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Climate change emergency: approaches to action validation

August 07, 2019

By Jonathan Riggall

How can we tackle the climate change emergency?

With continued extreme weather records tumbling across the world and the recent strong public movement for the need for action on climate change, a cohort of Local Authorities across the country has politically declared a climate change emergency.

What happens next is critically important to our planet, and history tells us (we’ve been here before!) that the scale and cost of the problem can very quickly fall into the ‘too difficult box’—and that there is a real risk that the scarce resources that can be made available are used to support ill-informed or misdirected projects in the name of climate change.

This can create significant credibility issues for both civil servants and local authority officers in the long run, and more seriously—it can lock resources into projects that may not give the best results. Get this wrong and it takes a generation to recalibrate the need for action due to the apathy created by bad decisions made now.

A move away from target and project-based strategies

These concerns arise from our experiences of failed target and project-based strategies over the last 20 years. Just because a project or policy formation is actionable immediately it doesn’t mean it offers good outcomes in the long term.

To understand this you only have to look at the abject failure of the zero-carbon homes policies or transport policies relating to diesel cars since 2006 to see the results of misinformed and misunderstood policy and investment strategies.

So how do you ensure that the action is taken to address the climate emergency truly leads to successful investment and meaningful greenhouse gas emission reductions, whilst also delivering valuable and quantifiable complimentary benefits and avoiding unintended consequences or conflicts with other desirable policy aims?

Measure reporting and verification

To understand the critical pathways to act on the climate emergency it is fundamentally important to understand what is happening now and what could happen in the future.

Data gives us the power to make the right decisions and maximise our return on investment. No data can mean no decisions or wrong decisions and no action, investment or value.

“If you cannot measure it you cannot manage it.”

Evidence-based decision making is becoming increasingly important in this resource-constrained, media-driven world. “Evidence base” tools include a collection of scientifically sound historical data and analysis of plausible future scenarios and options.

These tools can help climate emergency decision-makers coordinate, focus and prioritise the “call to action." They can equip decision-makers to demonstrate the current challenge and progress to date, gaps and prioritise options for future action. It needs a more flexible approach which builds on the need to monitor progress against defined outcomes, and an ability to manage the policy levers over time to meet the desired goals: Measure, Report & Validate (MRV).

To create such evidence-based planning support tools, decision-makers need trusted teams of experienced people who understand the inter-relationships between the science, the data and the outcomes of alternative policy actions. These teams and supporting data flows (data collection systems) can reliably inform on progress, gaps, pathways to ambitious action, support public and private engagement and give visibility to commercial opportunities for investors. They will need to take advantage of existing public, private, business data and build on them to fill knowledge gaps and reduce uncertainty.

This requires bigger thinking than just building greenhouse gas emission inventories to report emissions. An MRV structure that ties the economic and social geographic narrative to climate change needs to be at the heart of the data analytics process. Evidencing the economic and social benefits of potential interventions early will lead to great success in achieving net zero goals.

What is next?

Talk to us about supporting your decision-making processes on climate change action with sound evidence-based data and analysis. We can help you get up and running quickly and build your own systems and teams to support long term action tracking, and public and private engagement.

Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.

  • Jonathan Riggall

    A climate strategy, pollution impact, and environmental expert, Jonathan specialises in working with investors to new sustainable technology delivery. He works in community development and renewable energy sectors.

    Contact Jonathan
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