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Local authorities have an important role in delivering carbon emission reductions, not just in the areas of direct service delivery but as thought leaders and facilitators for the scale of change required to respond to the climate emergency.

Reporting on progress and submitting ourselves to external evaluation and benchmarking are therefore crucial if we are to build the trust and transparency needed to fulfil this role. Cornwall Council's Dougie Handford explains.

Reporting and its role in building trust

Engaging with the climate emergency means engaging with complexity. There is no set path to carbon neutrality. Our work cannot be judged on service performance goals familiar to Council Members and Officers, where control and accountability is clear and supported through existing statute or policy.

Instead, it requires engagement from communities, business, individuals and stakeholders across all sectors of the economy. We need to learn from our peers and collaborate in ways that are new to us. To build this trust we will need to develop our networks in a way that is open and transparent.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is a not-for-profit charity that runs the most comprehensive global report on carbon action plans and progress. Their disclosure system has been developed for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts and action plans.

Not only does submitting to external evaluation give an accurate picture of where we are on our climate journey, but it also lends credibility to our message.

Through the CDP we plan to publicise up to date emissions inventories at both a county and municipal level. We will also submit our plans and strategies for scrutiny and be honest in the areas where progress has been slower than we would have liked. 

To put it shortly, we feel that submitting our plans to scrutiny by the CDP is more than just the right thing to do. It is a crucial step in our efforts to build trust in our community and better engage with the complex problems we face.

Additional benefits of engaging with the CDP

As well as building trust, we have seen a number of additional benefits since working with the CDP.

The CDP process provides a framework and evaluation for action planning and progress. This highlights any areas of success whilst also signposting any gaps in our current strategy. For example, feedback from the 2020 submission highlighted gaps in our planning, including the need accelerate the production of a Risk and Vulnerability assessment and Climate Adaption Strategy that were delayed due to the pandemic. Both these projects are progressing as part of the  2021/22 programme of activities agreed with our Corporate Director Team.

Another benefit we have seen since submitting to the CDP is the organisation and centralisation of climate data. The CDP submission requires us to collect documentation and data from a number of different teams and services across the council including waste, transport, housing and energy. Where previously this information may have sat within services, the submitted document acts as a holistic and accessible representation of county wide performance on a number of key issues.

In addition to the benefits listed above, participation in the CDP also counts towards our Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM) submission which Cornwall signed up to in 2011. The GCoM is the world’s largest coalition of cities and local governments voluntarily committed to actively combatting climate change and with a shared long-term vision to moving to a low emission, climate resilient future.  

Participation in the CDP is also a requirement of being a UK100 Net Zero Club member. Not only does this tie in with our principles of transparency and trust, but the UK100 brings together local authorities to share knowledge, collaborate, and petition the UK government with their collective power. Acknowledging that collective action between local authorities will be essential if we are to tackle the complexities associated with climate breakdown Cornwall Council were also founder members of the UK100 Countryside Climate Network, strengthening the voice of rural regions and the vital role we have to play in the UK reaching Net Zero.

But the GCoM and UK100 are not the only initiatives that can be accessed through the CDP. Partnerships include the carbonn Climate Registry (cCR), the UNFCCC’s Race to resilience and race to zero, and the WWF’s One Planet City Challenge 2021. CDP have worked with these partners to ensure that the data requested by each is as streamlined as possible. Therefore, taking part in new initiatives doesn't necessarily mean more questions to answer.

Take part in the CDP

Compared to the practical and structural interventions that are at the heart of responding to the climate emergency, reporting and evaluation can sometimes feel like an afterthought. However, it is our belief that this transparency and benchmarking is a crucial aspect of our engagement in the Climate agenda and critical in our role as a local systems leader.

Reporting and verification are crucial if local authorities are to build that culture of trust and transparency that is so necessary to trigger the changes we need. As the most comprehensive global report on emissions and action planning, we would urge local authorities and sustainability teams to engage with the CDP.

CDP submissions are now open for the 21/22 reporting cycle. If you would like to learn more about the CDP, or sign up to submit yourself, you can access the reporting system here.