Step one for any council seeking to develop a climate action plan is to get a grip on its current emissions. But this isn’t as easy as it seems. This is where SCATTER comes in. It is fast becoming the ‘go to’ carbon modelling tool for local authorities.
Geoff Barnard recently caught up with Anthesis’ Matt Rooney to discuss the SCATTER tool, and how it can help local authorities to advance their climate emergency response.
What is SCATTER, and who is it for?
SCATTER (Setting City Area Targets and Trajectories for Emissions Reduction) is an emissions tool built to help local authority regions decarbonise. SCATTER provides local authorities and city regions with the opportunity to standardise their greenhouse gas reporting, align to international reporting frameworks, and to define and build the evidence base for pathways to emissions reduction in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.
SCATTER was developed by Anthesis, a sustainability consultancy, in close partnership with Nottingham City Council and climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. It was funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
SCATTER is free of charge to all local authorities in the UK and aims to ease the burden from resource stretched local authorities in developing a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and climate action plan, in response to the climate emergency.
Who has used SCATTER?
Over 200 UK local authorities have now used SCATTER, and it is quickly becoming the ‘go-to’ carbon modelling tool for UK authorities. Anthesis has also provided supplementary support to numerous councils in the South East, including County, District and Unitary councils. As one local example, Anthesis designed a citizen engagement session around the SCATTER outputs at Adur & Worthing’s Zero 2030 Conference back in March 2020.
What does it allow councils to do?
SCATTER supports councils to take the first steps towards more radical climate action. It provides a quantitative current and future baseline for emissions within a local authority region. In turn, this can inform the nature and extent of policies and actions that need to be subsequently designed. Despite SCATTER’s forward-looking nature, many users often refer to SCATTER as an ‘evidence base’ that supports and justifies the various conversations that need to occur across all council departments, elected members, businesses and citizens alike.
At a time where resources are more constrained than ever, SCATTER removes the need for in-house expert analysis or research time within the council. It can help accelerate and focus attention on the ‘how’ to implement rather than getting bogged down in the ‘what’, building consensus more quickly with stakeholders.
Previously, time would have been spent gathering data, making estimates and assumptions in order to construct a robust inventory and pathway for the borough. No other equivalent tool currently exists in the UK; and while other frameworks and templates exist internationally, there are very few that are actually pre-populated with data for the user in advance.
How does the tool work?
Sir David MacKay’s “Without Hot Air (2009)” underpins the basis for the pathways modelling. As a scientific advisor to the Department for Energy & Climate Change (DECC), now BEIS, MacKay’s work led to the development of the 2050 Pathways Calculator. An open-source, Microsoft Excel version of this tool was published by DECC, which was used as the foundation for SCATTER.
Two key modifications were made by Anthesis:
1) Scaling it down for sub-national regions: Scaling assumptions and localised data sets were built into the tool so that cities and local authorities can view results which are representative of their regions, rather than the UK as a whole. This activity and fuel consumption data are then converted into CO2e using the relevant carbon conversion factors, offering a more complete emissions inventory relative to the BEIS data.
2) Pushing ambition further: Technology specifications were reviewed and updated as they were judged to be out of date and constraining ambition. Given that almost a decade had passed since MacKay’s publication and the release of the 2050 Pathways tool, we sought the counsel of a technical panel to make these updates. The technical panel comprised subject matter experts from BEIS, Electricity North West, GMCA, The Business Growth Hub, Arup, The Energy Systems Catapult, The Tyndall Centre and Siemens. We also referred to feedback collated via the DECC 2050 Calculator Wiki page during the update, where various climate action groups had provided comment, such as Friends of the Earth.
SCATTER presents the user with options and choices in relation to the nature of the measures applied and the extent of ambition. The topic of local ‘influence’ can be a very subjective one (for certain measures at least); so, offering some flexibility in the measures applied has been valuable in engaging stakeholders with diverse opinions and stimulating constructive debate.
What prior knowledge do users need to make use of the tool?
SCATTER is intended for people who have no deep-technical understanding of emissions modelling, or indeed the type of measures that are required to reach net zero. No prior knowledge or additional data is required.
However, we have found that by using the SCATTER tool, users become more curious and want to understand more about some of the underlying technical assumptions and how this can be further simplified or contextualised within their borough. For this, Anthesis has a wide range of supplementary services to support local authorities, however, these are outside of the scope of the SCATTER tool.
Are there any examples of how the results have been used?
Yes, various authorities, such as Bath & North East Somerset, Cheshire West & Chester, Oxford, and Luton, have all published strategic plans that embed SCATTER thresholds. Similarly, Greater Manchester selected key SCATTER outputs to embed within their 5 Year Environment Plan. For example, metrics such as the MW of required additional installed capacity of renewables, the number of houses requiring retrofit, and the % shift required from cars to bikes and walking are all lifted directly from SCATTER.
We are continuously working to develop our services around stakeholder engagement and making these SCATTER outputs more understandable and accessible to users, and we are happy to share further examples upon request. One example of this is a flyer that we produced for school kids at an event last year – ironically, this proved extremely popular with politicians as well!
What are its current limitations?
It is important to recognise that no forward-looking model can be 100% accurate. Similarly, given the vast number of authorities that the tool seeks to cater for, the assumptions may not reflect some of the bespoke features of an authority. These may link to the geographical landscape of the region (e.g. potential for wind or hydropower), or the extent of progress made to date (e.g. the number of new developments being built to PassivHaus standards).
However, viewing SCATTER as a method by which to perform a ‘compare and contrast’ exercise against the local, current context is useful, and can still help authorities gauge whether they are near a trajectory to net zero.
A common feature of Anthesis’ supplementary support is to help Authorities better understand the local context and helping them to move from the ‘what’ towards the ‘how’ by defining practical actions. Additionally, the circumstances are unique whereby lots of authorities are attempting the same thing at a similar time; so we are keen to ensure that we serve as a conduit for knowledge and best practice sharing between authorities in the UK.
How can climate action groups make use of SCATTER?
It is critical that councils understand their borough’s current emissions trajectory and the radical scale of the action to reduce to net zero. From here, the council can then better explore their influence and how this could be further applied. Given that the tool is free, we would encourage action groups to:
- Raise council’s/councillor’s awareness of the SCATTER tool – it’s a free resource that they may not otherwise be aware of.
- Seek opportunities to engage with councils to discuss the SCATTER outputs – councils may not have all the answers as to ‘how’ best to implement the various measures that SCATTER suggests. This will require the support of various stakeholders in the borough to help innovate and develop meaningful solutions.
SCATTER extracts and data can be made available upon request to non-local authority users either via the council or Anthesis.
How do you sign up and try it out?
If you have a .gov email address, you can register and login via https://scattercities.com/. The tool is free to use for local authorities.
Further information and supplementary SCATTER and climate emergency support are available upon request via the SCATTER enquiry form or by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Rooney is Anthesis’ UK leader for sustainable cities and regions.