Thinking bigger than just estimating carbon impacts of Local Transport Planning

20 October 2022

Aether is one of the largest UK environmental data consultancies that specialises in national greenhouse gas emission inventories across the world.   

We have witnessed the pitfalls of developing complex carbon emission models too early without understanding all stakeholder needs, expertise available and data flows.  

We see a significant risk that local transport authorities’ response to QCR guidance of Local Transport Plan 4 will be to rush into purchasing or building complex and inflexible tools that stakeholders find difficult to engage with. This will miss the opportunity for a paradigm shift on how climate data can be used to support the public sector response to enabling sustainable economic growth.   

Developing greenhouse gas estimates (baselines and scenarios) is much bigger than an off-the-shelf toolkit. 

Good data systems that can inform decision making and provide trusted ongoing tracking of progress rely on a strong five-pillar combination of:

  1. Good coordination, leadership and mandates for engagement (governance);
  2. Clear and well thought-out communications (stakeholder engagement);
  3. Specialists and generalists (expertise);
  4. Reliable and trusted input data (data flows);
  5. Transparent and flexible processes, approaches and methods (systems and tools). 

The holy grail of a one-size-fits all carbon tool that identifies the perfect solution in isolation does not exist.  The questions are too complex and still poorly defined to start with a calculation toolkit, especially if digital twin platforms are cited to do this anyway. 

Governance and stakeholder engagement, thinking bigger, the power to convene and a coalition for change.     

Early thinking on the QCR outputs and the value added they provide for a wide range of decision-making stakeholders is critical. This can be achieved by engaging all stakeholders early in the evidence gathering and problem identification beyond just carbon reporting and beyond just transport.  

For elected members, chief executives, and sectoral directors, the Local Transport Plan 4 period will mark a golden opportunity to develop a coalition for change on how climate data is used to inform a bigger set of growth challenges including cost of living, aging populations, levelling up, and spiralling health problems.  

The people (who have expertise and data) need to be found, nurtured, and retained internally. 

Technical experts thrive in a stable environment where they are valued and supported. Experts develop quickly where they can draw support and learn from national, regional, and international peers.   

They will function efficiently with clear governance, direction and where they see their outputs being of value. Supporting experts with guidance, processes and systems that facilitate data gathering, analysis and knowledge sharing is crucial to the public sector achieving their net zero goals. This will provide further empowerment and purpose in their roles. 

Internal ownership and approaches to nurturing and retaining those people will pay short- and long-term dividends to our national net zero goals by retaining excellence within the public sector.  

Whether dealing with “big” or “small” data, system thinking is critical for good data interpretation. 

Systems need to be in place to enable experts to collaborate efficiently, especially when they are drawn together from different departments and organisations. 

Data is messy by nature (because of gaps, uncertainties, and the need for metadata to fully understand it), so its management needs an effective system to support transparency.  

This goes back to the heart of governance, leadership and putting people first. Systems need to work for the experts who support decision makers and not the other way around. When experts shape and define the systems around an understanding of decision maker needs, measuring and reporting becomes second nature, transparency is achieved and future decision making is more likely to hold integrity.   

A paradigm shift in thinking about the value of data.  

There is now a golden opportunity for a shift in thinking on how LTP 4 becomes the catalyst for change in using climate data for sustainable economic growth. 

Now is a critical juncture to get measuring, reporting and verification right to help support the creation of sustainable economies. These sustainable economies need to be empowered by adapting knowledge and building understanding through a flexible, expandable framework that provides good data governance, trusted expertise, reliable data flows, value added systems and well informed and engaged stakeholders. 


About the authors: Kirsten May and Jonny Riggall are climate change and environmental analytics consultants working at Aether, one of the UK’s leading climate change, air quality and environmental data specialists. Our mission is to ensure environmental data supports better decision making for the communities we serve.   

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