Sustainable Scotland: How Dundee is using tech to accelerate green action and benefit communities

Dundee sits at number four on the list of Scottish cities when it comes to size, but it’s proving a strong contender for first place in the field of green innovation and work to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

The city’s location on the east coast leaves it especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including extreme, unpredictable weather events such as flooding.

The area is also home to some of the most deprived households in Scotland, with almost one in three affected by fuel poverty – unable to afford the cost of heating and power.

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However, it’s a small place with big ambitions to tackle both social and environmental problems – and “compact geography” is working in its favour.

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“In Dundee we have a geographical advantage,” said John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council and deputy chair of the city’s Climate Leadership Group.

“It’s a small, condensed city with its 150,000 population living within just 26 square miles.

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“That means when we put in infrastructure we can connect to more properties than in bigger, more sprawling places.”

The council declared a climate emergency in June 2019, with a target for the whole city to reach net zero emissions by 2045 or sooner – aligned with Scotland’s national targets.

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Dundee's compact nature is working in its favour in the drive to cut greenhouse gases, benefitting communities and the environment. Picture: John Devlin

A climate action plan was then drawn up, in collaboration with public, private and community organisations across the city.

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It targets four key areas for action: energy, transport, waste and resilience, with a raft of measures aimed at benefiting both the planet and communities.

To help realise these goals and accelerate progress, the authority has enlisted Swedish technology company ClimateView and its ClimateOS platform, which has been deployed to help more than 60 cities across the globe quantify and reduce their carbon footprint.

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Bryan Harris, sustainability and climate change manager at Dundee City Council, said: “We launched our Climate Action Plan in 2019, but we didn’t understand specifically how far our actions would take us to our net zero target.

Tomer Shalit, chief executive and founder of Swedish tech firm ClimateView, has been helping Dundee leaders to better understand the environmental impacts of green plans and accelerate action to cut emissions
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“Dundee began working with ClimateView in August 2020, making it the first city in Scotland to do so.

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“ClimateOS has helped us visualise the impact of our current actions and will now help us monitor the plan and continuously develop new ideas to ensure that it is as effective as possible.

“Dundee is the second smallest city authority in Scotland, but it has a long tradition of partnership working on environmental, social issues and community planning issues.

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“As such, we were really open to using ClimateView to help us strengthen our partnerships and plans.”

Over the past 16 years Dundee’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 45 per cent, with the greatest reductions coming from decarbonising energy use in buildings.

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Small interventions can have a disproportionately high impact in Dundee because of its size, Mr Alexander says.

A £50 million council scheme that installed external wall insulation in 5,000 homes has already shown tangible results – cutting fuel poverty rates by seven per cent, a first for Dundee.

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A city-wide low-carbon district heat network that takes in domestic, industrial and commercial properties is currently in the pipeline.

The award-winning Caird Park Low Carbon District Energy Hub is supplying green power to on-site sports facilities as well as nearby social housing.

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Meanwhile, work has begun on the ground-breaking £3.5 million Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc, which will be a world-class hub for green energy, research and development.

And the city is considered the electric vehicle capital of Scotland – perhaps even the UK – with more than 200 public charging points.

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During a visit to Dundee last month by the UK Climate Change Committee, which advises the UK and Scottish governments, chief executive Chris Stark said: “I think every city across the UK has got its challenges, and I’m very pleased to say that Dundee is further ahead than most.”

ClimateView founder and chief executive Tomer Shalit said he was impressed with the green vision for Dundee, describing it as “innovative and forward-thinking”.

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He said: “Like many other cities, Dundee was having issues when it came to connecting emissions to targets and targets to action – issues in understanding what the impact of the latter was on the former, in seeing both the big picture and ensuring the details of the plan added up.

“Concrete metrics and understanding how much each initiative amounts to in terms of emissions reduction is an absolute necessity for the cities themselves and for the nation as a whole to be able to understand how close it is from reaching its goal.”

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There’s still a way to go to meet net zero.

But the technology is helping identify solutions that will allow Dundee to decarbonise faster, according to Mr Harris.

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“We already understood the big emissions picture, but CIimateView is allowing us to dig deeper into the data and compare estimates to actual impacts.

“Heating is one of the biggest areas where we need to reduce emissions, and there was a challenge around understanding how much retrofitting contributes to a carbon reduction.

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“Understanding the metrics is a crucial part of the process and one of the benefits of the ClimateOS platform is that the data can be refined over time as our understanding and sources improve.”

He said the platform also identifies gaps in emissions reduction action, which highlights what the challenge is.

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“All of the obvious strategies and policies are in place but we need to go further, he said.

“So the software will help us really think outside the normal scope to ensure we reach net zero by 2045 or sooner.

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“It’s a tool that allows us to add solutions rather than just quantify climate emissions.”

Now more investment is needed so the city can “join the dots”, according to the council leader.

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“Talk is cheap but we need to take action,” he said.

“Declaring a climate emergency for a city like Dundee is meaningless without action.

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“We have to keep ahead of the curve.

“We have an advantage, so we need to make the most of it.”

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