FINANCE

New approach to Council Climate Action Scorecards is launched

Annie Pickering explains what’s changed in the updated Council Climate Action Scorecards methodology.

Benchmarking council climate action has limited use if it's only a one-time activity. Today, Climate Emergency UK, have published our updated draft methodology for assessing all UK councils on their climate action in the second edition of the Council Climate Action Scorecards, which will be published in Summer 2025.

The clock is ticking. Five years on from councils declaring climate emergencies from 2019 and six years until the tipping point of 2030, there has been some progress. But as our 2023 Action Scorecards demonstrated with councils scoring an average of 32%, further action to tackle the climate and ecological emergencies is still sorely needed, which is why we continue to measure UK councils on their progress towards net zero.

Over the past six months, we reviewed the methodology in consultation with council representatives, previous Scorecard markers and sector experts who gave feedback and suggested changes to the methodology. Our updated Advisory Group provided another, detailed level of review on the proposed amendments. The updated draft methodology incorporates this feedback and ensures the questions are clearer and more accurate in understanding council climate action. The majority of questions remain the same as 2023, and the key amendments are covered below.

So far, one in five councils are using and referencing the Scorecards in committee meetings, reports or in their own press releases. This is exciting, and we hope that the next Scorecards will provide further guidance and support, especially as the results from the next Scorecards will help track progress made (as most of the questions remain the same from 2023). 

New questions

The biggest change is that we've added four new questions to the Scorecards. These questions cover; if councils have introduced a Green Spaces Factor to increase green infrastructure in new development; if councils have costed corporate building estate decarbonisation plans and targets, and; if councils provide a way for staff - via trade unions or otherwise - to engage with the councils' decarbonisation plans. The fourth new question covers the percentage of electric buses in regional bus fleets and is only applicable to combined authorities.

In Transport, the most significant update is on the questions about council clear air or low emissions zones. The questions remain unchanged, but for councils that do not score penalty marks for having high NO2 levels in more than 25% of their neighbourhoods, they will be exempt from this question. This nuance is likely to exempt many rural councils from these questions, logical as a council is unlikely to introduce a clean air zone where air pollution levels are not a huge concern.

Updates to the valid dates for evidence

We have updated the dates for the evidence we are looking for. To measure continued climate action, we will now look for evidence from 1st January 2020, not 2019, and up until Autumn 2024. For questions requiring up to date evidence, for example, if the council has released an annual climate report, this is now updated to be from 2023.

In Governance & Finance we have amended the question on councils reporting on their own carbon emissions so that if a council has only started measuring their annual emissions since 2020 or 2021, as long as there is two years of data, of any years, between 2019 and 2024, this is now valid. This allows councils who started measuring their emissions later than 2019 can gain marks here. But total emission reductions for councils' own operations is still benchmarked from 2019, keeping this question comparable and standardised across councils.

FOIs and question weighting

The number of Freedom of Information requests we send is the same, with one being removed and replaced with another. We're not sending an FOI to ask whether council's have approved a carbon intensive energy system because we'll now use the extensive Drill or Drop database. The new FOI is for the new question in Collaboration and Engagement about whether the council provides a way for staff - via trade unions or otherwise - to engage with a councils' decarbonisation plans.

Most question weightings haven't changed, although there are some small tweaks. For example, following the Waste Reduction and Food consultation we switched the weighting of the recycling and residual waste questions, weighting how high a council's recycling rate is as ‘low' and the council's residual waste per household rate as ‘medium'. This was done to better reflect the reality that an overall reduction in waste produced is more significant than simply recycling more of the waste.

Now the draft methodology is published we will move onto creating the second edition of the Action Scorecards. The three-stage marking process remains the same, and will begin later this Summer. So, this is the perfect time for councils to read the updated methodology, and make sure those important reports and evidence of their climate action is publicly accessible before we start marking.

You can read the updated methodology here and for further insight councils are invited to attend an online briefing on 5 June, register here.

Annie Pickering is Climate Emergency UK co-director

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