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The Circle of Fife: How Fife Council is responding to the climate emergency

The Circle of Fife:  How Fife Council is responding to the climate emergency

Hugh Muschamp is programme manager in the Climate Change and Zero Waste team in Resource Efficient Solutions, an arm’s length company owned by Fife Council.  With the Council declaring a Climate Emergency in September 2019, we spoke to Hugh about how Fife intends to deliver on its declaration.

In February 2020 Fife Council agreed its next climate plan - Climate Fife. In some ways the timing was ideal, following closely on the heels of widescale recognition of the climate emergency.  

For those that do not know, Fife is the third biggest Council in Scotland. It is a coastal peninsula between two estuaries, and two cities, Edinburgh and Dundee. 

Fife Council has acted on sustainability and climate change over many decades. Over the years Fife has tackled many low hanging fruits. This provides a solid foundation, but also means the remaining challenges are bigger, well more challenging. This is the focus of Climate Fife. Fife Council has invested over the long term in both a skilled climate change team, and equally skilled and motivated colleagues across the council. Fife Council placed the Climate Change team within a new arm’s length council owned company called Fife Resource Solutions, delivering many services for the Council and sharing our expertise as consultancy services for others through Resource Efficient Solutions LLP.  

Really understanding climate change

A colleague puts it this way: why is climate change ‘suddenly an emergency’? Spoiler alert,– it hasn’t suddenly become an emergency – it’s always been an emergency. This is just the last gasp of climate scientists for people to take this issue seriously while there is still a tiny chance to save a relatively stable climate. Climate scientists have been shouting about this for the last ten years. Unfortunately, climate change is progressing much faster than even most scientists dared imagine and our models underestimate the problem. 

Run-away warming, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the prospect that carbon emissions from human activities will warm the planet sufficiently for vast natural carbon stores to be released which would lead to run-away warming. For example: by drying out the Amazon rainforest and causing vast forest fires; by melting the permafrost and releasing natural stores of methane frozen in ice and frozen soils. Once released the scale would be so huge and sudden that humanity would be powerless to stop more positive feedback, the release of more natural stores of carbon, meaning that warming causes more and unstoppable warming for centuries. Once a fringe idea - catastrophic run-away warming is now the most likely case based on current emission trends.

Do you need more reasons to act? Half of human emissions since the industrial revolution have occurred in the last 30 years. The rate is still increasing year on year. If we limit warming to less than 1.5 Celsius the odds of disaster are still 33%. The message is surely clear, act now and act quickly.

Like all areas, the focus of recent work has been driven by responding to the COVID19 challenges. This has impacted on some the early actions in Climate Fife. The changes driven by COVID19 have also provided opportunities to demonstrate the potential new ways of action and rapidity of response. Lise Kingo of the United Nations reminded us that “the COVID-19 pandemic is a ‘fire drill’ for the effects of climate change”. 

Some lessons for Fife Council

Through more fully understanding the challenge, this in turn helps understand the strategic risks this brings. Climate change mitigation impacts, such as the transformation of our energy system, and the need to adapt to unavoidable climate change are on the Council risk register. 

This is a big challenge, so it is good to be part of something big. Fife Council is a signatory of the Global Covenant of Mayors on Climate Change. Signatories commit to developing a Sustainable Energy Climate Action Plan. This is a well structured and supported process, drawing on the knowledge of the wider group. The actions are to measure emissions, assess climate risks and vulnerability, and develop (then deliver) an action plan. Climate Fife is that plan. Fife Council’s Fife Resource Solutions team led the work to develop Climate Fife. 

The vision is Climate Fife is to be: 

  • Climate friendly, having transformed the economy, infrastructure, land use and energy system to decarbonise how we live; 
  • Climate ready, with plans and projects to increase the resilience of Fife communities and the economy to help minimise the impacts from unavoidable climate change; and 
  • Climate just, ensuring that all Fifers and the Fife environment can benefit from this transition. No one left behind. 

Through workshops and engagement with partners, as set of themes have been identified to guide our action. 

For mitigation, energy efficiency is the critical starting point and is commonly the most cost-effective way of reducing costs and carbon emissions. Efficiency decisions then drive the demand and thereby scale of low carbon energy. More efficient whole energy system approach with energy networks, smart grids, energy storage will be needed to move, store and transform energy.  Sustainable travel choices will combine decarbonised vehicle fuels, actively encouraging walking, cycling and improved low carbon public transport and impacting the need for travel, such as through improved communications infrastructure. 

Resource efficiency is a foundation by reducing the amount of resource we use. The circular economy will be critical in managing, recovering and avoiding waste. Carbon sequestration looks to be a limited and constrained resource where we need to plan for critical needs, such as anaesthetics for surgery. Long lead times mean early will be required for carbon sinks: forest, peat, land, marine, rock; alongside carbon capture. Even if we stop emitting now (which we are far from doing) we will need to adapt to unavoidable climate change. This is about increasing Fife’s resilience to changing climate through adapting society, economy and infrastructure. 

Making this happen will require innovation and coordination across all these themes. Climate Fife works through existing policies, plans and strategies, and through collaborative partnerships to ensure actions are delivered in the most effective way. Business as usual will not deliver the urgent and decisive action that is needed to tackle the climate emergency. 

The plan recognises action across Fife will require a vast programme of work and investment from many partners.

Governance of the plan is based around the principles of project, programme and portfolio management. The Council’s partners can feed in to any place in this structure. The council will provide the programme management support, as well as senior officer leadership. Climate Fife not only reports within the council to a strategic board and Committee, but also to the community planning Fife Partnership.

Delivery is in phases, recognising the increased challenge of net zero by 2045, for those of us in Scotland 

Driving forward early action. Fife Council has set out a first year action plan to drive the process, and reports to the Executive Director. Climate Fife is a Fife-wide plan, bringing actions not just from the Council, but other partners. It is Fife’s plan. #OurFifeMatters.

Two examples can help give the scale of the opportunity and the challenge. 

Opportunity: Fife spends and estimated £446m on fuel alone through electricity, petrol and diesel (light vans and cars). Think about what we could achieve if some of this money was spent in the local economy by local energy generation and storage to benefit our communities. Just 10% could mean £46M put back in the local economy.


Challenge: How many homes in Fife have to be retrofitted each year to be ready for net zero in 2045 and the changed climate? We know each home will need a mix of energy efficiency measures, energy generation and connection to new energy systems, adapting to unavoidable climate change, and for some enabling charging of an electric vehicle. If all changes are done in one go for each home, then that means 6,400 homes need to be retrofitted each year from 2020-2045. If we take an iterative approach, with say 4 interventions, then this would up the challenge to over 25,000 homes every year from now to 2045. That is notwithstanding the likely reduced cost of doing these interventions once, such as scaffolding. 

Climate Fife is a collective response to the climate challenge of our times. Climate change is not a problem for the future – the window of action is now and is closing rapidly. The next decade must be the decade of action or there is no hope of avoiding runaway climate change. Limiting climate change could have huge economic benefits and, in the words of Sharan Burrow, the International Trade Union Confederation Secretary-General, “There are no jobs on a dead planet.”   


For more information about Climate Fife click here.

Fife Council are members of APSE Energy. For infromation on how APSE Energy can help your council make progress on reducing climate emissions click here. 

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.






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