A science based approach to action

Mark Whitworth, Sustainability and Climate Change Service Manager at Sheffield City Council, describes how the local authority and a new Green City Partnership Board are developing a robust science based plans to achieve net zero carbon by 2030.

What prompted you to make changes?

Our local authority has a stated ambition to achieve net zero carbon by 2030. In developing a plan to reach this point, we knew it was important to act at pace, but also to be science led and have a strong evidence base to support us in building the business case for the interventions we will need to deliver, both as a Council and across the wider city.

Who was involved with this work?

Our Green City Partnership Board includes other public sector partners such as our universities and the Clinical Commissioning Group, partners from the private sector and representatives from climate change campaign groups and third sector organisations including Community Energy England and Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust.

This board co-commissioned detailed reports to understand our Carbon Budget and the scale of the interventions needed, both of which were funded by the Council.

We employed consultants who engaged with a wide range of organisations and individuals from within the local authority, as well as with other organisations that will need to play a part in the changes that we will need to make.

How easy or difficult has this been?

Bringing together the range of data and individuals needed in the early stages of Covid was very challenging – the work has required a lot of energy, focus and long-term thinking at a time when it can be hard to draw attention from the impacts of Covid. Fortunately, there was a great deal of commitment from the leadership of the Council and good will from colleagues, partners, businesses and organisations in the city.

What reports did you commission?

We initially commissioned the Tyndall Centre to help us to understand our Carbon Budget. Then we invited consultants Arup and Ricardo to carry out a detailed piece of work so that we understand:

  • our current position in terms of the sources of our emissions
  • the city’s trajectory if we continued as we currently are (the business as usual scenario)
  • the interventions needed to create a pathway to achieving net zero carbon by 2030 for both the council and the wider city

This robust evidence base will support us to develop our plan for achieving zero carbon.

How has this work helped to drive you towards your goal of net zero?

Establishing our science-based decarbonisation pathways has helped to create a greater understanding of the challenges we face as a city, and also emphasises the opportunities working together to achieve net-zero can bring. In doing so, it has stimulated further action across the Council and the partnership to help drive us towards our net zero goal.

Who needs to be involved for the city to reach net zero?

This collaborative process is the start of a process which needs to be owned by the city. We know that Sheffield City Council isn’t able to achieve zero carbon by ourselves, and the evidence makes this very clear. We have a leading role, and levers that we can pull, but we will need to work to draw in vast amounts of funding and investment. Everyone across the city will have to play their part.

How will you use the evidence you now have?

We now have a strong evidence base which outlines for us the full scale of the challenge in getting to net zero carbon by 2030 and the nature and scale of the interventions needed. The next step is for us to go back to the people, businesses and organisations of Sheffield and the Sheffield City Region to work with them to develop a plan, using this evidence.

Having this evidence base also puts us in a strong position when bidding for funding and inviting investment.

What would help others in our region to emulate your success?

Work with your local partners and other stakeholders – this is a great opportunity to start working with the organisations and people who will need to be involved in making the change for the city.

Give the project the time that it needs. Be clear exactly what you already know and what you need from it – this is a great opportunity to understand the potential barriers and levers for the people and organisations that you will need to work with to deliver zero carbon, so maximise that opportunity.

Do you have a tip to share?

Being science led is important, but a large amount of what needs to be done to achieve zero carbon relies on people, organisations and structures. It’s therefore critical that work with your partners and through their wider networks to support and facilitate a greater level of change.