Student Fellowship

Net Zero by 2040: Using Data to Craft a Compelling Vision for a Sustainable Transition

Project Area:

Climate Action


South Yorkshire Combined Authority, England

Reporting to:

Net Zero Project Director

The Challenge

The South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (SYMCA) is committed to transitioning to a Net Zero Economy by 2040. Mayor Oliver Coppard is committed to delivering a prosperous, environmentally sustainable, equitable and healthy South Yorkshire by co-creating both the vision for the region and the solutions that can be implemented to achieve net zero by the 2040 target.1 SYMCA’s leadership also sees regional climate action as an opportunity for shaping an understanding and appreciation of place, thus contributing to the Mayor’s vision to restore the pride, purpose, and prosperity of the region. SYMCA has crafted an Energy Strategy that outlines how the region could achieve its ambition to be at net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The combined authority’s leadership recognizes the need to articulate and co-create a cohesive vision that is data informed. They also see the importance of tools and techniques to facilitate understanding and generate broader buy-in and engagement from communities, local leaders, and key decision-makers who make resource allocation and budget decisions.2 Leadership wants to be able to show them—in simple and compelling ways—why the changes being proposed are necessary and the potential impact of taking action or inaction on health, economic, social, and environmental outcomes.

SYMCA has started the process of moving to a geospatial system of data collection, analysis, and publishing through a project to define the Natural Capital of the region (water courses, woodlands, streams, agricultural lands, etc.); however, combined authority leaders believe that this is a narrow sectoral approach and needs to be broadened to include energy systems, transport, deprivation/poverty, health outcomes, employment opportunities, carbon emissions, etc. Critically, the approach used needs to identify target areas for the delivery of interventions and model the impact of those projects. And while they have several internal and external data sources on hand (deprivation indices, local citizen science project on air quality data, etc.), they also see an opportunity to identify—and even commission—additional data collection efforts to paint a fuller picture. This would entail layering data to surface correlations and running simulations to show what various outcomes like health, education, and economic activity might look like under different scenarios. Importantly, they want to be able to use compelling and easy to understand visualizations for communications and building buy-in and inclusion in grant applications for funding, etc. Working alongside the Sustainability team, the summer fellow will seek to answer the following key questions:

  • What do the data reveal about various communities and how interventions will impact them?
  • What are the links between health, environment, poverty, and other metrics across the region?
  • What will be the impact of multifaceted interventions, such as programs of housing retrofit, skills development, or community energy?
  • How does SYMCA communicate this vision with different partners, stakeholders, and communities?

What You’ll Do

To address these questions, the fellow will engage with key internal and external stakeholders from across the city region, identify new stakeholders, identify existing data, and commission new data collection, create GIS layers reflecting regional data sets, analyze correlation of outcomes against environmental and social conditions, assemble and map time series data projecting the impact of regional programs on key measurable outcomes, and communicate about the project via in-person and online presentations. Key deliverables include:

  1. Stakeholder maps, identifying potential new partners, and methods of engagement.
  2. Inventory of existing data sources and proposals for new data collection.
  3. Data visualizations that can be used to demonstrate to different stakeholders the impact that regional action could have across several critical outcomes.
  4. Presentation to elected leaders demonstrating the value of using geospatial timeseries data to co-create, communicate, and paint a compelling vision for the region.

What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills: 

  • Data analysis
  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis 
  • Mapping (GIS)
  • Design thinking
  • Human centered design
  • Stakeholder engagement and management 

The Strategy is based on collaboration between academia, businesses, and South Yorkshire communities and includes plans to ensure no new homes use fossil fuels by 2025, a zero-emission public transport fleet by 2035, and at least five mine water schemes, which use water from former mines to heat nearby homes and communities, by 2040. It also includes ambitions to create 3,500 jobs and training opportunities in the low carbon and renewable energy sector and to cut car miles by a quarter.

2 SYMCA is already recruiting, for example, for the South Yorkshire Climate Emergency Citizens' Assembly.

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