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.”
Below, I’ve clipped the blog of Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, who took part in one of the events set up chiefly to consult on the content of the draft Greater Manchester Climate Change Strategy. At the event, I ran a session on carbon metrics, beginning with the Windfall Game Cllr Leese describes.
The solution to the Windfall Game doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the fact that everyone who has taken part so far has instinctively included all the CO2 in the supply of the product or service we asked them to consider the impact of. Which is the point of the whole exercise.
So, I now feel even more confident in asserting that the consumption-based perspective is the most appropriate way of understanding our carbon footprint. It’s the one we instinctively use. No-one, asked to estimate the footprint of their flying to Barcelona, only includes the emissions from vehicle fuel for that part of their drive to the airport that takes place in their own authority, offsets it against the CO2 from the energy they save by not being at home, then excludes the flight emissions as these aren’t included in NI186 or national accounts. Yet that is the logic of the machinery and metrics that government has built at local and national level since Kyoto.
Why have we so meekly accepted the use of this perspective in policy-making? And is there still time to take the much more easily-understood consumption-based approach?
Fascinating meeting of the Environmental Advisory Panel yesterday evening which included a few guests from elsewhere in Greater Manchester as we were discussing the city-region’s climate change action plan. There was a challenging section on metrics.
Pretty much every climate change action plan including Manchester’s is based on reducing our direct emissions, challenging enough in itself. However, if you look at indirect emissions as well, the total emissions based on our carbon footprint, then the task becomes even more daunting. But fact is for the last couple of decades our direct emissions have been coming down largely because we have been exporting them, principally to the developing world. Not the path to a sustainable future.
The session on metrics began with a game. You have had a lucky windfall – a £1,000 to spend , and a choice of nine things to spend the whole thousand pounds on. Which has the lowest emissions? Not surprisingly, spending it on home energy efficiency measures scored best, and a European city-break ( travelling by air ) scored worst. In between, champagne socialists will be delighted to know, spending a grand on a champagne party for your family had far less emissions than buying a thousand pound bike, lap-top, or blowing it all on low cost clothes for the family. On this basis the Conservative Party might also like to re-consider their ban on champagne when their conference comes back to Manchester in the autumn.
I’ve held back from blogging on the moves to introduce an ‘official’ wellbeing or happiness measure, as I think of a new angle on the issue about twice a day, but it’s important stuff so I’ve decided to focus on one key point: that central government introducing a wellbeing/happiness measure is a great opportunity to embed localism.
Jo Swinson MP argues that the move is good for policy, good for democracy and of symbolic value. I’d like localists to go further: to ensure that the move is good for local policy, local democracy, and more than symbolic.
To do this, we need to start treating the new measures as paradigm changing. Instead, it feels to me as though the mainstream response has been a narrow one: that measuring wellbeing means that policy-makers will focus more on enhancing wellbeing, with the commentator’s view resting on whether or not they think that this is appropriate. So in what way is this stuff paradigm changing? As the Stiglitz Commission and others have ably demonstrated, relying on GDP as the main measure of a nation’s success is fatally flawed, for two main reasons. First, our success is about much more than economic success; second, GDP is flawed even as a measure of economic success. The PM’s adoption of much of this analysis in launching the initiative shows how mainstream this view has become and also, I hope, opens the door to a more radical interpretation of the move than I’ve described above. I’ve blogged about these ideas before for some time, so won’t repeat myself much here.
However, in respect of Stiglitz & co, we need to start by recognising the limitations of a wellbeing or happiness measure. The case for measuring wellbeing should not be simply that our current metrics are lacking a bit, but that our current metrics are fundamentally flawed, as they do not have a true understanding of our wealth. The Stiglitz Commission proposed measuring wealth in terms of a number of different capitals (natural, human, social and physical). Do this, and we can track our success much more effectively than we can by looking purely at the size of the economy.
This is not easy. There is much detail and many practicalities that are not yet clear, but it is the future, because we manage what we measure, and economic growth has now outstripped our planet’s ability to cope. But the cat is out of the bag; already, it is expected that wellbeing measures will be shot through the Treasury’s famous Green Book.
Jill Rutter, currently at the Institute for Government, suggests that the real test for wellbeing is whether explicitly incorporating it into policy making makes governments do different things, and adds that The Treasury looked at this a few years ago and concluded the answer was no. I think that this supports my argument; if it’s just seen as a clever piece of social research, or evidence to feed into some evidence-based policy, then we are limiting not only its scope, but its impact.
This sounds, though, like an argument about the national accounts; so why should localists argue this case?
First, a wealth measure such as that suggested by Stiglitz would gives us all the chance to understand how well our places are doing, which strikes at the heart of what local government is for. I’ve often said that the central duty of a local authority should be to secure the future viability of the place, and it seems to me that a capitals-based measure of wealth is a big part of measuring how well this is being done. Regeneration by shopping mall would make much less sense if decision-making were driven by a truer, more rounded definition of wealth.
Second, and linked, is the understanding – both unremarkable and unnoticed – that national wealth is the sum total of our local wealth. Given that these measures will be people-centred, is there really a case to be made that my wellbeing or happiness is different from a national or local (or sub-local) perspective? Surely not; I have different feelings about my neighbourhood, borough, city/county and nation but, as a citizen, I do not have a ‘national wellbeing’ and a separate ‘local wellbeing’.
If we work towards a capitals-based measure of wealth being both the core local and core national metric, then we will have solved the problem of top-down, centralised target setting for good. I don’t believe that this is pie in the sky. Look at Maryland, a US state which has introduced the GPI (genuine progress indicator), replacing GSP (gross state product) as the main measure of success.
So, for this opportunity to be realised, there are two main arguments to be made by localists. First, that the new measure should provide both local and national metrics, with a clear understanding that national wellbeing is the sum total of wellbeing in all localities; second, that a course should be explicitly charted towards such measures being part of the national accounts. These are achievable goals, it seems to me. But the case is not being made, as yet, by the local government family.
It’s important to look at the challenges, as has LGIU’s Jonathan Carr-West, but I believe that we can aim higher than this. We can see this as the vital first step to measuring our success and wealth at local level in a way that will: give local government and residents a holistic way of understanding our places’ success; in the long-term, drive the primacy of local indicators over centrally-driven ones; and, progressively, reward rounded, sustainable decision-making.