociety, our Climate team‘s focus is set by the fact that around a third of all emissions are estimated to be within the power of local authorities. That’s why we have gladly put time and resource into supporting CE UK’s fantastic work.

    Image: Markus Krisetya

  4. CE UK and mySociety are using people power and Freedom of Information to bring transparency to local climate action

    A story in this week’s Financial Times [paywalled] has brought the EPC ratings of council-owned properties into the public conversation. This story was based on data obtained through FOI requests as part of the Council Climate Action Scorecards project, which we’ve been working on in partnership with Climate Emergency UK (CE UK).

    What you can read in the FT is one story pulled from a wealth of data, but there’s more to come. Our WhatDoTheyKnow Projects tool allowed CE UK’s team of volunteers to conduct a nationwide survey of every council through well-placed FOI requests covering the use of renewable energy, plans for retrofitting, green skills training, road expansion and more. 

    The data they gathered has allowed for the understanding of councils’ action on a nationwide scale. This level of oversight has not previously been possible: as with so much about the Scorecards project, it is allowing councils to take more informed action on climate, and individuals to clearly understand what is being done.

    Why local action matters

    In the UK, it is estimated that around one third of carbon emissions are in some way under the influence of local authorities. 80% of UK councils have declared a ‘climate emergency’ to indicate they recognise the scale of the problem of climate change, and are in a position to take practical steps to be part of the solution. To help local authorities achieve the goals they set themselves (and to push them to go further), we need to engage with the plans that local authorities are making, and the actions they are starting to take. 

    In 2021, CE UK and mySociety worked together to produce the first Council Climate Plan Scorecards. CE UK’s upcoming launch is the second iteration of the Scorecards. It is much bigger and more ambitious in scope than the last: it scores not the plans, but the climate actions of every local authority in the UK. 

    FOI requests were just one part of the process. As well as giving CE UK access to WhatDoTheyKnow Projects, we developed a crowdsourcing tool for volunteers to use while marking across the 90+ datapoints collected for each council. 

    How do you score action?

    CE UK moved from scoring plans to scoring actions. That required new approaches to gathering the information. 

    The questions CEUK used in the new Scorecards are the result of a long and thorough process of research and refinement. Building on their own research and expertise, they conducted one-on-one consultations with approximately 80 organisations and sector-specific experts. An advisory group of environmental and local government experts provided further discussion and refinement, to help build a list of questions that would practically be possible to answer, and that would reveal important information about the climate actions of councils. 

    The aim was to identify areas where information was publicly accessible; but also where gaps existed, especially in operational matters that aren’t often made public. Additionally, CE UK wanted to investigate whether councils are truly implementing the actions outlined in their climate action plans, including aspects like lobbying for additional powers.

    Making use of Freedom of Information

    Freedom of Information laws means that a huge range of information held by public authorities (including local councils) can be requested by any person who asks. This provides a legal tool to create greater transparency where information is not being published proactively.

    For CE UK, the potential of FOI for the Scorecards project was clear – but there were concerns. In consultations with council staff, there was pushback regarding the use of FOI requests due to the potential time and financial burden on council officers who work on climate – with some requests for a more informal survey approach to be used. But the drawback of that would be making good data dependent on goodwill everywhere. FOI requests provided a way to make sure the scorecards were not just effective for councils who engaged with the process and provide an approach that was fair across the country. 

    To balance a process where they want to encourage positive engagement from councils, with one that works without that, CE UK’s approach was to plan out the most efficient and least burdensome use of FOI requests. 

    Based on feedback from the advisory group, and trial runs to a small number of councils, they eliminated questions that were less important and useful, made more ‘yes/no’ or ‘single number’ responses, and learned where certain questions weren’t relevant to certain areas or groups of councils. 

    The subsequent FOI requests became more streamlined, and this resulted in quicker response times for the final requests than they had in the trial – as the information sought was more direct and concise.

    In the end, CE UK submitted a total of over 4,000 FOI requests to councils across the UK. The questions were divided into 11 categories, with some being specific to certain types of councils, such as district councils or combined authorities. The next stage was taking these 4,000 requests and getting them into a form that can be used for the scorecards. 

    Crowdsourcing and review process

    CE UK used WhatDoTheyKnow to manage their FOI request process. mySociety’s WhatDoTheyKnow acts as a public archive for requests – requests made through the site have the responses shown in public to bring more information into the open  – making it more discoverable by other people interested in the information, and reducing the need for duplicate requests being made. As of 2023, a million requests for information have been made through the site, with hundreds of thousands of pieces of information being released. 

    A feature we are trialling with a range of organisations is WhatDoTheyKnow Projects, which integrates crowdsourcing tools into WhatDoTheyKnow, and allows the task of extracting information into a new dataset to be spread out. The goal is that this helps organisations be more ambitious in finding out information and helps people work together to create genuinely new and exciting datasets, that no single organisation has ever seen. 

    As CE UK’s approach already made heavy use of volunteers and crowdsourcing, this was a natural fit.  Alongside a wider group of 200 volunteers working on getting answers to the other questions, 15 volunteers specifically worked on the FOI requests. These volunteers were a mixture of people with prior experience or professional interest in FOI requests, campaigners well-versed in FOI processes, and individuals new to the concept but eager to engage in activism.

    After the crowdsourcing of FOI data was complete, it joined the rest of the data in the new tool mySociety had developed for helping volunteers crowdsource information for the Scorecards.  

    From here, councils were given access to the data collected about them and given a right of reply to correct any inaccuracies or point towards information not previously discovered or disclosed. The results of this process will then be reviewed to produce the final Scorecards data, which will be launched this month.

    But the Scorecards data will not be the only useful thing that will come out of this process. Because of how WhatDoTheyKnow was used, to see evidence supporting the final Scorecards, people will be able to click through and see the original responses, for instance, to see what councils have lobbied on support for their climate work. 

    Some of the FOIs are being used to construct datasets that have a broader impact, and here we come back to that FT story on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) ratings of council-owned houses. Building these new public datasets will be useful for councils to understand their own situation, and as we see with the news story, more broadly to understand the challenges ahead for local governments to meet net zero emissions goals. 

    Onwards

    The original Scorecards project has already been influential on how local governments understand their own plans, and how organisations like the UK’s Climate Change Committee understand the role and progress of local government in the challenges ahead. When the next generation of Scorecards is released, we hope that they continue to be useful in shaping and improving local government action around climate change.

    mySociety believes that digital technology can be used to help people participate more fully in democracy, make governments and societies more transparent, and bring communities together to address societal challenges.

    The Scorecards project showcases how the combination of digital tools, people power, and the right to information produces powerful results. We hope that the impact of this project can inspire and make possible similar approaches for other problems, or in other countries.

  5. Emissions reduction and regional inequality

    Alice Garvey was one of the numerous volunteers on Climate Emergency UK’s Scorecards project, helping to assess councils’ climate action plans to a rigorous marking schema.

    Like many of those who volunteered, Alice has a particular interest in local authority climate commitments — in her case, because the information being gathered feeds directly into her work. The Scorecards data informed her doctoral research; but she also found that being part of the team that helped to assemble this data brought extra insights as well. 

    So what is she working on?

    Alice told us: “My PhD considers how different regions of the UK can reduce their emissions in a way that is fair, and that recognises the spatially varied opportunities and opportunity costs of decarbonisation. This is informed by both the need for rapid climate change mitigation at scale, as well as the need to level the UK’s significant regional inequalities. 

    “As part of my PhD I have been evaluating the potential contribution of Local Authority commitments to the overall achievement of net zero in the UK. This involved calculating the possible emissions reductions in scenarios where councils met their operational and/or area-wide net zero targets. 

    “The project also involved quantifying the ‘capability’ of different councils to decarbonise, to recognise that some areas face systemic barriers to developing and delivering climate plans. 

    “I have also undertaken interviews with stakeholders active in climate governance from across regions, sectors and scales of government in the UK. This has allowed me to evaluate how fair current governance arrangements for net zero are perceived to be, particularly from the perspective of councils.”

    This is interesting! We wondered what had started Alice on this path of enquiry. 

    “The UK has exceptional levels of regional inequality, and the changes that are required during the low carbon transition are only likely to exacerbate old, or introduce new, inequalities. I undertook this project to help highlight some of these tensions and trade-offs, to identify the areas that are likely to fall behind without further support, and the kind of support that they may need. 

    “To do this, I focused on the role of councils as local-regional institutions. It was increasingly evident that councils are ‘expected’ to have a plan to achieve net zero, despite there being no formal requirement for them to do so. Similarly, given longstanding budget cuts to local authorities in the UK, it is doubtful whether many councils have the financial capability to deliver programmes around net zero. I thought that the gap between the rhetoric of local climate action and the lack of formal responsibilities was interesting, and worthy of further exploration.

    For instance, what scale of emissions reductions would the voluntary net zero commitments of councils achieve? What kind of role could or should the local scale play in national decarbonisation? What kinds of policies would enable councils to decarbonise more effectively, and more fairly? What do councils think of these policies? These were all questions I aimed to address in undertaking the research.”

    So, the relevance of the Scorecards data is self-evident here. How had Alice come across it?

    “I was aware of the Climate Emergency Declarations mapping from CE UK, which provided really good (and novel) oversight of the landscape of local climate commitments. When the Scorecards were getting started I got involved as a climate action plan scoring volunteer.”

    And, as it turned out, that was a great way of understanding the data from the inside out. 

    “The process of undertaking the training, scoring the plans and engaging with CE UK gave me key insight into the workings of local government, and the significant challenges it faces in terms of decarbonisation. It enabled and inspired my use of the Scorecards in my own academic research. 

    “Though I primarily used the Scorecards for the net zero target dates for councils, they also made me think more critically about the drivers of these commitments and declarations, and the spatial variables that meant some areas were more ambitious than others.”

    And how was this understanding applied?

    In my analysis I used the target data to develop scenarios of emissions reductions for each local authority in England if they met their net zero targets (and a scenario if they didn’t). I also used the scores from the Scorecards as part of an indicator framework that suggested how ambitious different councils were being, and compared this to an indicator of ‘capability’. This allowed a comparison of whether more ‘capable’ councils were being more ambitious and vice versa, and identifying regional trends in this. 

    “The analysis showed that many regions were taking more responsibility for decarbonisation than they were necessarily capable of, whilst other more capable regions were not taking proportionate action. Notably, the picture was more complicated than a simple North-South divide. I published this analysis as an academic paper and as a key part of my PhD.”

    These insights seem really valuable, adding to our understanding of the work ahead required for an effective and just transition. How does Alice envisage that they’ll be used? 

    “I hope that the paper highlights the spatial variation in how local government works, and how this challenges granting any uniform responsibility for delivering net zero. For example, any local statutory responsibility for net zero would need to consider the varied starting points of different councils on their decarbonisation journey. I would also hope that it draws attention to the need for greater direction, greater support for councils from central government, if they are expected to have a formal role in delivering net zero in the UK. Given that delivery of net zero relies on action at all scales, across all regions, this is something that appears increasingly inevitable. 

    “Though it is only my perspective from the academic side, I would say that many papers do not reach the eyes and ears of decision-makers without further work to translate them. The protocols and language of such publications can limit their consumption to an academic audience.

    “This is the reason that the publication of a paper can sometimes be only the beginning of the research process. Translating papers into policy briefs, calls for evidence, presentations, and dissemination through social media, can be key steps in ensuring the research makes its mark in the world outside the university.”

    We hope that this research will indeed find its way into such channels, and that the findings will help inform the UK’s vital transition period. You can see Alice’s research in the paper: Climate ambition and respective capabilities: are England’s local emissions targets spatially just? Thanks very much to her for telling us all about it.

    We’re always keen to hear how our work is helping inform other projects, so if you’ve been using it for a campaign, research or other purposes, please do get in touch and let us know.

     —

    Image: Kyle Kroeger (CC by-nc-nd/2.0)

  6. 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

  7. Climate monthnotes: Mar/Apr 2023

    Once again it’s time for our monthly roundup of what the Climate team has been doing in the last, er, two months. Plenty to write about at least.

    First on the list is another milestone in the journey towards Climate Emergency UK’s Council Climate Action Scorecards – the start of the Right of Reply process. All the marking of councils’ climate actions has been completed by CEUK’s small army of volunteers, and now it’s over to councils to have a look at the results and provide any feedback. We’ve also pulled in the data from Freedom of Information requests which was gathered using our WhatDoTheyKnow Pro platform so they can check that over too.

    A second launch is the Local Intelligence Hub project we’ve been working on with The Climate Coalition, to help climate campaigners across the UK wrangle climate related data. There was a bunch of work in the run up to this to improve how we were displaying information on the map to make it more accessible, plus adding yet more data. Now that TCC members have access to this we’ll be gathering feedback to decide on future work, as well as adding more data, before a full public launch.

    Meanwhile, our Neighbourhood Warmth project with partners Dark Matter Labs has been moving gently but steadily forward. We’ve been meeting with organisations in our three chosen pilot areas, and fleshing out some basic content and design before we put together a very minimal working alpha, to test out with real neighbours on real streets. We’ve been thinking critically about some of our initial ideas on how to connect people interested in making energy saving improvements to their home, and have broadened out our definition of “neighbourhood” from people on the same street to people nearby – to capitalise on the connections people might have across a slightly wider local area. Alongside this we’ve been working out how we’re going to get this in front of users to gather feedback once we have something to show. You can read more about this in our first set of Neighbourhood Warmth monthnotes.

    We’ve also had an update on what our second Innovations in Climate Tech grantee has been up to.

    In the background we’ve been moving forward with plans for our Festival of Debate session (book here) and doing some thinking about what our Climate Programme will look like in 2024 and beyond.

    Finally, with the spring new councils have bloomed which means updating CAPE to include these new councils, and to guide people looking at the old councils to their replacements.

    Image: Olli Kilpi

  8. Climate Scorecards: helping keep Scotland accountable

    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).

    Impartial accountability

    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

  9. Scoring councils’ climate action: how FOI is helping

    Last year, mySociety provided technical support to Climate Emergency UK (CE UK) for their Council Climate Scorecards project, which marked every UK local authority’s climate action plan across 78 different areas. The resulting data made clear where plans were adequate, and where there was still work to do. It has informed campaigns, researchers, news stories and councils themselves, as well as feeding into government-level policy.

    But plans are one thing, and putting them into action is quite another — not to mention, rather more crucial. So this year, CE UK have set themselves the task of scoring councils on the progress they’ve made on climate action.

    To do so, they’ll be using many of the same methods they put to such good effect in the Action Plan Scorecards: they’re currently assembling teams of volunteers (want to get involved? See the end of this post) that they’ll train up with the research skills needed to scrutinise such a huge body of data accurately and with a good understanding of the issues at hand.

    Scoring the plans may have seemed like a big task, but at least they are documents which were  — to a greater or lesser extent — possible to find online. Action, of course, happens in the real world, so some different methods are required. 

    CE UK’s methodology for the Action Scorecards can be seen in detail here; it relies not just on the councils’ own reporting, but on a number of different documents and news reports. And where the information can’t easily be found in the public arena, they’ll be submitting Freedom of Information requests.

    Of course, this is an area in which we at mySociety have long experience, so our Transparency team is helping out. CE UK will be using our WhatDoTheyKnow Pro service to send the large batches of FOI requests and manage the responses; once the Action Scorecards are launched, the data will, of course, be made public for everyone to access.

    With our help, the requests have been refined to provide minimum disruption to busy council officers; at the same time, we hope that these requests, which are all for information that really should be available — energy standards for council-operated housing, for example, or numbers of staff members in climate-related roles — will encourage more proactive publication of data, so that it won’t need to be requested in future years.

    We’ve also been able to advise CE UK on forming good FOI requests that will surface the required information.

    Because of CE UK’s training strategy, we’re delighted that this knowledge will be passed on to their cohorts of volunteers, effectively informing a new tranche of citizens on how and why to use FOI responsibly.  They’ll be helping to classify the responses and compile useful datasets through our early-stage FOI collaboration tool.

    We’re proud to be supporting this important work from a climate perspective, too: councils have a crucial role to play in cutting emissions, and there’s an obvious public interest in how they go about doing so — how they allocate public funds, how effective their interventions are, and whether they are on track to reach carbon zero by their self-set deadlines.

    All in all, the small team at CE UK have embarked on a massive but vital task. Can it be done? Their approach, as always is: there’s only one way to find out, and that is to try it!

     —

    If you’re interested in helping out, there’s still time to apply to be a volunteer — closing date is this Thursday though, so hurry! You’ll be working from home, trained up via online webinars and then helping to collect data as part of this huge effort. Sounds good? More details are here.

  10. 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.