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Developing a new Climate Change Strategy West Dunbartonshire Council launches a Route Map for a net zero future

West Dunbartonshire Council

West Dunbartonshire Council is a Local Authority in the West of Scotland, sitting between Glasgow and the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park. With a population of around 89,000 and an area of 68 sq. miles, West Dunbartonshire is considered a small Council, both in terms of population and land coverage. Despite its size, the area boasts a diverse range of land uses, natural and built resources, and a mix of dense urban form, rugged moorland and spectacular watercourses.

The Council is responsible for providing a range of services to its residents and citizens, including the collection of waste and recycling, schools and education, the management of planning and building standards, libraries, street lighting, and the collection of Council taxes.

Developing a Climate Change Strategy

Commissioning the project

In March 2020, West Dunbartonshire Council began developing a new overarching Climate Change Strategy, as a Route Map to reaching national climate change targets.

This project was commissioned in response to the Climate Emergency, announced by Scotland’s First Minister in 2019, followed by the ‘Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019’, detailing new emission reduction targets for Scotland nationally:

  • 56% reduction by 2020 (replacing the original 50% target);
  • 75% reduction by 2030;
  • 90% reduction by 2040; and
  • ‘Net Zero’ emissions by 2045.

The commissioning of the project aligned with the renewal of West Dunbartonshire Council's Energy and Carbon Management Plan, providing an ideal opportunity to integrate all documents into one Climate Change Strategy.

The Council’s Climate Change Action Group was also relaunched. This provided an opportunity to invite new members from all internal service areas, ensuring that climate change responsibilities could be devolved to mainstream climate action across the Council to successfully achieve net zero by 2045.

To meet the net zero target by 2045, the Council will aim to achieve a 3.5% reduction in carbon emissions each year, dropping to an annual reduction of 2.5% in 2030. In order to achieve this, key review points will include housing; waste; sustainable travel; sustainable procurement; schools and education; communities and health; and biodiversity, landscape and Greenspace. - Councillor Iain McLaren, Convener of Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development

Setting a baseline

A long-term 2045 net zero emissions reduction target has been set for West Dunbartonshire Council. The target has been developed to mirror Scotland's emission reduction trajectory, set by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government uses a baseline of 1990, whereas the Council uses a baseline of their first full year of data - 2012/13. Given the significantly differing baselines, the Council devised an approach to match the Scottish Government's level of ambition (as shown in the graph - left). This approach will allow the Council to have a parallel pathway to net zero despite the different starting points.

Figure left: Pathway to net zero detailing national Scottish pathway in comparison to the pathway required for West Dunbartonshire Council (Page 21 WDC Strategy)

The process

  • Step 1: Draft development, including analysis of data, baseline and setting carbon reduction target.
  • Step 2: Set up a climate action group to gather input and feedback on actions for final the document.
  • Step 3: Collate feedback and hold a three week public. consultation survey and amend draft.
  • Step 4: Share draft with action group.
  • Step 5: Share with Chief Executive and/or senior management team.
  • Step 6: Share with Councillors for final signoff.
  • Step 7: Final draft and communications campaign, including press release and link to Council website climate change page.

In addition to the steps above, carrying out a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) can help to tease out actions, measure environmental impacts, and improve ability to measure the process and KPIs.

Carbon footprint

In delivering its key functions, the Council owns and operates a large built estate.

  • Energy consumption from buildings and operations is responsible for approximately 44% of the Council’s carbon footprint
  • 47% of the overall footprint results are from the waste and recycling of West Dunbartonshire (both operational and domestic household waste)
  • 9% of the remaining emissions resulting from both Council and staff vehicles and the operation of other equipment, such as grass cutters

Results and learnings

Things take time: Start the project early and expect delays. Be prepared for changes to deadlines and delivery dates. Engagement with internal staff and the public can take time.

Offer little but deliver more: Manage project expectations and don't over-promise. Throughout the process it is best to remain humble in your approach and the work that you are doing, so when it comes to showcasing it and sharing your outcomes with management and colleagues, it shows how impressive it actually is!

Project communications: Be mindful when communicating about project actions with service leaders or colleagues, to ensure that you encourage positive engagement in the project. If some project actions seem too big of an ask for people or too directed towards them, then it might be best to share more ‘high-level’ actions, whilst still retaining the operational detail and requirements sitting underneath. It is likely that certain high-level actions will have a number of key stakeholders and will require further discussion and clarification.

Bringing stakeholders together: It is key to form a Climate Action Group, identifying key members and their backups, and ensuring that they are included in the feedback process from the start. This can reduce any negative responses to project actions at a later date and can avoid the “I had no idea about this” response from colleagues.

External input: Include external presenters at meetings where feasible and always have time to discuss other minor matters. Having someone from the strategy/delivery team will help clarify how actions can be broken down into relevant KPIs for your internal delivery system (e.g. Pentana).

Consistent key themes: Arrange Climate Action Group agendas around the key themes you have decided to include in the strategy.

Keep it simple: The process should be kept simple and straightforward. All text should be clear and thematically sound with the use of laymans language for staff and the public to understand what it is, what you are doing and what you require of them.

Visually appealing: The design must be visually appealing with good graphical content and infographics. For example, keep the document in themes with distinct colours and icons. Having a few design formats prepared by a communications team or design consultant is a key part of the process. It's important to ensure stakeholders have input into the design, but avoid complicating the process and limit who has final sign-off.

Slow feedback: Challenges can sometimes arise from internal feedback and support from certain service areas. Some can be slow in providing feedback.

Be prepared for future change: The scope of your GHG emissions boundary will inevitably change over time as you review your footprint and expand it Local Authority area wide. Be prepared for future climate change developments that will influence your strategy and approach. Set aside regular review periods and perhaps refresh the strategy every 5 years.

“This strategy illustrates our firm commitment to mitigating national carbon emissions by supporting the Scottish Government to meet its ambitious climate change targets. As a Council we have already looked at how we use and provide energy; regularly encouraged employees to be more environmentally-friendly; developed biodiversity sites throughout the area and taken steps to manage and reduce the Council-wide carbon footprint. The plan outlined in this strategy will allow us continue making progress on tackling climate change locally as well as supporting national and global aims.” - Councillor Marie McNair, Vice Convener of Infrastructure, Regeneration and Economic Development.

Next steps

  • Delivery of the strategy will be managed by the Council's Climate Change Action Group.
  • Development of an action plan with a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) process to shape high-level climate change actions for each of the service areas in the council.
  • Review of the strategy and action plan annually, with an updated strategy published every five years.
  • Engagement internally with staff and the public to shape the Council's approach to climate action and net zero by 2045.

Useful links:

All images belong to West Dunbartonshire Council