Exeter’s decarbonisation plans have been found wanting in the first national ranking of council climate action plans.
The city’s plans scored 61% in an evaluation of all the UK’s local authority areas, placing it 17 points behind East Devon which was among the highest scoring districts in the country.
West Devon (72%), Plymouth (67%), South Hams (66%) and Torridge (62%) were all also placed higher than Exeter in the rankings, which assessed the city’s plans on the basis of the interim Devon Carbon Plan and Net Zero Exeter plan in combination.
North Devon Council did not receive a score, being one of 84 UK local authorities yet to adopt its own climate action plan.
A team of 120 volunteers organised by Climate Emergency UK, a non-profit co-operative which advises local authorities on best practice approaches to decarbonisation, spent six months analysing all 325 council climate action plans that had been published by September last year.
The plans were scored against 73 criteria derived from the Climate Action Plan checklist, a comprehensive guide for local authority climate action plan development which is published by Climate Emergency UK.
The checklist has been developed in partnership with Friends of the Earth, the Centre for Alternative Technology, Ashden and the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), and has been subjected to detailed scrutiny by hundreds of councillors, council staff and other experts in successive consultations.
Each local authority was sent details of its scores against the checklist criteria last October and invited to comment and correct any inaccuracies: neither Exeter City Council nor Devon County Council were among the almost 50% of councils who responded.
All the scores were then audited by a smaller team of 25 before the final action plan rankings were collated.
Combining assessment of the Net Zero Exeter plan with the interim Devon Carbon Plan meant Exeter scored higher than it would otherwise have done had the city’s net zero plan been considered alone, particularly in key areas including goal definition, monitoring, evaluation, stakeholder involvement and communications.
At the same time misrepresentations contained in the Net Zero Exeter plan also inflated the city’s score, such as the false claim that “Exeter City Council has already committed to becoming a carbon-neutral council by 2022”.
However Climate Emergency UK intends to examine what are often wide gaps between council decarbonisation plans and real-world action in the next phase of its research into local authority responses to the climate crisis.
Having established a policy baseline with the Climate Action Plan Explorer, an open database of UK council climate action plans, and now the publication of its council climate scorecards, it will begin to assess the extent to which local authorities are on track to meet the greenhouse gas emissions targets they have set later this year.
Annie Pickering of Climate Emergency UK said: “A good action plan has the basics covered. This means that the actions are specific and measurable and assigned to teams or departments. It should also be clear how the plan will be monitored as it is implemented.
“This year’s scorecards are just the start of the process. It has been an important exercise to understand what makes a good council climate action plan and we hope that it will help councils learn from each other and up their game.
“While we understand that councils need much more support and funding from the national government, and have been stretched by responding to the pandemic, the fact that some councils have developed well thought out, costed and ambitious plans, shows that it is possible.”
Among UK local authorities Nottingham has made exemplar progress thus far, reducing the city’s overall carbon emissions by 52.3% since 2005.
It has one of the UK’s largest fleets of electric buses and its workplace parking levy generates £8 million a year which is used for low carbon transport schemes. It is currently on track to be carbon neutral by 2028.
But Exeter’s near neighbour Somerset West and Taunton leads the way in climate action planning, scoring 92% in Climate Emergency UK’s rankings, the best result of any UK local authority.
Its Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience Action Plan is a policy-making object lesson for other local authorities, as is its introduction of interim “climate positive” planning policy despite, like Exeter, having already begun a new local plan development process.