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Making West Sussex more climate resilient

West Sussex County Council (WSCC) has an ambitious target to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2030. As an underlying priority in their Council Plan, the council believes that limiting the negative impacts of climate change will require transformative action and has committed to leading by example.   

WSCC is working to become resilient to the impacts of climate change, one of the key pillars in its Climate Change Strategy, which is applied to all areas of the organisation when planning and delivering services and operations.  

David Sale, Climate Change Policy and Partnerships Manager at WSCC, has been working to develop what it means for WSCC to be a climate resilient organisation by 2030. To help work on this area of research, two University of Brighton students completed a Master’s Student Environment Placement Scheme with WSCC. The two placement students used social, economic, housing and environmental data to identify which areas of the county are more vulnerable to climate change, and why. The research aims to help decision makers to better understand the links between climate change and vulnerable communities. 

Becoming climate resilient 

Designed as a collaborative project, the students used their skillsets to work on two consecutive phases of the project. In the first phase, the students conducted a review of scholarly and scientific literature to identify what population characteristics may influence a community’s overall social susceptibility and ability to adapt and react in emergency situations. They also identified important environmental data on future climate conditions, air quality, land cover, and more.  

GIS expertise 

In the second phase of the project, the students utilised GIS software to compile, clean, analyse and transform the raw data. The final deliverable was a GIS map package, where the students organised all 40 individual variable layers to calculate a final climate vulnerability score for each Lower Layer Super Output Area (LSOA) in West Sussex. This tool — named the Climate Vulnerability Index — will be integrated into WSCC’s systems. 

David Sale spoke about his experience with the placement.  

“We found it valuable because we had a very clear project that we wanted to complete, without the capacity or technical skills within our team to do it. It was helpful to work with the students who did have this more technical expertise to support us. As Master’s students they were very motivated to help, and they were really engaged in the process. It provided a useful workforce collaboration experience, and I would definitely recommend it. It was a great experience for us and they gave us a really valuable project that would take us a lot longer to develop without that support. 

“I think it’ll be a really exciting year in terms of our action around climate change, this tool is a gateway to a lot of important conversations.”