Achieving Net Zero Case Study: designing and delivering a climate change strategy

Following Surrey County Council’s climate emergency declaration in July 2019, Esme Stallard, a Climate Change and Cities Consultant at Arup, was seconded to the council as their Climate Change Programme Manager to help the team leader develop and deliver their Climate Change Strategy. What does it take to design and deliver a climate change strategy – and what can other councils learn from Surrey?

Surrey County Council’s (SCC) ambition was to not only develop a climate change strategy for the county but also make sure it was co-developed and supported by the 12 local authorities across Surrey – creating a shared ambition for action on climate change. The council also wanted the new strategy to reflect the varying needs of Surrey’s communities.

Esme joined the council in 2019 and had only until April 2020 to help deliver a comprehensive programme of activities, including:

  • measuring emissions at a county-wide level, sectoral level and action level
  • analysing what the policy options were that would lead to a reduction in emissions
  • working with all the council partners
  • engaging extensively with stakeholders.
Village and green fields
Surrey village of Charlwood. Source: Surrey’s Climate Change Strategy.

Working across the authority

There’s a two-tier system of local government in Surrey, the county council and the 11 district and borough councils. Generally, the county council is responsible for the more strategic functions and services such as education and social care whereas the districts and boroughs provide more local services. As a two-tier authority, it was essential for the Climate Change Strategy to have buy-in from as many of the local authorities in the county as possible. The initial work involved consulting with Surrey’s 12 boroughs and districts and coordinating their input.

This involved extensive engagement at various levels of local government, from Executives and Leaders to officers within the Transport, Environment and Planning teams – and wider colleagues. Working collaboratively with teams across SCC and including them in the decision-making process was essential to guarantee their support and enthusiasm for the strategy.

Establishing a cross-authority Leaders and Chief Executives climate change task force was a top priority. This resulted in a series of shared ambition statements and targets – and enabled the creation of the first climate change strategy for a two-tier authority in the UK.

Reflecting the needs of local communities

Flower bed in front of houses that protects them from flooding
Flood risk protection in Blackdown Close Rain Garden. Source: Surrey’s Climate Change Strategy.

Hearing from residents was identified as a key part of the strategy’s success. As such, Esme and the team at Surrey helped trial a new approach to engagement. This moved away from traditional consultation to a more continuous series of engagement activities, including focus groups, school workshops and a design challenge. In just two months, 400 Surrey residents gave their input into the strategy design and long-term climate ambition of the county.

Esme also focused on ensuring that the local authority engages with residents in a more fluid, open way in the future, as this sort of communication fosters co-production. To help achieve this, a dedicated climate change microsite has been set up.

Reducing carbon: what are the key aims of the strategy?

Following this extensive engagement with both residents and the local authorities, Esme and the Environment team at Surrey designed Surrey’s Climate Change Strategy with the following key goals:

  • all of Surrey’s local authorities are to be net zero carbon by 2035 or sooner
  • a 60% reduction in transport emissions by 2035 compared to business as usual
  • a 66% reduction in domestic housing emissions by 2035 compared to business as usual
  • a 61% reduction in commercial and public buildings emissions by 2035 compared to business as usual
  • a 100% reduction in CO2 from municipal buildings by 2030
  • 15% of energy to come from solar panels by 2032
  • 69,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum to be saved by 2050, through the use of solar panels
  • 75% of packaging to be reused or recycled by 2030
  • 70% of all local authority collected waste to be reused, composted or recycled by 2030
  • 0% of waste to be sent to landfill by 2030
  • A 50% reduction in food waste by 2030
  • 2 million trees to be planted by 2030.

What makes this strategy particularly ambitious, compared to other local authority climate change strategies, is that the team worked closely with academics from Leeds University in the areas of carbon reduction to identify targets across all sectors that aligned with the county’s carbon budget – even those sectors within which local powers may be limited.

Moving from design to delivery

Since its publication in April 2020, the council has moved into the delivery phase of the strategy. Two other Arup staff, Emma Goddard, Planning Consultant, and Ben Savours, City Economics Consultant, have been seconded to SCC to help drive its implementation within an expanding Climate Change Team.

Ben has focused on the monitoring and evaluation of the strategy’s implementation. This has involved developing a logic model on which the delivery strategy can be built. The model defines inputs, outputs, outcomes and impacts, and aims to facilitate the development of KPIs and targets with delivery teams that will plot the pathway to net zero for each sector. This should then feed into a dashboard that will allow delivery teams to track their performance against these targets.

The development of a sustainable procurement policy, framework and suite of documents to be used throughout the organisation could have a real impact on county-wide emissions. Ben is working on this with a team of officers from throughout the organisation. The output is expected to drive behaviour change and ensure all spending decisions are informed by sustainability considerations.

Ben is also carrying out a project relating to Surrey’s green economy that seeks to harness private sector solutions to achieve SCC’s climate change targets. The aim is to grow the local green economy and stimulate the creation of thriving and self-sustaining markets that both create local jobs and attract a steady flow of private investment into electric vehicle infrastructure, property retrofits and sustainable energy.

Electric park and ride buses. Source: Surrey’s Climate Change Strategy.

Responding to Covid-19

The process of getting the Climate Change Strategy formally signed off by all authorities has unfortunately been delayed due to the pandemic and the urgent redirection of district, borough and county resource towards managing Covid-19. However, all local authorities are working together to deliver it.

Emma is developing strong relationships with the districts and boroughs through a newly established climate change officers working group, so that all partners feel empowered to deliver on the aims of the strategy – or, in some encouraging cases, to even surpass them.

Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions have obviously had negative repercussions for local businesses and the funding available for public services. Therefore, for those working on the strategy and its implementation, it’s important to collaborate with other teams across the council to promote a local recovery that also supports emissions reductions, and build consensus for a green recovery that’s supported by both the public and private sector.

Key learnings

While the design of a climate change strategy is just the first step towards a local authority achieving its net zero ambition, as this case study has pointed out, it’s the detail and ambition of the strategy that will give way to the projects, infrastructure and behaviours that will, ultimately, reduce emissions.

The way that consultants and councils go about not only designing the strategy but also, crucially, delivering it is therefore key. Here are some top tips from Arup.

  • Reach out to all relevant officers’ groups in the development of the strategy, to understand the opportunities and limitations in policy and regulation, for example planning officers’ associations, procurement consortiums, regional transport groups, energy hubs.
  • Develop shared objectives across authority partners at the outset – these then act as a framework for the delivery of all future action.
  • Make sure that climate change actions are supported by a local authority’s governance processes, such as procurement and commissioning.
  • Encourage the delivery of the strategy to be led by cross-party groups.

In the Strategy’s Foreword, Professor Andy Gouldson, Professor of Environmental Policy, Leeds University, explained that Surrey should act on the global challenge of climate change for two reasons: “Firstly, because it should do its bit in helping to tackle a wider problem. By being a leader and setting an example for others to follow, Surrey can be a force for good in the wider world. Secondly, acting on climate change can deliver a wide range of benefits for Surrey itself – the evidence clearly shows that climate action can help Surrey to tackle congestion, improve air quality, enhance public health, stimulate employment, provide better homes and tackle inequality. Instead of thinking why would we act, Surrey should be thinking why wouldn’t we?”

The co-benefits that might be achieved from working towards net zero, and the cost of both action and inaction are two of the key themes Future of London has been exploring in its Achieving Net Zero programme, and were the focus of our Funding Net Zero webinar.

Our Achieving Net Zero case studies showcase inspiring examples of best practice, from low-cost interventions to large-scale infrastructure. We want to raise the profile of schemes and organisations doing a great job of working towards the Net Zero ambition, highlighting what we can learn from them. 

If you’d like to get involved with our Achieving Net Zero programme, get in touch with Anna Odedun, Head of Knowledge.