Climate change policy decision-making tool “highly commended” in COP26 Climate Challenge Cup

Posted on 17th November 2021

A simple tool to help local authorities and other organisations use the latest evidence to adapt to climate change in ways that benefit human health has been highly commended in the  international Climate Challenge Cup, announced last night as part of COP-26.

The University of Exeter and Cornwall Council worked together to develop the Local Climate Adaptation Tool, with support from Cornwall-based non-profit organisation Then Try This. Easy to use, the application combines complex climate change models to help the user understand implications of climate change in their local area, and how adaptation decisions can in turn impact health.

Last night, at a ceremony that was held in person at COP26 and online, the team received a “highly commended” award for their work.

Professor Emma Bland, of the University of Exeter’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health, is one of the tool’s co-creators. She said: “We’re thrilled to win this award. We hope it will bring us a step closer to helping local authorities and decision-makers translate the complexities of climate change research into policies that will benefit local people’s health in a genuinely sustainable way. A huge thanks to all our partners who made this possible. We’re now looking forward to extending this project to create a national and possibly international tool to build local climate change resilience.”

The tool was developed after local authorities and organisations were asked what would help them translate research into practice. In response to their plea for research outputs to be simplified, the tool gives specific recommendations based on the best available evidence, on what action can be taken in that area to support the health and wellbeing of local people. The advice is specific to area populations of around 1,500 people within a particular postcode.

It was one of  12 projects to be shortlisted for the Climate Challenge Cup, which celebrates partnerships between research bodies, civic organisations and local communities to combat climate change. The project, currently available in a prototype, was showcased at COP26, the United Nations 2021 Climate Change Conference.

Dr Bland said: “The tool was created in response to organisations telling us that they needed support to navigate the complexities of emerging research to understand how best to benefit the health of their communities. Our tool is the best model available to provide recommendations that are specific to each area and are easy to understand, while linking the user to the underpinning research.”

The tool allows the user to select a local area of interest, and see the predicted climate for this area over the coming decades. It combines these predictions with evidence on the health impacts of climate change from the scientific literature to support local organisations to plan how best to adapt, and enable the best possible health and well-being outcomes for local people.

An example recommendation may be to plan cycle paths with shade for hotter summer months and protection from stronger cross winds in the winter, ensuring people can continue to gain the health and wellbeing benefits of cycling in a changing climate.

Understanding the complex interactions between climate and health is important to avoid decisions that may unintentionally cause poor health. For example, introducing home insulation without proper ventilation could lead to increased mould and radon, causing an increase in respiratory (or lung) disease. Building cycle paths without considering increased levels of rainfall could lead to paths becoming flooded and users not cycling (losing the benefit of being active) or cycling on roads increasing the risk of road traffic accidents.

Councillor Martyn Alvey, Cornwall County Council’s cabinet member for environment and climate change, said: “It is a huge accolade that our Local Climate Adaptation Tool has been highly commended at COP26 while world leaders discuss accelerating global climate action.

“The Local Climate Adaptation Tool is a ground-breaking initiative to help local authorities and other organisations plan how to manage and adapt to significant climate change effects in their communities to positively impact on residents’ health outcomes.”

Currently, the tool is available as a prototype, with a climate model for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, exploring the impact of climate change on ‘active travel’.  As a next step, the team plans to work with the CLIMAR project, a climate model collaboration between the University or Exeter and the Met Office, to develop the model further, to help policy-makers develop practical solutions to benefit their own communities.

The tool was created after consulting a range of organisation on their needs in supporting them to adapt to climate chance. In addition to Local Authorities, this included the emergency services, health trusts and local voluntary sector organisations.

Other collaborators from the University of Exeter are Professor Gavin Shaddick, Dr Tim Taylor, Dr Ben Wheeler, Ceren Barlas Peter Lefort.

Date: 19 October 2021

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