Here’s the full version of an article I wrote for the recent SOLACE Foundation Imprint on Local Government and Climate Change. My chapter (theme: new metrics, new thinking) had to be edited at the last minute, so a useful graphic, and the summary, were missing from the published version. This version, I think, tells the story a bit better.I’ve embedded the full article below. Have a look, and let me know what you think.
By me, from my old-fashioned website.
I did this diagram with Ian Christie that lots of people have found helpful. So I wanted to share it more widely. So I built an article for a SOLACE Foundation Imprint around it.
But the article was on hold for a year, and I had to put in a more recent diagram. So I’m sharing a cut of the original article. One year late. But I still think it’s helpful.
(By the way, the real thing is out next week; I’ve developed some of the thinking below).
shaping low-carbon communities (the pre-mix)
Friday, 1 July 2011
Next week, SOLACE will be publishing its latest Foundation Imprint on climate change. This will include a chapter of mine which focuses on consumption-based metrics and carbon budgets. It’s more intuitive, more fun and more of an opportunity for local government than you might think.
The thing is, all the contributors first wrote their chapters a year ago. So when publication was back on, a lot of time had passed, and I made plenty of amendments, to include the most up-to-date thinking and approaches. This meant that, regrettably, I removed a section that I really wanted to see the light of day, particularly the diagram that Ian Christie and I worked on together to help decision-makers get a clear perspective on carbon, and help them take a broader perspective. So here it is, instead:
“It pays to go back to first principles to see what emissions targets really mean for a local authority, because it makes us raise our sights from the processes that were put in place to enable authorities to respond to the demands of the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan and the previous government’s performance framework. I have often argued that local government needs to avoid treating climate change as ‘just another agenda’, on a par with the dozens of other agendas we work on. There are a number of reasons why this is important, not least the consequences of failure.
One approach that can help raise members’ and officers’ sights – and help establish a place-based understanding – is to visualise the emissions in the authority area. This can be done in a number of ways; the diagram below shows one way, focusing on responsibility. It seeks to outline who is responsible for the emissions in the locality. For the sake of readability, it exaggerates the size of the council’s own emissions and those of public sector partners: typically, an authority will be directly responsible for 1-2% of emissions and the total impact of the local state (including what it procures) is a little over 10%. So Zone B in the diagram represents nearly 90% of emissions.
Emissions in a place: who’s responsible?
Having a place-based understanding of emissions helps in a number of ways. Below are a number of reflections from recent discussions with leading members and officers.
Many readers will be well versed in the principles of adaptive leadership. At an organisation level, this makes sense in dealing with emissions reduction: it hasn’t been done before; relying purely on technical solutions would miss many important aspects; and serious innovation and realignment is needed. But the diagram above shows how the leadership required needs to be projected to the community level. SOLACE Enterprises’ Leading On Climate Change, a course which sets out to develop the new types of leadership skills required to address climate change, focuses on how ‘community-wide adaptive leadership’ can work. There is already some excellent community engagement in places (some Transition Towns, for example), but people involved often feel marginalised. One of the challenges right now is to join up the people who already want a low-carbon place to happen; Islington’s Climate Change Partnership is a good example.
Infrastructure, behaviour change and capacity
Zone B of the diagram is difficult territory for local government (despite some successes addressing emissions with businesses, landlords, community groups and others), but in some respects simplifies the challenge: we do not have the technology to enable us to maintain current lifestyles and reduce emissions at the required rate. So we need to see both major behaviour change and major change in infrastructure, to enable low-carbon choices to be made.
The infrastructural challenge is starting to be grasped. For example, feed-in tariffs for PV panels make it possible to construct financial packages which are beneficial to residents and authorities, as well as the banks. Developing the skills and capacity on which a low-carbon economy can be built is an urgent part of the challenge, being grasped now in London, Greater Manchester and elsewhere.
On behaviour change, however, we are at a fork in the road in local government. There is plenty of good work leading behaviour change towards low-carbon lifestyle; in West Sussex alone, there are around ten pro-environmental initiatives supported by the County Council. And there is plenty of theory and research now being produced, such as the recent Mindspace report. But hardly anyone in local government has behaviour change in their job description, and there is very little practice transfer or sharing of evidence. So we can either begin to professionalise local government’s work on behaviour change, setting up the networks and capacity building that will enable us to be more effective and scale our efforts, or we can continue to leave it to the wilful individuals who currently take the lead.
In my view, the perspective we get from this sort of analysis is timely. The sort of solutions we need to put in place to enable genuinely low-carbon living in our localities are completely consistent with the solutions we are now developing to deal with rapidly reducing funding for public services.
With radically reduced resources, through place-based budgeting and other innovation, local government is in the process of re-designing services to support resilient communities, individuals and families – the big society. I see very little difference between the reality of a sustainable, low-carbon community and the sort of resilient community described by those re-designing local services. For example, a resilient community will be sheltered from food and energy insecurity, will have strong capacity and social capital, and waste little. That sounds like a low-carbon, sustainable place.
These are the places of the future. In local government, we can help create them.”