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3D – decarbonising Birmingham

Birmingham city skyline, UK, at nighttime

The Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) led 3D our innovative, data-centered initative helping Birmingham to meet decarbonisation targets.

NB: As of February 2024, the data-hub is no long accessible. You can see an archived version of the 3D website here.

Extensive change is needed to meet the UK government target to reduce carbon emissions by 2050. It’s a challenge, but it is achievable.

3D showed the value of data in making low-carbon policies and initiatives more effective at every level –from local authorities, businesses, public bodies, policymakers, local communities and individuals. It showed that data can be used to identify audiences, improve targeting, highlight opportunities and enhance planning, to accelerate the transition to net zero.

3D: Data to Decarbonise in a Decade

There‘s growing interest in the use of data to enhance climate action. Good data supports informed decision-making processes, along with informed policies, projects and strategies for reducing emissions.

3D was a pioneering free online platform collating data specific to the Birmingham City region to apply to climate action initiatives. Funded by Google, through the ICLEI Action Fund and led by CSE, the 3D hub offered a wide range of data sets in different formats including open data on housing, travel, waste, energy, and emissions.

Using data to inform climate action

We’ve found climate action projects using this data combined with expert knowledge of local communities, achieved more. Through this approach, they can take a problem and identify solutions in a more considered way. This approach to local climate action brings three elements together:

About the project

Birmingham is the largest metroplolitan borough in the UK and a key influencer in developing initatives to strengthen climate action, in collaboration with local communities.

Through 3D, CSE worked with Birmingham City Council and local community partners. The project operated across the whole city, but data was made available at different levels, or granularities.

We took a flexible approach to targeting data applications, responding to locally identified needs, and we provided support with data analysis and interpretation. This was particularly important because being able to download spreadsheets, amalgamate data sets or use GIS software need both time and a level of expertise.

Firstly, the project involved building the hub. CSE data analysts identified and processed a range of data sets for Birmingham and built an open-source data hub to make them easily accessible.

Then our communities team helped a number of organisations, including Birmingham City Council, to use data in their climate action planning and project delivery, and provided grant funding to seven community led projects exploring ways to use data in local initiatives.

The 3D data hub in action

The 3D data includes information at different granularities, on fuel poverty, air quality, electric car charging points, building emissions, retrofit options solar PV potential, cycle routes and more. It’s all fully anonymised and meets latest privacy guidance and legislation. Data is available in a range of different formats, from csv and groJSON files to human-readable’ pdfs, pictures and maps.

Data like this can be used to plan, initiate, and improve projects that cut carbon in the city. For example, planning where to target the installation of energy efficiency improvements in homes, or where prioritise increasing the take-up of low-carbon transport.

In the project, we’ve also seen data being used for engagement and awareness raising, to explore opportunities for new initiatives, and to make existing plans more effective. In many cases, the data has challenged assumptions and has always informed better project planning.

The local community climate action projects have also used a wide range of different data sets to inform an interesting range of projects. These include Birmingham Tree People who combined land-use and tree-cover data with urban heat island, flood risk, air quality and index of multiple deprivation data to create a GIS based ‘Tree Equity Map’ to identify locations where increased tree cover would provide the most environmental and social benefits.

Another was Birmingham County Football Association who used data to help select football venues located in areas with high levels of multiple deprivation and air pollution. The users of these venues will be the focus for sustained community engagement seeking to encourage more sustainable transport behaviours such as through car sharing, public transport, or active travel.

And then there was Community Energy Birmingham which looked at housing EPC and fuel poverty data to identify the best areas to promote a new advice service to encourage installation of improvements to improve home energy efficiency.

There are more examples and more details on the 3D case studies page.

Looking to the future, 1,220 tonnes CO2e per year of carbon reductions will be achieved as a result of activities carried out by the community organisations funded by the project. And if all the council-led activities identified during the project were rolled out (i.e. net zero policy recommendations for new developments, city wide solar PV rollout, and a local retrofit scheme), more than 400,000 tonnes CO2e per year in carbon reductions can be achieved.

What’s next for 3D?

Although data is a universal language, using it effectively to inform community climate action is still a new idea.  The groups we’ve been working with tell us using data and datasets can seem intimidating at first, but it’s worth investigating, whatever scale you’re working at. Groups have been able to look at and have meaningful conversations around the scope of a problem, what actions can have the greatest or fastest impact, and how best to target them.

All the activities supported during the project, from the development of the data hub itself, through to the use of data in some very local project delivery, have potential for replication elsewhere.

There are more and more tools available which make it easier to access and apply data too. We developed our Impact Community Carbon Calculator which is a great way of looking at lots of data for a particular community and our Solar Wizard Calculator, an intuitive app to support more people and communities to get solar power.

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