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How to cut carbon and improve people’s lives: a briefing for city innovators


On 6 December, Ashden launched their Climate Action Co-benefits Toolkit in Bristol. Ashden works with UK cities to realise their sustainability ambitions through the Liveable Cities programme and showcases sustainable projects globally.


The launch, in partnership with The Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and Bristol Green Capital Partnership, was kindly hosted by Burges Salmon. It was attended by local authority officers, councillors, community energy groups, third sector organisations and others interested in radical decarbonisation. Ceilidh Jackson – Baker, Operations Assistant with Bristol Green Capital Partnership shares key themes from the event.

What are co-benefits?

Taking action on climate change shouldn’t just be about giving things up. In fact, there are multiple benefits for individuals and neighbourhoods such as better jobs, improved health and wellbeing, and more connected communities. Co-benefits simply means “the positive effects that a policy or measure aimed at one objective might have on other objectives” (AR5 of the UN IPCC)

During the afternoon, speakers from Ashden, Centre for Sustainable Energy, The Grantham Institute, Waltham Forest Council, Bristol City Council and Bristol Green Capital Partnership illustrated co-benefits in action by sharing a range of examples of projects and initiatives that ‘cut carbon whilst improving lives’.

Key themes

  • Co-benefits are not always valued in policy development and decision-making processes yet some of these benefits can meet other Government priorities. For instance; improvements in public health, reduced NHS costs, greater energy security, growth in the jobs market and a reduction in poverty and inequality. Cities are ideally placed to maximise on the co-benefits of acting on climate change due to the powers held at a local level as well as the understanding of how different priorities affect each other.
  • It’s not just about giving things up. In tackling climate change, there are many opportunities for a fairer society with more connected communities, green spaces, accessible transport, employment opportunities, locally sourced food, and an energy revolution.Co-benefits of active travel
  • Improved health and wellbeing is a major co-benefit of tackling climate change. One such innovate project is Islington Council’s Seasonal Health Intervention Network (SHINE). This referral system for the NHS and third sector helps residents to improve energy efficiency in their homes alongside other health and wellbeing interventions. The result is less energy wasted, affordable warmth and improved health.
  • Engage people on the issues that are important to them. Concern for the environment is growing but connecting it to other issues that we know matter to people, for example; healthcare, education, and poverty, can encourage greater action and bring more people along on the journey.
  • As city innovators, you may come up against opposition. Change is hard but by doing your research and using evidence, people might just prefer it in the end. One example given was closing Lea Bridge Road to through traffic in Waltham Forest; local businesses thought their customers mostly travelled by car and the scheme would harm business, however, the opposite was true. When Waltham Forest Council surveyed visitors, it was found that most people travelled to the area via foot or public transport. The area is now seen as a destination and local businesses have benefited from the traffic scheme. In addition, it is now easier for people to travel via public transport or active travel, providing additional benefits to individuals and the local area.
  • Co-benefits are not inevitable. Realising the wide range of benefits needs to be deliberate; prioritise them, seek funding and partnerships to ensure no one is left behind.

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