Shaping Low-Carbon Communities: new metrics, new thinkingby Warren HatterIt seems wrong to criticise the Climate Change Ac...
County Council.2 If you have seen breakdowns of local authority areafootprints before, you will recognise that this provid...
These two approaches are, of course, linked. Letʼs consider some briefexamples.First, in all places, most progress made ha...
This will become more and more important, as ability to emit becomesscarcer. The Lake District National Park Authority has...
Warren Hatter is a Researcher and Advisor on climate change, behaviourchange, local leadership and innovation. He set up R...
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Shaping low carbon communities

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Why local government needs to become expert at understanding and tackling our total carbon footprint, not just the small portion we currently work on. And why local carbon budgets can help. Full version of Warren's chapter in Solace Foundation Imprint.

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Shaping low carbon communities

  1. 1. Shaping Low-Carbon Communities: new metrics, new thinkingby Warren HatterIt seems wrong to criticise the Climate Change Act; it is, after all, a world-leading piece of legislation. Yet the way it is framed has limited the scope fornational and local action to reduce emissions, and encouraged localgovernment to take a constrained view of the change required and of its ownrole.Yes, we are committed as a nation to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050,the minimum demanded by the science if we are to play our part; yes, theCoalition Government has reaffirmed its support for the UK Carbon Budgetsput in place to support this commitment; and, yes, it is widely recognised thatthis level of emissions reduction entails radical changes in housing, energyand transport. New, and more honest, approaches, though, are now emergingwhich enable authorities to take a wider view of what is required, and tounderstand how the places we shape have to differ from todayʼs reality. Itturns out that the challenge is to shape a low carbon economy, in everysense, for every locality.Metrics so farMany processes were put in place to enable authorities to respond to thedemands of the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan and to measure progresswithin the previous governmentʼs performance framework. These, however,have a major failing. By using only production-based measures (that is,counting the actual emissions in any place, plus the emissions due to theenergy used there), rather than consumption-based measures (also countingthe emissions ʻembeddedʼ in all the goods and services residents of a placebuy and use), we have dodged plenty of lifestyle-related issues until now, andkidded ourselves that UK emissions are falling. In reality, our carbon footprintas a nation has been increasing; but we have ʻoff-shoredʼ much of our CO2,particularly to China1 and the proportion of our footprint we donʼt account for isnow around half of the total. This self-deception will not last, at local, nationalor international level.This perspective in policy has meant that there has been no policy imperativeto act on half of our carbon footprint. This, coupled with the lack of honestmetrics, has been a major barrier to strategic, place-based approaches fordeveloping low-carbon futures.Emerging metricsThe next step in carbon metrics for local government is to estimate theconsumption-based footprint, and act on it. A small number of authorities isdoing this; below is the breakdown of the carbon footprint of the average WestSussex resident (and therefore, of the County), estimated for West Sussex                                                                                                                1  Brinkley,  A  &  Less,  S  (2010),  Carbon  Omissions,  Policy  Exchange    
  2. 2. County Council.2 If you have seen breakdowns of local authority areafootprints before, you will recognise that this provides a much richer, andmore wide-ranging, understanding. The Carbon Footprint of West Sussex Residents Source: West Sussex County Council / Small World ConsultingBefore indicating how this perspective can help, it is worth pointing out that itmakes much more sense to people than existing measures. If you wereinterested in the carbon footprint of a product you buy, you wouldnʼt think ofdiscounting those parts of the supply chain outside of your administrativearea. Yet this is exactly what policy-makers have been doing for years.How does this perspective help, though? First, it gives us a framework onwhich to map current carbon reduction policies and, significantly, see whichsegments are not addressed. Second, by understanding the demand side(behavioural) issues and supply side issues (including infrastructure) whichcause the footprint, we have a starting point for imagining, and workingtowards, a genuinely low carbon place.                                                                                                                2  For  the  national  average,  see  Berners-­‐Lee,  M  (2010),  How  Bad  Are  Bananas?,  Profile  Books  
  3. 3. These two approaches are, of course, linked. Letʼs consider some briefexamples.First, in all places, most progress made has been on those emissionsincluded in the ʻproduction-basedʼ measures we have used until now, and thisis continuing. For example, feed-in tariffs for PV panels and the Green Dealmake it possible to construct financial packages which are beneficial toresidents and authorities, though there is a real need to build high-level,expert capacity to deal with the financial and legal issues involved in the sortof large-scale investment required.Second, working strategically to improve procurement, both within the publicsector and beyond, is one response to an understanding of the carbon impactof supply chains. The evidence is that driving carbon from supply chainsreduces costs to a greater extent than simply saving energy, providing localbusinesses with competitive advantages, and enabling the local public sectorto both reduce costs and lead by example.Third, when residentsʼ leisure flights represent a significant proportion of thetotal footprint, this can be seen as an opportunity to promote local leisure andʻstaycationsʼ. Success would put more money in the local economy andbenefit from the local multiplier effect3, as well as giving residents the chanceto have lower stress, longer holidays. Links can be made with other importantagendas such as developing local food and local sustainable transport.These are just three examples among many prompted by the analysis. Lookat any of the segments, analyse the cause of the current footprint, and anarray of opportunities is there for any authority shaping a low carbon futurewith its partners. This approach also provides a structure for estimating thecarbon impact of initiatives and investments being considered, taking intoaccount all aspects of the areaʼs footprint that might be affected.Local carbon budgetsIf this kind of perspective helps local authorities focus on the realities ofemissions reduction, it also helps make the case for local carbon budgets.Since August 2009, the UK has had carbon budgets: a finite amount of CO2to ʻspendʼ across UK activities. At the moment, government departments areaccountable to Parliament for different parts of the total budget; this can beseen as the other main flaw in the way policy and metrics are set out.The clearest example for this is that accountability for the ʻhomes andcommunitiesʼ carbon budget is shared between CLG, DECC, Defra and BIS;none sits with local authorities. Yet a place-based analysis tells us that thetrade-offs required to reduce emissions significantly year-on-year for decadeswill often be local, not national. How could the local authority run or ʻconveneʼcarbon budget decisions locally?                                                                                                                3  Sacks,  J  (2002)  The  Money  Trail,  New  Economics  Foundation  
  4. 4. This will become more and more important, as ability to emit becomesscarcer. The Lake District National Park Authority has developed a localcarbon budget with partners, and both West Sussex County Council and LBHaringey are working towards one, while Friends of the Earth has receivedconsiderable senior support within local government for its campaign for localcarbon budgets4; this requires close collaboration with partners, residents,businesses and civil society.Vision and narrativeWhen we try to grasp the need to rapidly reduce the current level of emissionsin the locality, the need for a vision of a low-carbon place is clear. Someauthorities, working with partners, have begun to develop these, and there area number of techniques that can be used. The most difficult aspect is findingnarratives to present a low-carbon future that does not sound overtly twee orʻhairshirtʼ. How can we imagine a future that factors in the values andexpectations – such as privacy and choice – that we have come to expect inthe developed world?LifestylesThis is the most challenging area for local government. We are getting used tohaving a pro-active role in initiatives to change behaviour, for examplepromoting modal shift towards more sustainable forms of transport away fromcar use. However, addressing the fact that half of the emissions for which weare responsible as individuals is due to manufacturing and consumption is nomean feat. You will struggle to find an elected member who is comfortablewith ʻtelling people how to live their livesʼ. But, along with all tiers ofgovernment and all sectors, we have to start engaging at this level, workingout how to make it normal to buy less, share more, and repair not replace. +++++++With radically reduced resources, local government is in the process of re-designing services to support resilient communities, individuals and families –the only way a big society can thrive. I see very little difference between thereality of a sustainable, low-carbon community and the sort of communitydescribed by those leading on the re-design of local services and governance.For example, a resilient community will be sheltered from food and energyinsecurity, will have strong capacity and social capital, and waste little. Thatsounds like a low-carbon, sustainable place.These are the places of the future. In local government, we can help createthem.                                                                                                                4  See  Friends  of  the  Earth  Briefing:  Local  Carbon  Budgets  (December  2010)  
  5. 5. Warren Hatter is a Researcher and Advisor on climate change, behaviourchange, local leadership and innovation. He set up Ripple PRD in 2006, andhas held director-level positions with the Local Government Unit at marketresearchers MORI, the New Local Government Network think tank and thesustainability charity Forum for the Future. He blogs atwww.warrenhatter.amplify.com.

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