We Have Declared a Climate Crisis and Set a Date for Net-Zero. Now What?

The world has woken up to the threat of climate change. Local and national governments are now rushing to put plans into place to cut carbon emissions, reduce climate change, and adapt to the climate changes that are already certain to happen.

Across the world, 1,870 local governments in 33 countries have passed binding motions declaring a climate emergency. That covers 820 million citizens.

In the UK, 304 councils and 8 combined authorities/city regions have announced a climate emergency, representing 90% of the population.

More than 40 local leaders in the UK have committed to making their council operations net-zero by 2030 and to work with residents and businesses to bring their wider communities’ emissions to net-zero as soon as possible and by 2045 at the latest.

Networks like the C40 Cities are championing ambitious climate action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. With 97 cities covering 1 in 12 of the global population and 25% of GDP, they are a powerful force, promoting over 10,000 actions to combat climate change.

Political commitment to tackling climate change is essential, but it is not enough. Imagine you are part of the leadership team in a city that has declared a climate emergency and committed to net-zero. Announcing the emergency was the easy step. Now you must translate that into action, bringing that political will to bear on a complex and difficult set of problems.

Creating a workable transition plan is not easy. Data may be fragmentary or unavailable. You need to understand where your carbon emissions come from, how they flow, and where they end up. You need to know what assets you have to work with. What industries, skills, and natural resources are available? You must discover the biggest climate risks for your area. Is it flooding, impact on an older population, or damage to the economy? What are the constraints you must work within? What are the boundaries of practicality? What are the technical solutions available to tackle emissions, and what behaviour changes do you need your citizens to make?

We must do all this in a world where responsibility for different parts of the local system is in the hands of different authorities. Where budgets are allocated based on business as usual. Where costs hit one part of the system and the benefits are experienced somewhere else. Where choices may interact in unexpected ways, and decisions ripple out far beyond the place where they were made.

We need fresh ways to have these conversations. Bringing together the separate challenges and solutions in a form that is open and transparent.

Connected Places Catapult is working with several partners to solve this problem:

  • CDP runs a global disclosure system that allows cities, states and regions to identify and manage their environmental impacts.
  • Useful Projects are experts in sustainability in the built environment.
  • Space Syntax create urban planning and design strategies that deliver sustainable spatial, land use and transport networks
  • Energy Systems Catapult is an independent centre of excellence, accelerating the transformation of the UK energy system towards net-zero.

Together with Local Authorities and City Governments we are developing a Net-Zero Framework for decision makers. It will help assemble and test evidence, provide comparisons with similar places, and identify and value the co-benefits of reduced emissions.

One key task of the framework is to allow the implications of different choices to be shared between technical experts, political leaders, and the populations they serve.

That is our ambition for a Net-Zero Framework, but there are also things the framework will not do. It is not an automatic system that you feed with information and it spits out the ‘correct’ solution. Instead, it will support people to make complex decisions, not to replace them. It will not be one tool to rule them all. There are many detailed models for various infrastructure systems. The Net-Zero Framework will not replace them, it will enable us to use them more effectively, integrating them into the overall planning and decision process. Helping to create robust and viable transition plans that meet the needs of all the stakeholders.

Are you interested in sharing your insights on Net-Zero? If you’d like to let us know about some of the projects you’re working on in this space, please email richard.miller@cp.catapult.org.uk

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