Local net zero plans need an integrated approach

Supporting an integrated approach to Net Zero in a local area.

Posted: 13 Jan 2022

Local Net Zero Plans Need an Integrated Approach – Net Zero Navigator tool Supports System-Level Strategy

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report makes for stark reading. We will not be able to keep to 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius without drastic cuts in carbon emissions. With around 300 local authorities in the UK declaring a Climate Emergency, and many more setting targets to be net zero within the next 10 to 20 years, the question is how local authorities take urgent action.

The timeframes are daunting, but Zero Carbon targets can only be achieved with a comprehensive strategy. While standalone interventions provide incremental improvements, systemic change requires systemic action to have the most impact.

Connected Places Catapult partnered with Useful Projects, Space Syntax, Expedition Engineering, CDP and others to create a tool – the Net Zero Navigator – which local authorities and partners can use to shape strategies which facilitate this change. Launching formally in December, this blog situates the tool in a wider context and explains how it supports an integrated approach to reaching net zero in a local area.

Enabling foundations

The Net Zero Navigator starts by helping authorities put in place the foundations for change by assessing their organisational maturity and regional strengths. It then uses these to build the right policies, skills programmes, partnerships and funding arrangements appropriate to context. With these in place, the design and delivery of interventions can be accelerated.

Strategic interventions

The tool helps to identify and prioritise specific interventions based on the carbon footprint of the area of a local authority and the systems that generate the most emissions. We have found that whilst most emissions come from transport and buildings, there is significant variation in the balance between rural and urban economies. The Navigator makes a distinction between strategic interventions, targeting hard infrastructure such as energy and transport systems, and the role that new services such as mobility as a service play in changing behaviours and supporting decarbonisation.

The Navigator also provides technical advice, for example on the role that hydrogen can play in the future and where technologies such as ground source heating might be appropriate. This helps identify key risks associated with specific strategies and to avoid technology lock-in. This insight, coupled with sources of further information, seeks to avoid unintended consequences of technology application.

Integrated thinking

Through our work as a practice on infrastructure delivery, and policy research with colleagues with at the Institution of Civil Engineers and the National Infrastructure Design Group, we also understand the problems associated with a lack of integrated infrastructure provision. The fragmented nature of infrastructure providers can create a siloed approach to delivery. We know that that this misses carbon reduction opportunities, and indeed opportunities to increase community resilience. This occurs particularly at the intersection of different infrastructure systems and services. The Navigator both sequences actions and highlights the linkages between different approaches.

Fostering collaboration

The strategic nature of the Navigator purposefully supports local authorities and their partners in coming together to co-design their climate action plan and mitigate against siloed and single discipline approaches. We see the role that councils can play as a convening function not just for infrastructure providers, but also local businesses and communities who all have a role to play in their areas’ net zero plan.


A joined-up and integrated approach delivers greater carbon emissions reductions and multiple co-benefits associated with climate action. Since the Ashden report was published in 2019, there has been a wider recognition that climate action delivers more than carbon reduction. It contributes to wider socio-economic goals including improvements to health and well-being, inclusion, job creation and increases in natural capital.

Our work with Central Bedfordshire on their Sustainability Action Plan captures these co-benefits particularly in relation to the improvements in wellbeing and social value that can be created through climate action.  The recently launched Brighton and Hove action plan also recognises the intrinsic link between carbon reduction and wider regional benefits such as skills development and a green economic recovery.

For all the interventions in the Net Zero Navigator Tool we have identified the wider co-benefits that can be delivered to enable the value of climate actions to be captured more purposefully. In turn, this allows local authorities to align climate plans with other corporate priorities and to find shared, common goals with local businesses, communities and partners.  Whilst the Navigator is designed for use by local authorities, we hope that all involved with climate action will benefit from its use.

This article was first published by Connected Places Catapult.

Back to articles