Climate change and ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods

Graphic of magnifying glass highlighting climate change

Continuing our exploration of themed collections of indicators we take a look at how Local Insight can help study and identify the challenges of climate change at a local level.

COP26 has ended, and a “code red for humanity” still looms, the precedent to address the worst impacts of climate change continues. Rapid decarbonisation, and achieving ‘net zero’ is now contingent on mitigation and adaptation through major adjustments and structural change. But while COP26 focuses on a grand scale response to the many challenges of climate change and what nations, international organisations and industry can do, we want to look at a level more relatable to our communities.

What does this mean at local level, and in particular on a local level for disadvantaged communities? 

Areas that have high levels of deprivation and low social infrastructure are more likely to be disproportionately affected by climate change. Without significant intervention, disadvantaged communities, and especially those deemed ‘left behind’, will bear the brunt of climate change. Neglecting these areas further could weaken the efforts to achieve net zero, worsening the impact of climate change for all.  The APPG’s recent report on ‘Levelling up through climate action, A once in a lifetime opportunity to make sure no neighbourhood is ‘left behind’, addresses climate change action with a particular focus on the challenges faced by ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods. 

How will ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods be affected by climate change? 

‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods are vulnerable to climate change because of the adversity they face in outcomes on an environmental, social and economic level. 

Environmental challenges…

‘Left behind’ neighbourhoods located in coastal areas will be more exposed to climate-related risks such as rising sea levels and coastal and sea defence erosion. Extreme weather events including flooding will pose a heightened risk, too, as many coastal areas are located in national flood zones.

A lower density of green assets in these areas may also be problematic. These green spaces provide a natural cooling effect and aid draining in high rainfall, not to mention, providing a connection to nature, which will only grow in importance as practices such as social prescribing become more commonplace. 

In terms of energy efficiency, poorly insulated homes in these neighbourhoods will require retrofitting. These types of adaptations may be costly or not reach the areas that need it most without dedicated funding.

These environmental risk factors coupled with lower levels of resilience, brought about by a lack of community and civic assets in these neighbourhoods, will undoubtedly stifle their response to climate shocks.

Social challenges…

The lack of social infrastructure and community assets in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods is likely to impede effective community action and activities. This is particularly important if people are to engage in an effort to address climate change in their communities. The lack of community spaces and connectivity will also hamper community-led responses to external shocks, such as incidents of extreme weather and local flooding. Communities in these neighbourhoods also lack networks that enable them to access funding resources, further reducing their ability to take effective action on a local scale. 

Economic challenges…

Considerable transition is needed to meet net-zero targets. Any alterations or structural changes could affect ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods and risk them falling further behind if they are poorly managed. Changes to adapt to a zero carbon strategy in areas such as energy, housing and transport may be costly to these neighbourhoods; and local economies in these areas may be less resilient to changes in the labour market too. Areas with skills gaps will find it hard to transition to a green economy. The lack of job opportunities in ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, and lower than average levels of educational attainment, will make it difficult to transition to new opportunities. Transitioning to new opportunities will also be made less available by the poor transport connections in these areas. This means that they are at risk of falling behind from any economic benefits brought about by new industries and jobs created to manage climate adaptation. 

What needs to happen to help ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods transition for climate change?

The APPG report details actions and policy recommendations to help ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods transition in the face of climate change: 

  • There needs to be focus on strengthening community-led responses to climate change to maximise the effects of locally delivered solutions. 
  • Communities need steady and long-term investment in local capacity building to thrive in a time of transition. Empowering communities to plan and manage their own neighbourhoods will ensure they have full ownership of – and buy into – the net zero agenda.
  • A Community Wealth Fund should be created using £2 billion of dormant assets to invest in vital social infrastructure and to support local leadership on climate adaptation and mitigation projects.
  • In addition, a Just Transition Fund targeted specifically to ‘left behind’ areas would facilitate communities taking practical steps towards net zero, including insulating homes and helping small businesses to adapt.
  • Ensure that new ‘green’ jobs created are within reach of residents of ‘left behind’ neighbourhoods, by supporting them to acquire the skills needed and improve connectivity to new employment opportunities. 
  • And Support the Local Electricity Bill that would enable the local supply of clean electricity by local renewable electricity generators.

Using Local Insight to identify vulnerability related to climate change and environmental risk factors

Using indicators on Local Insight, we can develop a local picture of areas more vulnerable to climate change and its effects. Here’s an example of some indicators we have on Local Insight that are related to this topic:

  • Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD) 2019 Rank
  • Total carbon footprint per person (kg)
  • Community Needs Index
  • Total count of grants from major grant funders
  • IoD 2019 Living Environment Rank
  • IoD 2019 Housing in poor condition indicator
  • IoD 2019 Air quality indicator
  • IoD 2019 Nitrogen dioxide (component of air quality indicator)
  • IoD 2019 Benzene (component of air quality indicator)
  • IoD 2019 Sulphur dioxide (component of air quality indicator)
  • IoD 2019 Particulates (component of air quality indicator)
  • Greenspace coverage, total
  • Greenspace coverage, public parks and gardens
  • Current average energy efficiency of domestic buildings
  • Energy efficiency gap for domestic buildings
  • Houses lacking central heating
  • Estimated domestic electricity consumption per household in megawatt hours (Mwh)
  • Estimated domestic gas consumption per household in megawatt hours (Mwh)
  • Households in Fuel Poverty
  • Households not connected to the gas network
  • Average consumption of domestic gas (per household)
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