Methodology: local authority data project

Friends of the Earth has sourced data by local authority area on a range of issues relevant to climate change. The large majority of data sources is from official government sources but where these aren’t available other credible datasets have been used. The data sources are listed below.

30 Sep 2019

On these climate related issues local authority area performance is compared to that of other similar local authorities. Similar local authorities are identified and grouped using the Office of National Statistics Residential-Based Area classifications.

How climate-friendly is your area?

Local authorities are also scored (see below), and targets identified for the different issues (also below).


ONS residential-based area classifications – we have used these to group local authority areas with other similar local authority area for the purposes of identifying relative performance and scoring. Read more information on the methodology used by the Office of National Statistics to group local authorities.

Proportion of commuting journey made by public transport, bike or walking, 2011 ONS Census data. There is not a more up to date credible data set by local authority area, although proportions may not have changed much since 2011, and the proportion using public transport to commute may have even declined given cuts to buses.

What bike use could be – this comes from the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) funded by the Department for Transport and others. The tool allows users to identify different possible futures for the proportion of people cycling to work or school for different areas, including considering the geography of the area. For example, the ‘go Dutch’ choice matches rates achieved in the Netherlands whereas the ‘E-bike’ scenario builds on the ‘go Dutch’ choice by recognising that e-bikes can increase the numbers of people cycling. We choose to use the E-bike choice as e-bikes are increasingly available. An academic paper describing the tool is at Lovelace et al, 2017, The Propensity to Cycle Tool: An open source online system for sustainable transport planning, Journal of Transport and Land-use, Vol 10, No 1.

Lift-sharing – an analysis of the 2011 ONS census data by the social enterprise Liftshare.

Electric vehicle charging points – this data is from a BBC analysis

Housing energy efficiency – we used the data set on Energy Performance Certificates to identify the number of domestic properties in each local authority area that are EPC C level or above. EPC C is regarded as well insulated and the government aims to ensure as many houses as possible are insulated to this level by 2035. Energy Performance Certificates are needed before selling or letting a house and the numbers of EPCs in each local authority area are now large enough to use this a measure of energy efficiency standards across a local authority area.

Eco-heating – the government provides grants to householders and others fitting eco-heating (e.g. heat pumps) through the Renewable Heat Incentive and it published regular updates on uptake. The dataset we accessed is from April 2019.

Renewable energy production – 2017 data, published by the government in September 2018

Tree cover – this was calculated using GIS mapping to overlay local authority areas over the National Forest Inventory, and from that calculating woodland in each local authority area. The NFI is known to under-report tree cover in urban areas, so Friends of the Earth is carrying out further research to provide a more accurate estimate, which we will publish later this year.

Waste sent for reuse, recycling or composting – In England this data was extracted from the governments WasteDataFlow data tool. In Wales the data is from StatsWales.

Declaring a climate emergency – this data is used as an indicator of political intent to address climate change. The data is from a live source.

On these climate related issues local authority area performance is compared to that of other similar local authorities. Similar local authorities are identified and grouped using the Office of National Statistics Residential-Based Area classifications.

There are other data sets provided for information but are not scored because they are indicators of the consequence of not addressing climate change, or in the case of divestment cannot be scored fairly.

  • Emissions by local authority area – these are government estimates. We have not used these to rank local authorities as the government makes clear that the data is not robust as necessary for such purposes. The government has removed emissions from most large industrial processes, motorways and airports from this dataset as local authorities cannot influence these emissions. Emissions from A roads is included, although in practice local authorities will have very little influence over emissions from major A roads.
  • Proportion of population in fuel poverty – fuel poverty is not a cause of climate change but is an indicator of the consequence of failing to properly insulate housing. In Wales the data is from StatsWales.
  • Social vulnerability – data provided by  Professor Sarah Lindley at Manchester University, based on work by her team and Sayers et al who previously published a report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ( Sayers, P.B., Horritt, M., Penning Rowsell, E., and Fieth, J. (2017) Present and future flood vulnerability, risk and disadvantage: A UK scale assessment. A report for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published by Sayers and Partners LLP). The data and explanations of the methodology are available on the Climate Just website maintained by Manchester University.
  • Air quality breaches – A Friends of the Earth analysis of local authority annual Air Quality Status Reports submitted to government for the pollutant Nitrogen Dioxide. There are other air pollutants that are of concern and where legal limits are breached, such as particulates, and also monitoring is poor - so this dataset underestimates the scale of the problem. Addressing the climate change impacts from transport will bring a co-benefit of healthier air.


Local authority areas are scored according to performance compared to other local authority areas in their ONS group using a league table approach. If they are in the top third of the performance league table for their ONS group they score three points, two points if they are mid-table, and one point if they are in the bottom third. Their scores across the climate related issues are combined to give each local authority a comparative combined score which is converted into a percentage of the possible highest score. This comparative score identifies performance compared to similar areas not by what area should be doing.

We have also given one bonus points to local authorities that have declared a climate emergency. While the content of the motions differ they all provide a strong indication of political support for urgent action on climate change.

The issues scored are: household energy efficiency; eco-heating; renewable energy; proportion using public transport, cycling or walking; electric vehicle chargers; lift-sharing; tree cover; and reuse, recycling and composting of household waste.


Target for public transport use – research suggests that to deliver the greenhouse gas reductions required will require car use reduced by anywhere between 20% and 60%, depending on factors including the speed of the switch to electric vehicles and how fast the electricity powering them is decarbonised. This means that the UK should be aiming to at least double the proportion of journeys by public transport, cycling and by foot. The target we have suggested for each local authority area is approximately double the current average proportion of travel by public transport, bike or foot for commuting within the same group in the Office of National Statistics Residential-Based Area classifications, except where the current proportion in already high (over 40%) where we suggest much lower increases. The targets are as in the following table.



Target for EV charging points – a report for the UK’s official advisor on climate change, The Committee on Climate Change, said that by 2030 there needed to be approximately 1 charger per thousand cars on the road (34,000 chargers in max EV uptake scenario). From this we have calculated the number of chargers needed in every local authority area by dividing this target by the proportion of licensed cars within a local authority area, using DfT licensing statistics. The Committee on Climate Change report is Systra, 2018, Plugging the Gap: An Assessment of Future Demand for Britain’s Electric Vehicle Public Charging Network. Read the DfT licensing statistics

Target for lift-sharing – we have used the best rate achieved by a similar local authority as defined by the Office of National Statistics Residential-Based Area classifications to be achieved by 2030. Some local authorities will be able to do better than this (i.e. those already top performers on their ONS group)

Target for air quality – we identify already illegal breaches on air quality standards and therefore the target is 100% compliance with legal limits.

Target for homes insulated – using the EPC register as a measure of the proportion of homes well insulated (EPC C or above) in an area we are then able to identify how many homes need to be insulated per year to meet the EPC C level by a certain date. The government has stated in its Clean Growth Strategy that it wants all homes to meet the EPC C level by 2035 when practicable. This target was set when the Climate Change Act’s were aligned to pre-Paris Agreement temperature targets. The signing of the Paris Agreement and passing of net zero legislation requires the cumulative emissions the UK can release to be much reduced, which will require increased ambition in sectors where emissions can be reduced rapidly (e.g. home insulation). We have therefore calculated a target based on all homes in an area reaching the EPC C level by 2035.

Target for eco-heating installations – the Committee on Climate Change’s Net Zero report said that 19 million heat pumps should be fitted by 2050. While applauding the CCC’s support for electrically powered heat pumps above the gas industry’s attempt to keep the UK hooked on fossil fuel natural gas, we think the 2050 target is too leisurely given the need to reduce cumulative greenhouse gas emissions as fast and deep as possible. We have suggested therefore that this goal should be brought forward to 2040, with an average 1 million heat pumps installed each year. We have calculated the average number each year for each local authority based on the proportion of the total current housing stock.

Target for renewable energy production –there will need to be an approximately eight-fold increase in renewable energy production if the UK is to provide all of its energy from renewable energy (including for transport, heating, and the production of hydrogen for energy storage and other uses). For the target for on-shore renewable energy we have said all local authorities should at least match the current best in their group of local authorities (using the Statistics Residential-Based Area classifications, and calculated as renewable energy capacity per square kilometer to take into account the different sizes of the similar areas). We have excluded biomass burning, including co-firing as, depending on the source of the biomass, the greenhouse gas emissions can be very high. We have also excluded waste incineration, as much of the energy produced will be from plastics which are fossil-fuel based.

If all local authority areas were to match the best performer in their group the renewable energy capacity would increase by more than three-fold. This is therefore not a maximum target and local authorities should aim to do much more. In practical terms much of the new renewable capacity will be offshore wind, so the cheaper on-shore renewable energy capacity will not need to increase by eight-fold. As far as we are aware there is no study that identifies the onshore renewable energy potential by local authority area, except for hydropower where the Environment Agency has published some data.

Target for tree cover – all local authorities should aim to double tree cover. However, areas with very little tree (less than 10%) should aim to go further than this to a minimum of 20%. The government agency Forest Research has said that a minimum for tree cover in urban areas should be 20%. The few areas that already have a reasonable amount of forest (e.g. more than 30%) may not be able to double but should do as much as they can, while ensuring urban areas have a minimum of 20% tree cover.

Target for waste reuse, recycling and composting – ultimately all local authorities should be aiming for zero waste. As a step towards that we have suggested they should aim as a minimum to reuse, recycle or compost 70% of household waste by 2025 as part of a swift transition to zero waste (e.g. zero waste by 2030). Welsh local authorities have been set a target by the Welsh government to reach 70% by 2025 and some have already achieved this.

Target for divestment – many local authorities invest very large quantities of money into fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth is part of the divestment movement that campaigns to get all local authorities to withdraw all their investments from fossil fuels and instead invest in the solution to climate change. The target for investment in fossil fuels is therefore zero.

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