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.

21 Apr 2020

For climate-related measures, local authority area performance is compared with other similar local authorities. We also show how far local authority areas are to achieving what needs to be done by 2030. We’ve picked 2030 because it’s sooner and therefore more meaningful for decision-making now than the government’s longer-term 2050 net zero target. And if we’re to avoid climate breakdown, we need to make very deep cuts in emissions by 2030.

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Datasets

ONS residential-based area classifications We used this to group similar local authority areas for comparison and scoring purposes. You can read more about 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. This is the most recent data set by local authority area and the data may not have changed much since 2011. The proportion commuting by public transport may have even declined, given cuts to buses have reduced bus passenger miles in most locations. According to recent government data, bus usage has fallen in most English local authorities since 2011. It’s increased by more than 5% in only 3 local authorities – Bristol, Brighton and Hove, and Reading. In Wales, bus usage has also declined.

Projected potential bike use comes from the Propensity to Cycle Tool (PCT) funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) and others. The tool provides different future scenarios for the proportion of people cycling to work or school for different areas, taking the geography of the area into account. For example, the “go Dutch” scenario matches rates achieved in the Netherlands, whereas the “E-bike” scenario recognises that e-bikes can increase the numbers of people cycling, the distances travelled, and make cycling more attractive in hilly areas. We chose the E-bike scenario, as e-bikes are increasingly available. For more detail, see Lovelace et al 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 - we used an analysis of the 2011 ONS census data by the social enterprise Liftshare.

Electric vehicle charging devices – this comes from a recent DfT dataset

Housing energy efficiency – we used data on Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) to identify the number of domestic properties in each local authority area with an EPC C rating or above. EPC C is regarded as well insulated and the government is aiming for as many properties as possible to reach this level by 2035. EPCs are required before selling or letting a property. Therefore the numbers of EPCs in each local authority area are now large enough to use them as a measure of energy efficiency standards.

Eco-heating – the government provides grants to householders and others fitting eco-heating (like heat pumps) through the Renewable Heat Incentive. It publishes quarterly updates.

Renewable energy production – is data from 2018. To illustrate what this data means in practice, we compared current energy production to what’s needed for homes in the area, including heating. We based this on the number of homes in each area and Ofgem’s figures for typical annual domestic energy consumption (14,900 KWh).

Tree cover – we provide two datasets. We determined woodland cover by using GIS mapping to overlay the National Forest Inventory with local authority areas, and then calculating cover in each area. Total tree cover estimates for local authorities in England and Wales come from Bluesky International Limited, which provided the data free of charge. Bluesky created its National Tree Map™ using a combination of vertical aerial survey data, height data and colour infrared imagery to map all trees over 3 metres in England and Wales. Local authorities use this tree canopy overview for mapping tree preservation orders, prioritising leaf-clearing schedules, identifying areas for tree-planting, and other uses. For more detail visit Bluesky. Forestry Research, part of the Forestry Commission, will be producing its own accurate data and maps within the next few years.

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.

Emissions by local authority area - these are government estimates. We haven’t used them, because the government says they’re not robust enough. The data doesn’t include emissions from most large industrial processes, motorways and airports, as local authorities can’t influence these emissions. Emissions from A roads are included, but in practice local authorities will have little influence over emissions from major A roads.

Proportion of population in fuel poverty - fuel poverty doesn’t cause 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 is provided by Professor Sarah Lindley at Manchester University, based on work by her team and Sayers et al. The data and explanations of the methodology are available on Manchester University’s Climate Just website.

Scoring

In a previous version of the dataset we gave each local authority area an overall score based on a number of metrics, compared to other areas in its ONS group. After feedback from users, we’ve now taken a different approach – we show how far each local area authority has got on its journey to meeting our suggested targets by 2030. We’ve scored public transport, cycling and walking, home insulation, renewable power, tree cover, and waste.

Friends of the Earth’s 2030 targets

Public transport use. Research suggests that to deliver the greenhouse gas reductions required, car use should be reduced by 20 to 60%, depending on factors that include how quickly we switch to electric vehicles and how fast the electricity powering them is decarbonised. To reach this target, the UK should at least double the proportion of journeys by public transport, cycling and by foot. The target we suggest for each local authority area is double the current average proportion of commuter journeys by public transport, bike or on foot within the same ONS group, except where the current proportion is already high (over 40%), where we suggest lower increases. These targets are shown here.

 

 

EV charging points - a report for the Committee on Climate Change, the UK’s official advisor on climate change, said that by 2030 there needed to be 1 EV charger for every thousand cars on the road (34,000 chargers in max EV uptake scenario). We’ve calculated the number of chargers needed by dividing this target by the number of licensed cars within a local authority area, using DfT licensing statistics.

Homes to be insulated - using the EPC register as a proxy for the proportion of well-insulated homes (EPC C rating or above), we determined how many homes need to be insulated each year to meet a C rating by a certain date. The government’s Clean Growth Strategy states that all homes should meet the C rating by 2035 when practicable. This target was set prior to the Paris Agreement temperature targets. The signing of the Paris Agreement and the passing of net-zero legislation requires the UK’s cumulative emissions to be much reduced. This will require increased ambition in sectors where emissions can be reduced rapidly, like home insulation, so our target is based on all homes in an area reaching a C rating by 2030.

Eco-heating installations - the Committee on Climate Change’s Net Zero report says that 19 million heat pumps should be fitted in the UK by 2050. We applaud the CCC’s support for electrically powered heat pumps instead of the gas industry’s attempt to keep the UK hooked on fossil fuel natural gas. But we think the 2050 target is too leisurely, given the need to reduce cumulative emissions as fast and deep as possible. So, we think this target should be brought forward to 2040, which means 1 million heat pumps installed each year. We’ve calculated an average for each local authority, based on the proportion of the total current housing stock.

Renewable energy production - if the UK is to provide all of its energy from renewable energy, we need an eight-fold increase in its production, including for transport, heating, and the production of hydrogen for energy storage and other uses. For onshore renewable energy, we say that all local authorities should at least match the current best in their ONS group (calculated as renewable energy capacity per square kilometre to correct for areas of different size). We’ve excluded biomass burning, including co-firing, as the emissions can be very high for some biomass sources. And we’ve excluded waste incineration – much of the energy produced will be from plastics, which are fossil-fuel based.

If all local authority areas were to match the best in their group, 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. For the vast majority of local authority areas, the 2030 target for onshore renewable energy still won’t produce all the electricity needed for home energy use, let alone for industry and transport, which over time need to shift away from oil and gas to electricity, so that’s why the 2030 target is a minimum. In 13 local authority areas the target for renewable energy production will more than satisfy home energy use but won’t provide the energy needed if transport and businesses are included.

In practical terms most new renewable capacity after 2030 will come from offshore wind, so the cheaper onshore renewable energy capacity won’t need to increase eight-fold. As far as we know, there’s no study that calculates onshore renewable energy potential for every local authority area, except for hydropower, where the Environment Agency has published data.

Tree cover - All local authorities should aim to at least double tree cover. However, areas with very little cover (under 10%) should go further and aim for a minimum of 20%. The government agency Forest Research has said that the minimum tree cover in urban areas should be 20%. The few areas that already have a higher amount of cover (over 30%) may not be able to double it but should do as much as they can, while ensuring urban areas have at least 20%. We’ve determined what tree cover should be by 2030 on a trajectory to doubling tree cover. We estimated current tree cover using data for each local authority within bands (0-10%, 10-20%, 20-30%, above 30%), and ranking within each band, kindly provided by BlueSky International. Actual current tree cover is available from BlueSky at a cost (around £100 per local authority).

Waste reuse, recycling and composting - all local authorities should be aiming for zero waste. As a step towards a swift transition to zero waste (eg, by 2030), we believe local authorities should aim to reuse, recycle or compost at least 70% of household waste by 2025. Welsh local authorities have been set this target by their government and some have already achieved it.

Divestment - many local authorities invest large amounts of money in fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth is part of the divestment movement, which campaigns for all local authorities to withdraw their investments from fossil fuels and instead invest in the solutions to climate change. The target for investment in fossil fuels is therefore zero.

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