Understanding the “Social” Science behind Carbon budgeting – a mid term reflection

Edited on 25/01/2022

In May 2020 phase 2 of the Zero Carbon Cities embarked on the challenge of developing their own Carbon budgets aided by the URBACT methodology.

This adventure coincided with lockdowns throughout Europe and the end of face-to-face meeting.

Within the ZCC network we had already planned online meetings for our sub-theme gatherings as reducing Carbon for travel is essential to the underlying values of our network, nevertheless it did substantially impact the local gathering of actors to build a “carbon budget” culture.

The journey of the ZCC exchange in a nutshell
When it comes to the exchange of key technical data it is very important that this capacity is at the Municipal level or with a structure that works closely with the municipality - such as a local or regional agency. In the case of Zero Carbon Cities Lead Partner, the key knowledge around Carbon budgeting was in the hands of two external consultants and with a key member of the Manchester Climate Change Agency who over the years had been working together to establish science-based carbon reduction targets in Manchester.
 With the Masterclass being managed online and split into shorter sessions and extended over a much longer time period - instead of a focussed exchange over two to three days – this resulted in the other members of the network being entirely dependent on the availability of these consultants – creating a bottleneck to the smooth transfer of information and no possibility to have a real collective hand-over of the knowledge.
This transfer of information was further delayed in some cities where they did not have the internal capacity to work directly on the carbon budget for their city.
These combined factors meant that there has not been any genuine dialogue on the topic of science-based targets with online meetings further limiting the natural interaction between participants.
Despite these above-mentioned constraints the ZCC network has been able to deliver a programme of learning activities for cities to create their own science-based Carbon budgets – with a clear guide now available and clear findings and several notable achievements that are highlighted below.   
Moreover, following the first cities needs analyses, the exchange went far beyond just working on Carbon budgets with dedicated online session on sub-themes such as the mobilisation of actors to develop ambitious climate strategies – a key aspect of the URACT methodology . This indicates that if a science-based approach is needed, it is primarily to start a sound and well-grounded dialogue locally, away from national debates and controversy. The exercise is more important to have a real conversation about sharing the targets and responsibility with stakeholders than for a detailed prospective exercise.
It is important to first identify some specificities of the Zero Carbon Cities (ZCC) Action Planning Network. All the ZCC partner cities are signatories of the Covenant of Mayors and have a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP) for 2030.
The Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM) is now the largest and most well-established mechanism in the world for engaging and supporting cities to act on climate change. Within the EU ‘chapter’ of GCoM there are now over 8,800 members. To date it has provided an invaluable tool for driving and inspiring climate change action. However, with the establishment of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, its approach to target setting required updating. The current EU chapter has required that signatories commit to at least a 40% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030 and commit to support a carbon neutral EU by 2050. This approach seeks to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s aim, reiterated at COP26, to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and it encourages cities to look at more extensive and faster reductions in CO2 emissions. It has also become increasingly well-recognised that cities need to set local ‘science-based targets’ to provide a more accurate picture of the level of CO2 reduction required. Science-based targets work on the basis that there is a finite amount of carbon that society can emit until 2100 if the world is to stay within a 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. This finite amount is typically described as a ‘carbon budget’ and can be calculated at different levels, from global/UN, to EU, to individual Member States, to regions, to cities, to business sectors or communities, to individual businesses or citizens.
Therefore, at the start of the project all the partner cities took on the new challenge to establish science-based climate-change targets and do this with the help of the Manchester methodology in order to be more ambitious and inclusive in their planning of an IAP.
We started the journey with 7 cities and lost one along the way!
One of the key challenges for the partner cities was the confusion created around these two similar processes – the Covenant SECAP and the URBACT IAP focussing on promoting Science-based targets via Carbon budgeting. Partners were confused about the purpose of the IAP since they already had an action plan in place in the form of a SECAP. In the city of Tartu, further confusion was created around their commitment to participate in another similar EU initiative called the 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030. For Tartu they were able to combine these processes.
In the city of Frankfurt the timing of the URBACT process and the development of the IAP was very difficult to ensure complementarity with existing official sustainable energy city planning processes. This lack of complementarity combined with the loss of a key staff member at a critical phase of stage two resulted in them leaving the project.
Here are some initial conclusions to be drawn from the Carbon budgeting experience in ZCC cities;
  • Timing is key: launching a new framework for climate planning when other already exist and are well embedded is very difficult. It is even more complicated because the EU’s own targets have moved from 40% reduction of GHG in 2030  to 55%. Cities are unable to carry out multiple detailed and ambitious  planning exercises within a few years.( the other example is the launch of the Mission 100 climate neutral cities, which is setting a new horizon and which Tartu is following
  •  The carbon budgeting approach should have been seen more as a means to mobilise widely (communication campaign) than a pure planning tool
  • Not only has the EU ambition increased in pure GHG numbers, now the EU is also speaking about the ecological footprint, and the focus on Carbon is in a way already too restricted for the planning (launch of the Green Accord : https://ec.europa.eu/environment/green-city-accord_en) . Planning requires proper means and capacity: when a city can rely on an agency for the data and the expertise, the process is sound. Building up such a process internally is possible but requires time, in the end duration of the ZCC Network has not been sufficient to build existing capacity and results in all the partner cities.
  • Beyond data and expertise, the two cities with success can count also on “hybrid” structures that also have the mission to mobilise diverse stakeholders: this is a key finding and a trend that is also observed beyond the ZCC network, and worth further investigating the question of  how transformation agencies are able to strengthen climate partnerships”
  • Extremely powerful result of the Manchester new “mandate” is to build on, collectively, a new identity for the city, an identity embedded within the strong industrial roots of the city but taking on the new climate challenge: this is a path to further explore and deploy in other ZCC cities
  • The project did allow all partner cities to identify important data gaps and means of methodologies to  fill them. As having an accurate description of the starting point of a city is a prerequisite to any meaningful planning, we believe this is a major outcome of the ZCC project.
Below are some key highlights and achievements from the partner cities:
 Modena and Manchester are the two cities that have been able to progress the most because of the extra capacity and skills they have in the form of a local Agency providing support and expertise.
Modena: tripling participation with digital prowess
In Modena the digital challenge was turned into a unique opportunity to involve three times the number of stakeholders than the other cities.
The City of Modena is supported by two agencies: AMO – Agency for Mobility on planning and monitoring local public transport services - and AESS - Agency for Energy and Sustainable Development - a non-profit association and Energy Saving Company primarily involved in the promotion of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, and in the support of ecological transition among local authorities and the private sector. 

The city of Modena worked hand-in-hand with their Regional Energy Agency (AESS) to constitute the Modena ULG with a total of more than 30 local bodies (about 80 people), both from internal and external members of the city administration, working in the fields of environment, agriculture and food, education and culture, housing, finance, industry, health, transport, water management and multi-utilities. The group grew progressively over the course of the project: starting with the ‘usual suspects’ (stakeholders with whom the City Administration is used to dialogue during the development of local strategies) and was expanded to include other entities who are not often part of strategic planning. An interactive map of the ULG, with names and features of each participant, can be viewed at: https://kumu.io/frapoli/ulg-modena-zero-carbon-cities. 

The Regional Agency, who over the years have developed comprehensive skills in online facilitation and further inspired by the online tools presented during the e-university, were ideally placed to ensure that the Modena ULG were able to actively develop a common vision for Modena by 2050. They made use of a visioning and backcasting technique to envision the desired future and learn from that future what would become necessary when it comes to system innovation. It is a technique that proved to be very effective when having a long-term and complex challenge, the pathway of which is full of uncertainties and possibilities as a consequence of the systemic context, with multiple stakeholders interwoven with each other, and a context also interplaying with them)

By applying this tool, the ULG was able to plan actions equipped with a global overview of the milestones to achieve, coupled with their feasibility and the influence to put on them to happen. This pathway of milestones allowed us to elaborate a set of 21 actions divided into three main themes: mobility, energy and agroecology.

Manchester deepening carbon budgeting towards new identity

Manchester City Council works with an independent agency, Manchester Climate Change Agency (MCCA), which is responsible for co-ordinating and advising on the city’s response to the climate crisis. The City Council was instrumental in the establishment of the Agency, building on a long-standing collaborative partnership approach with many core organisations through an initiative called ‘Manchester – A Certain Future’. The Agency also works closely with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. Since its inception in 2015, the Agency has brought together the major sectors of the city and in 2018 formally established the Manchester Climate Change Partnership (MCCP, and known as the Partnership) as the principal leadership mechanism for engaging on climate change in the city.

In February 2020, the Agency published the Manchester Climate Change Framework 2020-25 Version 1.0 (Framework 1.0). Framework 1.0 sets out Manchester’s latest science-based targets and the high-level strategy for achieving them. The document was subsequently endorsed by Manchester City Council on behalf of the city as a whole in March 2020. In mid-2021, the Agency started working on an updated Framework 2.0 or IAP in order to provide a much more detailed evidence base and actions to deliver on its high-level strategy and to try and reach its challenging 2025 carbon budget target.

To support the direct delivery of the Framework refresh (IAP) Manchester launched a new community engagement programme on climate change in May 2021, called “In Our Nature”.

A vital part of the programme is to enable people to “Have your say” on climate action across the city, including participation in the Community Assembly on Climate change and through an online and face-to-face Consultation on the Refreshed Framework. Both directly feed into the development of the Framework 2.0.by providing a narrative and a “Mandate” of climate actions, developed by residents that call upon the city leaders to act upon.

All materials from all the workshops, as well as films from each speaker were made available as open source to anyone on this Commonplace link: https://zerocarbonmanchester.commonplace.is/proposals/in-our-nature-community-assembly/step1

For the final 2 events they invited all the participants to develop the final “Mandate on

Climate Action”; all actions in the Climate Change Mandate are here: https://res.cloudinary.com/commonplace-digital-limited/image/upload/v1633687544/projects/zerocarbonmanchester/workshops/Mandate_Upload.pdf

Specific Actions advocated include:

Rapid push towards locally generated renewable energy with storage batteries for things like electric cars,

A climate friendly labelling scheme for our food,

Manchester as a Palm Oil free city,

Pedestrianisation of Manchester City Centre,

Local hub energy efficiency advice and information on financing retrofitting,

A green jobs scheme to train local people to support the retrofit programme for our homes,

More initiatives that encourage greener and more connected neighbourhoods, where people are happier to walk or cycle and feel safe and supported to do so.

Finally, the residents voted on what the artistic representation of the Mandate would be – which was a Manchester Green Bee, symbolising the same industrious city but with our zero carbon aims and resilience at its heart.

Submitted by Laura McIntosh on 25/01/2022
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Laura McIntosh

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