Agreeing ambitious targets is an essential first step in getting on top of climate change. But how do councils then proceed to ensure that climate considerations are embedded in real world decision making within their complex organisations? Hampshire County Council has been leading from the front in coming up with innovative solutions. They have developed two Excel-based climate ‘Decision Tools’ for use by the Council covering both adaptation and mitigation. In this article, Chitra Nadarajah explains how they work and the thinking behind them.
What are the targets set by Hampshire County Council?
Hampshire County Council declared a climate emergency in July 2019 and set two targets; firstly to be carbon neutral by 2050, and secondly, to build resilience to the impacts of a two-degree Celsius rise in temperature across Hampshire. These dual targets were agreed unanimously by the authority in January 2020, recognising the critical role we have in ensuring that not only are we resilient and able to continue to deliver our services, but that our infrastructure, environment, and communities are prepared too. Because of this, we believe that resilience must be at the very core of our response to climate change and is why we have included it as one of our two targets.
How will the County Council deliver against its targets?
Having set these challenging targets, the Council has followed them up by publishing a Climate Change Strategy, a detailed Action Plan covering the whole organisation, and a “Framework for Strategic Programmes”.
To support this work, two innovative Climate Change Decision tools have been developed by Hampshire County Council in partnership with the Carbon Trust. The tools are intended to be used to raise awareness of climate change across all departments of the County Council, and offer an innovative way of embedding climate change thinking into everything we do. Together with subsequent impact assessment support they will offer a transparent and robust way recording and monitoring process of how climate change is considered across the whole authority.
What are the two Climate Change Decision tools?
- The Adaptation Tool will assess how multiple climate variables, such as extreme weather and flooding, can impact the management and finance of projects.
- The Mitigation Tool will assess a project’s direct and associated carbon emissions, providing information on where carbon emissions need to be reduced.
The tools will act as a guide, allowing officers to build their knowledge and understanding of how to take account of and contribute to the climate change targets.
How they work
Both tools are presented as Excel spreadsheets that the user works through in a step-by-step process, from an instructions tab, through to inputs and a summary tab. As the tools have been designed to be intuitive and easy to use, the user does not need to be an expert on climate change; they are only required to be knowledgeable about their own project. In this sense, the more information the user puts into the tools, the greater the quality of the outputs produced.
Before using the tools, the user is asked a series of simple questions, via a decision tree, to see if their project needs to be assessed by the tool. If the project does not need assessment, the user is then required to explain this in the output section of the tools.
Decision tree for the Adaptation tool
For the Adaptation Tool, users answer multiple questions on whether their project would be affected by several climate variables, such as heatwaves and flooding, by select either ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘partially’ from a series of drop-down menus. This produces a vulnerability score, which is used alongside qualitative summaries to provide a variety of outputs.
The climate variables used within the Adaptation Tool were chosen based on data from the Met Office’s UKCP18 climate projections, which highlighted the key climate variables most likely to impact the south east of the UK. To ensure all potential climate variables are considered, the user also has the option to assess an additional climate variable not covered by the tool.
Inputs in the Adaptation Tool
For the carbon Mitigation Tool, users select their project area from a pre-defined list based upon our Climate Change Strategy’s key sectors, such as transport and waste, reflecting our commitment to our Strategic Priorities. By inputting simple details about a project, estimates for carbon emissions and reductions are calculated by the tool. As the tool cannot feasibly capture all sources of carbon emissions, users are also able to qualitatively explain how carbon impacts are being considered within the scope of the project.
From the data entered, graphs are produced from each tool, which compare Hampshire County Council’s corporate Strategic Priorities with the project’s carbon impacts and its vulnerability score.
Graphical output from the Adaptation Tool (strategic alignment score on X axis, vulnerability impact score on Y axis)
Help sheets were also created to provide examples of where projects could be vulnerable to climate variables or produce carbon emissions. These were made to help users who may not have detailed knowledge of climate change still make a considered assessment of projects.
Altogether, the qualitative summaries and graph outputs from the tools will form a climate change impact assessment section of all decision reports across the County Council.
Graphical output from the Mitigation tool (strategic alignment score on X axis, carbon impact on Y axis)
How do the tools help users make decisions?
Completing the tools at the project initiation stage enables project leads to identify where projects may be vulnerable to climate change and produce high carbon emissions. This shows users where adjustments to the project may be required, to achieve the best outcomes for both the aims of the project and its climate change impacts. Users can then repeat the process by using the tools at a later stage, with outputs from the tools illustrating the improvements to the project, via a reduction in carbon emissions and/or a reduction in its vulnerability score to climate variables.
For example, a school building and infrastructure project was assessed by the adaptation tool. From this, it was found that extreme heat had a high risk to the future resilience of the school buildings, which had not previously been considered as a high-risk priority. Subsequently, the potential heat risk to this site was included in future work on the project.
Summary of Vulnerability for Oakmoor Academy from the Adaptation tool
What were the challenges in making the tools?
The biggest difficulty was the need for the tools to be ‘one-size-fits-all’ and be applicable across all of the diverse services in the County Council, from Highways to Adults’ Health and Care, whilst still being useful in assessing climate implications.
For the Adaptation Tool, this meant using broad questions about how projects would be affected by climate variables, encouraging analysis and deeper consideration into how projects could be vulnerable to climate impacts. With simple ‘yes/no’ answers, this kept the tool user-friendly without requiring expertise in climate science.
The main challenge for the Mitigation Tool was the potentially infinite number of different projects which would require carbon emissions calculations. To overcome this, the carbon emissions calculations are based upon the Strategic Priorities set out in our Climate Change Strategy. This identified the key sectors which would contribute the most significant carbon emissions and then identifying which projects within those sectors to include in the carbon assessment.
What have been the achievements from implementing these tools?
The implementation of the tools has been fully supported by senior management, staff, and Members at Hampshire County Council, highlighting the clear understanding for the need to consider climate change in everything that we do.
Project leads have been highly motivated to use the tools, seeing them as adding value to their projects, despite the additional time commitment. Feedback from the pilot has shown that the process has helped develop a deeper understanding of how climate change can be embedded into our thinking and included as a factor in all future projects. Going forward, the tools will support innovation in how we maximise the opportunities to become resilient and reduce our climate impacts.
What are your Next Steps?
Following the pilot phase, the tools will be implemented across the whole authority from April 2021. A dedicated SharePoint site will be created for users to download the tools, alongside detailed written and animated how-to guides, and case studies, to support users. A monitoring process will also be established to ensure all outcomes of the tools are captured to support the annual progress reporting of the Climate Change Action Plan.
Chitra Nadarajah is Strategic Team Manager, Climate Change, within the Department of Economy, Transport and Environment at Hampshire County Council. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org