Guide: A Warm Response - Our Climate Change Challenge

Climate Change Strategy

“What do we need to do –what is our strategy?”

Definition:Strategy-themeans,methods and approaches used to achieve objectives and goals

The Strategic Context – Sustainable Development

Sustainable development is defined as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own need”. Although the idea is simple, the emergence of the threat posed by climate change has put in to stark relief the potential of present (and previous) generations to compromise the needs of future generations for many centuries to come. Increasing economic growth through the use of finite resources has meant more pollution and damage to the environment. This in turn can impair quality of life and, from a climate change perspective, threaten long term economic growth. However, in a techno-centric world the need for development is as great as ever. There is little prospect that this global, market-driven philosophy will change in the near future. In the UK, strong economic growth remains vital for education, healthcare and housing, to tackle poverty and social exclusion, and to improve standards of living through better goods and services. It is also necessary to generate the technology needed to reduce emissions and put in place adaptations to prevent damage caused by climate hazards of the future.

So, how do we square this circle?

Future development cannot simply follow the model of the past which has been described by the World Wide Fund for Nature as ‘three planet living’ (WWF International 2002). We need ways to balance economic, social and environmental objectives whilst considering the longer term implications of decisions. In March 2005 the UK Government launched its strategy for sustainable development entitled “Securing The Future” (DEFRA 2005). It contains four priorities (i.e. sustainable consumption and production, climate change, natural resource protection and sustainable communities) and is based on the five principle identified in Figure 15. Our strategy must reflect these principles.

Figure 15

The Strategic Elements

The goal of this strategy is “to put in place effective and timely measures both at the corporate and community level to address the causes and impacts of climate change in Devon.” Traditionally, a twin-track approach has been adopted comprising of mitigation and adaptation measures. The mitigation agenda addresses the causes of climate change and is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and/or enhancing carbon sinks. The adaptation agenda is concerned with the likely impacts of a changing climate on our environment, economy and society. Its aim is to reduce vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change by promoting action that reduces sensitivity to climate hazards or enhances capacity to adapt. It also contains actions to take advantage of the opportunities that climate change might present. In addition, there is a vital third element to the strategy, the communications plan, which is needed to identify target audiences, raise awareness of the issues, change attitudes, promote the behavioural change associated with mitigation and adaptation actions, and celebrate successes.

The Strategic Priorities

Whilst the elements of a climate change strategy can be actioned concurrently, given the inevitable time, resource and budget constraints it is useful to prioritise the strategic elements in advance so that competing requirements and interests can be resolved. The communications plan attracts the highest priority as it is a ‘must do now’ activity needed to facilitate the other agendas. The mitigation agenda is the second priority as it is a ‘can do now’ activity. It does not require a detailed understanding of local climate impacts prior to implementation and has the potential to defer adaptation action. The adaptation agenda therefore attracts the lowest priority. In the UK our society has developed well-founded institutions, capabilities and practices which provide us with a very high level of adaptive capacity both in the face of emergencies and emerging opportunities. Whilst climate change adaptation is a ‘could do now’ activity, these inherent capabilities far exceed the starting points of both the communications plan and mitigation agenda.

The Strategic Timescale

The timescales associated with actions to address climate change are very long indeed. The short-term can be defined in terms of the UK Government’s domestic targets of a 20% reduction in CO2 and the 10% contribution of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. In this time frame the UKCIP climate change scenarios for the UK will have been updated and published, and the post-Kyoto agenda (beyond 2012) may have begun to emerge. Moreover, the emerging UK Climate Change Communications strategy is likely to have been implemented – a 2 to 5 year timescale is proposed. The medium term has a 2050 horizon matching the Government’s aspirational 60% reduction in CO2 target (and a 30 to 40% contribution to electricity generation from renewable sources). It also represents the timeframe in which our actions today and over the next few decades can start to make a difference to climate outcomes in the long term. The long term is beyond 2050.

From a mitigation perspective, significant technological innovation will be necessary over the medium term so that industrial nations can make the large cuts in emissions required to produce low carbon economies. Whilst such research is underway, it is unlikely to have a major impact on actions implemented in the short term. From an adaptation perspective, we are already committed to providing a response for the medium term using existing technology. Moreover, whilst it may be prudent to take cognisance of the projected long term climate outcomes in formulating our adaptation response, waiting for more effective future technologies should not be discounted as an effective policy.

The Strategic Phases

Given these considerations and the current financial and planning horizons, it makes sense for this strategy and its associated action plan to operate for the short term only i.e. to 2010. This does not mean that it should not consider impacts in the medium or long term where major infrastructure is involved. Over the next five years, the strategy will have two phases which may run concurrently;

  • Set up process – there is a need to increase the receptivity of the public to climate change action by raising awareness and promoting attitude change. In addition, a ‘carbon footprint’ that is capable of being replicated on an annual basis for mitigation purposes is required together with a climate impact assessment at an appropriate spatial and temporal resolution on which to base the adaptation response. All of these activities are significant undertakings and necessary precursors to prioritised action planning and implementation.
  • Strategic actions – this will consist of messages, measures and projects identified and prioritised by the set-up process.

The Strategic Space

Within the sustainable development framework, the strategic space occupied by local authorities determines the depth and breadth of potential climate change action. LAs have the following three distinct roles;

  • As a corporate manager – This is about the management of the business and making sure that the Council’s operations are sustainable in resource terms. It covers issues like asset management, energy consumption, building performance, composition of vehicle fleets, travel planning and procurement strategy.
  • As a service provider – This concerns the contribution and impact of the Council’s services, and covers such issues as transport, housing, development planning, waste management, educational development and air quality.
  • As a community leader – This is all about demonstrating leadership by example, and through partnership working and the community strategy.

In addition there are many portfolios with responsibilities that cut across these roles. The key areas of responsibility in a climate change context have been identified and incorporated with the three roles to provide an indication of the extent of strategic space in which the climate change strategy will operate. Figure 16 provides the detail and demonstrates the corporate nature of both the problem and solution.

Figure 16

The Communications Plan

The communications challenge is twofold. Firstly, there is a need to change attitudes about climate change by positioning it ‘front of mind’ so that we create ‘agency’ for action. We have ‘agency’ when we know what to do, we think our contribution is important, we can decide for ourselves and we have the infrastructure and resources to act. This attitude change must involve making the issue relevant to each and everyone of us. In short, it must identify the role that our lifestyle and professional working activity play in the problem. In the jargon this means making climate change a ‘home’ (rather than ‘away’) issue.

Having improved our understanding and receptiveness towards the climate change message and created agency through ownership of the problem, the second action is to promote behavioural change by persuading individuals and groups that they can make a difference in terms of their own lifestyle choices and in mobilising their communities. Whilst some individuals may be driven by short term financial savings through energy efficiency measures and the like, others may require different and less obvious stimuli. Therefore, there is a need to identify specific groups of potential actors and target them with appropriate messages and measures in order to change behaviour across a broad front. There is also the need for a partnered approach in delivering community-wide change.

Whilst it will be necessary to address the full spectrum of potential actions in due course, our initial approach must be more focused. The mitigation agenda is something we know we have to do, it is measurable and it can be started today without the need for detailed regional and local climate impact and vulnerability assessments for which the science is not yet mature. This strategy will concentrate its communications effort on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the domestic sector in the first instance. Details of proposed activity are further explained in Our Communications Plan at Appendix 3. The strategic objectives of the communication plan are in Box 1.

Strategic Objectives

The Mitigation Agenda

It is now well understood that the emission of greenhouse gases due to human activities continue to alter the atmosphere in ways that are expected to effect the climate. Over the course of the 21st century this anthropogenic interference in the global climate system will manifest itself in rising temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, melting ice sheets and glaciers, and changes in the strength of the oceanic circulation. As the century progresses these effects are likely to become progressively more significant making the requirement to stabilise the concentration greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increasingly more urgent. As a consequence of the long life that some greenhouse gases have in the atmosphere, stabilisation of their concentrations can only be achieved by making very significant cuts in emissions. It is well documented that global emissions need to fall below 1990 levels within a few decades and reduce to a fraction of that (60% or more) thereafter if we are to prevent the worst excesses of climate change occurring in the latter half of the 21st century and beyond. After the stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations is achieved, temperatures will continue to rise for a century or more whilst sea level is projected to rise for many centuries. The slow transport of heat into the oceans and the slow response of ice sheets mean that it may take a millennium or more before a new climate system equilibrium is reached. Regardless of the final outcome, it is acknowledged that reducing emissions will delay and reduce damages caused by climate change. This in turn will lessen the costs associated with adaptation.

The key feature of the mitigation agenda is that it can be started immediately without any need to understand or identify local or regional climate change outcomes. Therefore not surprisingly, most climate change strategies have a strong mitigation component. This strategy follows that model.

The mitigation agenda has two components which represent the difference between capital and revenue budgets. Capital budgets are used for investment in assets whilst revenue budget accounts for day-to-day running costs. Therefore from a capital perspective, the mitigation agenda is concerned with minimising the carbon content of the build process (i.e. accounting for embodied energy) together with ensuring that the ‘best available technology’ is used at the outset to minimise the carbon footprint of all future operations. The implication is that life-cycle carbon management needs to become a basic design consideration in all future investments. From a revenue budget perspective there is a requirement to identify the operational ‘carbon footprint’ of an organisation through a detailed carbon audit. This process is a bottom-up approach to quantifying greenhouse gas emissions which must be capable of replication year-on-year in order to monitor progress. A carbon footprint facilitates the prioritisation of measures to reduce carbon output in line with agreed targets. It has eight key steps which are further explained in Our Mitigation Protocol at Appendix 4.

In signing the Nottingham Declaration on Climate Change on 14th July 2004, the Council has made a commitment to achieve a significant reduction in greenhouse gases from its own operations whilst also encouraging all sectors in the local community to take the opportunity to reduce their own emissions. In order to achieve this, carbon footprints for the Council’s operations and for Devon County need to be identified. Initial estimates of these baseline carbon footprints suggest that it is very likely that Council’s carbon output is in the region of 77,500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) per annum not including the municipal waste stream and emissions from the County estate. As for Devon County, a carbon footprint of 4.6 million tCO2e has been estimated on the basis of National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory analysis for 2002. More detailed work is now required to confirm the accuracy of these two assessments.

In addition, a process for life-cycle carbon management needs to be established to ensure that all future DCC projects are as sustainable as they can be given present technology. DCC should also exert appropriate influence on regional and local planning authorities to ensure that the same standards are applied to non-DCC programmes.

The strategic actions associated with the mitigation agenda are in Box 2.

Strategic Objectives box 2


The Adaptation Agenda

The development of an adaptation agenda is a more difficult proposition because of the degree of uncertainty inherent in the assessment of likely climate change impacts. The United Kingdom Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) climate change scenarios (Hulme et al, 2002) provide the best regional information to date on the expected changes in climate in the UK over the coming century. The South West Climate Change Impacts Partnership has used this data in its regional climate impact assessment for the 2050s (SWCCIP, 2003) which is characterised by hotter drier summers, milder wetter winters, more intense winter rainfall and more frequent storms. However, not only are the projections over the first half of the century largely within the bounds of the existing natural variability of our present climate but there are considerable margins of uncertainty in the projections as a result of the findings from other climate models. Whilst the scenarios provide an excellent projection of four possible evolutions of UK climate over the century, there is a large gap between these potential national and regional outcomes, and the data needed to identify local schemes, projects and services on which money should be spent in the present to adapt them to changed circumstances.

Given this view of uncertainty, there is a case that until better information becomes available with the next update of the UKCIP scenarios (possibly in 2007/8) no action on climate change adaptation should be taken. This ‘wait and see’ approach is an acceptable adaptation strategy given that the research is underway and the rate of change in the short intervening period is probably not measurable given the natural variability of our climate. However, even allowing for the uncertainty, the potential risks are such that we should consider taking responsive action now on a sensible and measured ‘no regrets’ basis. This should be based on evaluating how well we are adapted to today’s climatic hazards by learning lessons from recent extreme events and weather related incidents that have caused destruction and disruption over and above that which could be normally anticipated. For example, there are clear parallels between the Lynmouth tragedy of 15th August 1952, the East Devon/Blackdown Hills flood of 10th July 1968 (Hawkins, 1988) and that at Boscastle on 16th August 2004. In all cases a high summer storm delivered in excess of 100mm of precipitation in a few hours resulting in devastating flash floods. Whilst none of these events can be attributed directly to climate change, the fact that global warming will increase the intensity of the hydrological cycle leading to more intense downpours means that another “Boscastle” in Devon is entirely possible. Adaptation is largely about recognising this potential, and identifying and implementing measures that will reduce community vulnerability to such occurrences.

The logical approach to developing an adaptation agenda requires a climate impact assessment to be carried out that cross matches impacts and responses across the complete range of range of responsibilities and services – effectively, a contingency plan for the entire operation for all conditions. This approach is neither practical nor necessary as service delivery is flexible enough in-year to be able to cope with normal variations in driving forces only one of which may be climate. A more appropriate way is to examine the impact of experienced daily weather conditions that have caused disruption at a local level and apply lessons learned from the responses made across relevant service areas. It must be remembered that most climate change adaptation will happen as a natural response by society to climate and weather stimuli. The role of local government is to identify key intervention strategies required to minimize losses or benefit from opportunities based on an awareness that conditions have or are about to change. The strategic actions associated with this aspect of the adaptation agenda are Box 3.

Box 3


In order that the appropriate level of climate-proofing is applied some basic modelling on the probability of exceedance for daily maximum temperature and precipitation by season using local meteorological records will be necessary. For more detailed assessments of the impact of other weather variables we should maintain a ‘watching brief’ on developments in the climate change arena in anticipation of the updated UKCIP scenarios. It is probable that at that stage a more complete climate impact assessment along the lines of that laid out in Our Adaptation Protocol at Appendix 5 or in the UKCIP publication on risk management for climate adaptation (Willows and Connell, 2003) should be undertaken.

Assumptions and Constraints

The implementation of the strategy assumes long-term corporate and partner commitment, and ongoing support to develop and implement a range of actions across the full panoply of DCC responsibilities. This will include a willingness to take decisions for the long term that may not have an economic payback in the short term.

Resources. A project management approach to climate change was endorsed by the DCC Executive on 8th June 2004 (DCC, 2004a). The DCC Climate Change Officer lodged within the Spatial Planning Group of the Environment Directorate will act as programme manager. Priorities for action will be determined by the DCC Officer’s Group on Climate Change and once endorsed climate change projects will be managed and funded by the appropriate officer within the existing organisational framework as a mainstream activity. No additional manpower is proposed.

Budget. An initial funding stream has been allocated for climate change communications activity. It is expected that additional funding will be allocated to climate change projects that support the objectives of the DCC Strategic Plan on a case-by-case basis. Robust business cases will be required.

The Strategic Framework

The various components of the strategy described in this section and in supporting appendices can be brought together to form a strategic framework for the climate change programme. This framework is shown at Figure 1. It identifies the three core strands of work (i.e. communication, mitigation and adaptation) operating at two levels (i.e. internally within DCC and externally as part of the DSP Community Strategy). The framework also identifies the need for a set up process to create “agency” for action amongst stakeholders, a carbon footprint for DCC and Devon, and a climate impact assessment for Devon. Furthermore, it highlights the principal strategic outcomes (i.e. changed behaviours, reduced emissions and reduced vulnerability) of each work strand together with the channels and strategies needed to achieve those objectives. Finally, it recognises the contribution of existing initiatives which provide continuity of action on climate change whilst the core programme is initiated.

Set up process