Snapshot FAQs for Australian Councils

Over the last decade, Australian councils and communities have been leading the way on climate action, delivering thousands of renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have resulted in greenhouse emissions reduction and community benefits throughout the land. However, one of the missing parts of the climate action-puzzle has long been a greater understanding of local greenhouse emissions sources: What are the major sources of carbon emissions for a community? Where should a council be targeting action? 

Over the past 5 years Ironbark Sustainability and Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) have been working with councils and community groups to develop community emissions profiles throughout Australia. Ironbark and BZE teamed up in 2018 to combine tools, expertise and an understanding of climate action in the community and local government to create Snapshot.

Snapshot is the first national tool providing community-wide greenhouse gas profiles for every council across Australia. Snapshot calculates major sources of carbon emissions, including stationary energy, transport, waste, agriculture and land-use change.

This page provides answers to the various questions we've had from council stakeholders throughout Australia. There are also further FAQs on the Snapshot website designed for all users - councils, community stakeholders, climate action groups - whereas the questions below are from local government stakeholders and targeted at councils. 

General Questions

Where did Snapshot come from?
 

The back-end tools that create the profiles were essentially developed over a 5-year period through work with around 100 councils across Australia to develop community-wide emissions profiles. This included the development of the City of Melbourne and C40 Cities-led Greater Melbourne Emissions Profile, Sustainability Victoria’s Local Government Energy Savers (LGES) program for regional and rural councils, and 36 NSW councils through the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) climate programs.

Who funded Snapshot?
 

To move from excel-based tools and reports, Snapshot was supported generously by the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation and Sustainability Victoria through initial funding to develop the tool. This funding included room for input and third-party review and endorsement from other experts such as Renew (formally ATA) and ICLEI Oceania. Later support from the NSW DPIE resulted in a series of workshops and training with NSW councils and stakeholders and the Local Government Association of Northern Territory (LGANT) to develop profiles for NT communities and councils. In South Australia, Snapshot has essentially been “crowd-funded” through the Regional Climate Partnerships by 18 leading councils who all contributed to support Snapshot development, maintenance and the release for communities and councils throughout the state. These councils are Adelaide Hills, Campbelltown, Charles Sturt, Gawler, Holdfast Bay, Marion, Mitcham, Murray Bridge, Norwood Payneham & St Peters, Onkaparinga, Port Adelaide Enfield, Port Lincoln, Prospect, Southern Mallee, Tea Tree Gully, Unley, Victor Harbor and West Torrens.

What do councils have to do now?
 

Very little. The underlying approach to Snapshot since its inception is that developing profiles for community groups and councils should not be costly or arduous. The process should be transparent and easy, compliant with international protocols and practices, and not result in the duplication of effort or resources.

As a sector, if councils, community groups and other local government stakeholders are still spending too much time and resources developing “baseline” emissions profiles then we are not doing our job. Ironbark have provided the IP developed through work with 100 councils since 2015 to Snapshot. BZE have done likewise and we now have a tool that is co-owned by local government technical and programmatic experts and a not-for-profit organisation to benefit all councils and communities.

Will Snapshot be updated?
 

Yes. Snapshot will be updated on an annual basis to incorporate any new methodologies or changes to the GPC guidelines. This will ensure that the tool continues to meet the needs of councils and community groups. We’re also working in the background with data providers to improve the granularity and accuracy of data. Snapshot will be updated at least every year with the latest data. There is a lag between when the data sets become available and when they can be collected, analysed, reviewed and then uploaded onto Snapshot. In early August 2020, Snapshot will be updated with the 2018 year.

Can I check the methodology?
 

You sure can. The full Snapshot Methodology including calculation methods, emission factors, and data source is available here. As we update methodologies, we’ll update this document. The intention is to keep everything as transparent as possible.

Using Snapshot

How can we communicate the results to the community?
 

Snapshot is a great tool for communicating the scale of the impact of a municipality and the need to take action to reduce or offset emissions. It can facilitate collaborative planning between councils, residents, local business and other levels of government. A communication strategy depends a little on your community and current level of engagement around climate change and any existing programs you have. We’d suggest checking out the resources page on Snapshot, especially the community-facing resources and programs such as Zero Carbon Communities. By early August, there will also be extra social media tools within Snapshot that can be used by councils through existing social media channels. 

How can we relate local greenhouse gas emissions to the big picture of climate change and what needs to be done at a government level?
 

The profiles displayed through Snapshot will help people to understand the impact of various stakeholders in managing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, Snapshot highlights the role of the industrial sector at a local level in overall emissions. It can also highlight the role of the state and federal government, who can support reductions through transport systems and decisions that impact the energy grid.

Snapshot demonstrates the scale of the action required, especially when viewed with an understanding of a municipal science-derived target, carbon budget or goal to get to “zero emissions” as soon as possible. Snapshot clearly demonstrates that the scale of the climate challenge is something that cannot be tackled at the level of the individual or household, rather it must be viewed as a collaborative effort across all levels of government, industry, energy providers and the community. See also the Resources section on Snapshot with ways to assist.

Can we use Snapshot to communicate with residents on changing their behaviour to reduce emissions? It does not include food choices (e.g. red meat), air travel.
 

Snapshot can provide a basis to engage with the community. For instance, using the residential emissions from Snapshot can show the relative scale of emissions from the residential sector. This can communicate to residents the emissions reductions as a result of collective behaviour change or other community-wide initiatives/programs. Perhaps the most effective way that a Snapshot profile can be used with the residential sector is to show the impact that advocacy to the State Government, Federal Government or local industries may have.    

An important learning from Snapshot is also that the residential sector may not be the best focus area for a Council or an organisation if they are hoping to create large-scale emissions reductions. For most municipalities, there will be sectors such as the industrial sector or the agricultural sector that will have very large portions of emissions but significantly fewer stakeholders. This means that the opportunity per stakeholder is far greater in those sectors than in residential, where there is a very high number of stakeholders and only a small opportunity for reduction from each. Whilst individual actions demonstrate commitment to a positive cause, climate change will not be resolved without systematic changes from government and industry.

A common trend I noticed is that councils have emissions declining since 2005 with some stating this trend has reversed in recent years. Is there a way we can better understand the extent of the trends?
 

The main reason for downward trends in emissions is the decarbonisation of grid electricity. This is more prevalent in some states more than others. For example, in South Australia, the shift to renewable energy in the grid results in a reduction in electricity emissions throughout the whole state. In other states this trend is not as noticeable. Please note that historical data should only be used as a trend. More detailed analysis is required for specific council areas and sectoral changes.

Can we use Snapshot to compare between councils and understand where we sit and where we should we focus our efforts?
 

You can use Snapshot to compare between councils. It provides a starting point to understand where the emissions sources are in your municipality and an understanding of where to focus your efforts. We would suggest using it to start the conversation around action planning and targeting the key sectors. Snapshot tells you were the emissions sources are, but not the current activities or climate action within a municipality. So it’s also important to get an understanding of the current level of climate action, the plans and strategies of other key stakeholders (such as businesses and state government) to leverage or work with other stakeholders. 

We would suggest exercising caution as to the reasons for comparison. If there are ways to learn from municipalities with similar characteristics (for example, through the Comparison Reports) then this could be very valuable. But comparison to determine which council or municipality is doing “better” or “worse” is counter-productive and misleading. Snapshot does not rank municipalities, but simply states where the emissions sources are from. 

Councils only have a limited degree of control and influence over the sources of emissions within their municipality so a degree of caution is required. For example, the Cities of Hume (Victoria) and West Torrens (South Australia) have large airports within their municipal boundaries that would skew any “per capita” comparisons. The same may apply to those council areas with large industrial energy users (BlueScope Steel in Wollongong (NSW) or Tomago Aluminium in Port Stephens (NSW)).

How are the Comparison or “Cohorts” Reports developed?
 

The pool of municipalities used in the comparison report covers all municipalities in Australia. Your municipality’s “cohort” consists of other municipalities with a similar social, demographic and economic context. It does not account for “actions” that are being or have been undertaken, however it is a good starting point to see what other council areas may be good to connect with for shared learning.

While there are other factors that will shape the challenges and opportunities facing a municipality in terms of its emissions profile and emissions reduction, the characteristics used provide a basis for high level comparison. To determine a municipality’s cohort each council is mapped against every other council on the following areas:

•    Total emissions
•    Population
•    Gross Regional Product (GRP)
•    Socio Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) rating

These comparisons are looking for a percentage variation; this is set at 20% absolute (i.e. positive and negative). Other municipalities that fall within this range are considered “cohorts”. Note that this approach does not ensure that the cohort developed for a council will match a cohort for another. I.e., If Municipality A has Municipality B within its cohort, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Municipality B will have Municipality A within its cohort. This is because it’s a percentage based approach.

Will Snapshot be an ongoing resource to enable monitoring and evaluation of wider community efforts to curb emissions?
 

The short answer is yes, it will be an ongoing resource. However as a general rule, municipal-wide emissions profiles (whether through Snapshot or other programs) are not appropriate tools to monitor the impact of a project. The impact of community or council-led projects will fall within the margin of error of a modelled emissions profile. The data and methodology underpinning Snapshot are as robust as you can find in Australia, but there is not enough granularity and too much susceptibility to change from external factors to allow for monitoring of community projects. For example, even with extremely detailed activity data on energy use, if the state government did something tomorrow that changes the state emissions factor (like, closed a coal-fired power station) this would have a significant impact on emissions without any changes in the community. Therefore, the community emissions profiles are not currently suitable as a monitoring tool. We recommend targeted monitoring of the actions itself once implementation of actions has commenced. As we improve on data granularity over time we expect this to change.

Can we use the tool to model Science-Based Targets by sector?
 

The profiles developed in Snapshot can inform the establishment of a science derived target, increasingly set by councils around Australia. Snapshot profiles provide communities and councils with an understanding of the scale of reduction and the level of ambition needed when setting targets to meet this challenge. Setting science derived targets – either for whole of the municipality of just a sector – requires an understanding of Australia’s carbon budget, the rate of reduction of the budget, and data on how to scale this to the municipal level. There is more information on the Science Derived Targets for Local Government Working Group, or you can contact Ironbark who have undertaken this work for councils throughout Australia. The Snapshot profiles are a start, but you need more information to model a carbon budget and science-derived target. More information is available on setting targets in our FAQs on Snapshot.

Data - General

Has the data been verified?
 

Yes. Snapshot is underpinned by a common international framework, the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC Protocol) to allow for comparison between municipalities. With input from Australia’s leading experts and based on decades of experience working with hundreds of councils and community groups throughout Australia, the Snapshot data, methodology, and calculations have been independently verified and endorsed by ICLEI Oceania, Sustainability Victoria, and Renew.

Can I use my own data?
 

Many councils will have historical profiles which have been developed using various different methodologies and data sets. There may be differences in the methodologies applied, and it should be noted that many profiles will not have been developed in line with the GPC standards. If you have an independently developed profile that you feel presents a discrepancy then please contact Snapshot and we will assess inclusion within the Snapshot database on an individual basis. There are several municipalities that have completed detailed emissions profiles which have been verified. In their case, the results have been hard coded into the tool, and these results are provided in place of the Snapshot profile.

My Snapshot reports data that is different to how we have reported community-wide emissions and previous emissions profiles. Why the difference?
 

Firstly, note that your profile will change. Your Snapshot profile will change. This is not like developing an internal corporate inventory where you have access to real data. 

Expect changes. 

The Snapshot team undertake ongoing research, development, and stakeholder liaison to ensure our methodologies and tools are in-line with best practice at the time of calculation. This means that when new data sets, sources, methodologies and information becomes available, we will adapt our tools to incorporate these and emissions profiles will change. We remain dynamic, as science always should. 

Our ongoing development means that as we continue to learn and move onto future versions, profiles will continue to change. This isn't a bad thing - it means we are understanding the problem better and remain at the forefront of emissions data and management.

Many councils will have historical profiles that have been developed using different methodologies and data sets. There may be differences in the methodologies applied, and it should be noted that many profiles will not have been developed in line with the GPC standards. If you have an independently developed profile that you feel presents a discrepancy then please send it to us and we will assess inclusion within the Snapshot database on an individual basis.

There are several municipalities that have completed detailed emissions profiles which have been verified. In their case, the results have been hard coded into the tool, and these results are provided in place of the Snapshot profile.

I'm interested to learn how the data is collected, particularly when the postcode extends outside the municipal boundary.
 

To identify the specific area of a given region (e.g. ABS Statistical Area Level 2 (SA2), Bioregion (IBRA7), etc.) that applies to a municipality, an intersection is plotted between the region boundaries and the LGA municipal boundaries to identify the concordances by postcode. With this concordance information, emissions profiles are developed.

Data - Specific Sectors

Can we use our local data from distribution businesses for stationary energy?
 

Individual data sources are a little more challenging, and it depends on the type of data and sector. For example, if you have more granular or “Tier 2” data for stationary energy from a distribution business (DNSPs) then contact Snapshot and we can discuss potential inclusion as long as it is GPC compliant. What commonly happens is this data from do not include large energy users for privacy reasons. Frustratingly, sometimes this is not disclosed. 

The GPC protocol, which is like the accounting protocol for emissions at the municipal scale, requires data sets to be “complete”. So, unless you can prove that it is a complete data set and the DNSP hasn’t excluded any data, it cannot be used. The Snapshot team are working on more strategic approaches with DNSPs around Australia on data requirements, and any councils with experience or interest in being involved in this are encouraged to contact us.

Can we use our local data for waste emissions?
 

Many councils have access to detailed and local waste data sourced from collections and processing contractors and have supplied this to Snapshot. While it is possible to incorporate localised data sets for waste, the key question again comes down to the completeness of the data, as per the previous question. Is it a complete data set?

If it can be guaranteed as a complete data set then there may be ways to incorporate it, noting analysis needs to be undertaken on waste treatment methods and other processes. However, what commonly occurs is the data is missing segments so it can’t be considered complete – for example, commercial scale waste or portions of industrial waste. 

While council data may be more "accurate" or at least granular than state-based data scaled to the municipal level, it's often not complete. This means we don't know how much is missing through the missing waste sources – is it an extra 100 tonnes? 10,000? 100,000? It could have a big impact, and this is what needs to be investigated. Note that the GPC protocol, the municipal scale greenhouse emissions accounting rule book, has clear criteria around data as follows:


These are in order of importance from left to right. Relevance, completeness, consistency and transparency are considered more important that accuracy. So, you if you have a more accurate but incomplete data set then it would be considered non-compliant. The preference is complete data even if it may not be as accurate. The intention is you start with something that is "complete" then improve the accuracy and granularity into the future. Note that accurate but incomplete data sets can still be incredibly valuable. It can be used for measuring impact of actions and prove, for example, an increase in residential recycling rates. It’s just it can't be incorporated into a city-wide emissions profile because it's not compliant. 

When looking at emissions from waste, is this the cases from waste, or does it include the transport from the collection of waste?
 

Waste covers emissions associated with the breakdown of waste materials. The transport fuel consumed from the collection waste is included in the Transport sector.

Where is the transport data from?
 

Transport covers emissions associated with most forms of transport. Exclusions are consistent with those outlined in the GPC reporting format, such as transport within industrial facilities. A spatial scaling factor compliant with the GPC has been developed using vehicle registration data by vehicle type, from the state to the municipal level. Each vehicle type is assigned a fuel type. State fuel sales data for diesel, petrol and LPG is then allocated to the appropriate vehicle type and scaled to the municipal level using the spatial scaling factor. Petrol vehicles are assigned to the residential subsector whilst diesel and LPG vehicles are assigned to the commercial sector. If required, the data is scaled temporally to align with the profile year. Residential fuel consumption is scaled temporally using regressions developed from municipal-level population data. Commercial fuel consumption is scaled temporally using regressions developed from municipal-level jobs data. National-level emissions factors are applied. This method uses data including fuel consumption by volume, state and vehicle type; vehicles registered by municipality, year and vehicle type.

Air travel is included in GPC but I can’t see it on Snapshot – what is the rationale?
 

Air travel is indeed included in GPC. Snapshot does include domestic air travel according to prescribed GPC methodologies. Snapshot includes domestic air travel within the municipality where data is available (as of early 2020 the data is available for 44 airports in Australia). For smaller domestic airports that are not included in this data set, the emissions associated with air travel are usually very small as compared to other sectors of the community emissions profile. It’s important to note that domestic air travel is attributed to the municipality in which the aircraft take off and land (i.e. where the airport is). If you take a look at the Snapshot for Hume you will note that emissions for air travel are very high, as Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport is within the municipal boundary. This is as consistent with the GPC methodology. See the detailed Snapshot Methodology here, outlining in more detail how we account for air travel emissions. Air travel is represented within the profile of the municipality – and that of other municipalities with airports within their boundary if applicable. 

Are all emissions associated with domestic travel attributed to our municipality rather than spread across the state?
 

At this stage domestic air travel remains attributed to the municipality in which the aircraft take off and land (i.e. where the airport is located) and other municipalities with airports within their boundary if applicable. We are aware that this is a complicated issue, and based on the feedback we receive we will continue discussions to determine the best way to account for and present air travel within Snapshot profiles in future releases. But at the moment, until or unless there is a reasonable and GPC-compliant alternative approach to attributing airport emissions, the Snapshot approach is consistent with GPC. The table in the Snapshot reports provide a breakdown of travel emissions which should help councils highlight the contribution of air travel as opposed to on-road travel so a council can communicate that transport emissions might appear artificially high because of an airport. 

Is international air travel or shipping included within Snapshot?
 

There is not an agreed way of dealing with international shipping and international aviation within the GPC. An international agreement on how to apportion emissions that are released in international waters and air must be agreed upon before we can understand what Australia’s responsibility is in this area. As such, a community emissions profile can exclude these sources and remain compliant with the GPC.

Other Questions

Why isn’t my council available on Snapshot?
 

Councils are diverse and there may be some which have specific characteristics that set them apart from the majority of municipalities. These characteristics include very high levels of industrial activity or are for very small rural councils. For some councils, it is possible that a standard modelled profile may not be representative of emissions. In such cases, Snapshots may not be available. We’re still working in the background to ensure profiles are available from Snapshot for all councils as soon as possible. If your council is not up on Snapshot, please let us know.

Can I have my Snapshot profile removed? 
 

If your council does not want your Snapshot profile online then please contact us, and we can discuss removing it. Please note that Snapshot is not purely a tool for local governments and council practitioners. If we are subsequently contacted by community organisations such as local climate action groups who seek to have the profile reinstated, then we reserve the right to upload the profile. This is a decision that will ultimately be made by Ironbark and BZE in conjunction with council and community groups and an overarching approach of providing free accessible climate data for communities.

Will our Snapshot be public, as it differs to our own modelling and public reporting?
 

Yes. All Snapshots are public. As per other questions you are welcome to send us your own profile and if it is GPC-compliant it can be uploaded instead of the standard Snapshots. Note that Snapshot is not purely a tool for local governments and council practitioners but also community organisations. Our approach is that communities and local climate organisations have a right to open data access and knowledge about the emissions sources within their community. 

How do I download the PDF version of the Snapshot, do I need a login?
 

To download PDF reports, you’ll need to log in. All you need is your email address. We send you an email with a login link in it. That’s it. Note that the email link is for one time use only and you will need to login and get a new email link each time you wish to download a report.

How do Councils get notified when there is a new complete reporting period available?
 

There is currently no official Snapshot email list for notifications, however it is something we are investigating. In the meantime we would suggest follow either BZE or Ironbark on social media or sign up to the BZE or Ironbark mailing lists. Neither organisation is in the habit of spamming people so if you don't like what you're getting you can unsubscribe anytime.

Where can I get more information?
 

There is a raft of information online. You can view a Snapshot Webinar Snapshot: How Councils and Communities Around Australia Can Use Snapshot to Drive Action, which included special presentations and updates from BZE, Cities Power Partnership, ICLEI Oceania and Ironbark. If you have questions that are not provided here or through the other resources, please email the Snapshot team at hello@snapshotclimate.com.au