Accelerating climate action
on a city scale

Funded as part of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformation (CAST), researchers from the University of Manchester’s Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research developed a co-benefits toolkit to help the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) embed climate and equality actions in all of their decisions.

The GMCA has two ambitious targets – to become net zero carbon by 2038 and address the inequalities brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges affect every part of public life and so the GMCA needed to transform its approach to delivering projects and services, to ensure climate and equality considerations are integral and thought out at every stage. 

The Tyndall Centre, Manchester, who helped GMCA become the first combined authority to set science-led climate targets, were engaged as trusted partners to help deliver a solution that would empower the Authority to achieve its climate and equalities ambitions. 

Collaboration to develop a tailored approach

At the beginning of the project, a working group led by Professor Carly McLachlan was established with Tyndall Manchester academics and critical GMCA stakeholders across various teams including Environment, Equalities, Strategy and Governance. The group was responsible for ensuring GMCA’s priorities were addressed and that any proposed activity could be effectively and realistically delivered. 

Creating a co-benefits assessment tool

Based on literature, policy review and testing our researchers developed a co-benefits tool where users self-assess against nine categories:

  • equalities;
  • health;
  • resilience and adaptation;
  • housing;
  • economy;
  • mobility and connectivity;
  • carbon;
  • nature and environment;
  • consumption and production;

and also the 2038 Carbon Neutral target. 

Depending the answers given, users may also be directed to a self-reported carbon assessment and/or an Equalities Impact Assessment. 

Users are asked to consider whether their project would have a long or short-term and positive or negative impact against each policy goal. All sections required a level of self-assessment, apart from carbon which specifically drew on Tyndall Manchester expertise to allow comparison to ‘best practice’. This was to improve awareness, understanding and performance on emissions reduction. For example, projects that propose deploying ‘really efficient’ gas boilers will be marked down as we should be planning for zero carbon heating solutions.  

The tool generates an assessment, awarding a colour to each of the nine areas. The report is then attached to the proposal sent to senior decision makers, with room for the officer to justify their approach. Crucially it was decided that tool would not average out results. Instead each co-benefits area is awarded a colour – red, amber or green – with the aim of highlighting negative impacts that require mitigation or a value judgement.

For the GMCA, the toolkit allows users to self-assess the impact of the proposed policies, initiatives, or services against its policy frameworks. It provides decision makers with a high-level assessment of how a decision meets policy goals and can facilitate a process of revising decisions to better meet agendas.

The tool has been successfully used for a three month pilot and interviews with users from this stage are being applied to improve the tool and any associated training. In particular, plans to fully embed the co-benefits approach from strategy development and project inception are being developed.

Driving city-wide change

Every decision going to the GMCA must now complete the tool. This means each policy, service or initiative – from a grant reporting on widening participation in cricket, to a strategy addressing violence against women and girls, to investment in new homes – is assessed across the range of co-benefit areas. This is to ensure that the key priorities on climate and equalities are embedded and assessed at development stage and that all activities can seek to maximise the benefits they deliver across the broadest range of GMCA priorities. 

In its report, the tool highlights where the project fails to meet policy goals, either prompting the project planner to make changes or communicating to the GMCA where a value judgement on any trade-off is required if the project is to proceed as planned.

Providing universal access to the tool

Following minor modifications to the tool after the three month pilot, GMCA will roll out the revised version for ongoing use. In addition, the CAST and Tyndall Centre research teams are working to make an online version of the tool freely available to all Local Authorities.