Game on: climate scientists develop heat decarbonisation table top game

20 Jun 2019


While low-carbon household heating is less visible than electric cars or other low-carbon innovations, it is essential to reaching our Net Zero targets. It is therefore essential the end-user - that is, members of the public - understand the changes that need to be made, and the choices ahead. It's important we engage the public in new ways - we won't achieve the energy transition unless we bring the public with us.

In UKERC's recent report, Disrupting the UK energy system: causes, impacts and policy implications, the in-depth analysis focuses on four key areas of the economy, highlighting how they may need to change to remain competitive and meet future carbon targets. Heat is one of those areas.

Heat: All approaches for heat decarbonisation are potentially disruptive, with policymakers favouring those that are less disruptive to consumers. Since it is unlikely that rapid deployment of low carbon heating will be driven by consumers or the energy industry, significant policy and governance interventions will be needed to drive the sustainable heat transformation.

The Heat Network, led by charity 10:10 Climate Action working in collaboration with UKERC researchers, looks to support the UK’s heat decarbonisation efforts through the development of a successful, inclusive and enduring network of people and organisations helping to decarbonise heat. Its key goal is to get people talking and develop an enduring network of companies and individuals and we expect the events to go some way to achieving this. They aim to summarise and communicate its work through a variety of innovative means.  As well as "heatseeker missions", workshops and more, this game is one approach as part of their portfolio.

Game On

In ‘Carbon City Zero’ players compete to become the UK’s first carbon zero city, and in order to do so they must consider the short and long-term benefits and the cost (both financial and environmental) for developing certain aspects of their city.

Developed by 10:10 Climate Action and professors at Manchester Metropolitan University, Dr Sam Illingworth, Lecturer in Science Communication and Paul Wake, Reader in the Department of English, specialising in games, a game based on the real life challenges involved in heat decarbonisation is on the horizon.


The project was developed as part of the Heat Network: heat decarbonisation network, a Whole Systems Networking Fund project collaboration between 10:10 and UKERC.

Play as Mayor of Carbon City Zero

In Carbon City Zero you are the City Mayor of your chosen city and the aim of the game is to beat the other players in becoming Britain’s first zero carbon city.

Using the cards you’re dealt, players work their way up or down the Carbon Tracker board, with the aim being to get to zero. But it’s not that easy with carbon intensive industry cards like ‘medium factories’ being cheaper than cards like ‘clean electricity’ which can cut your carbon by four points but cost you more.

The occasional ‘snag’ card like ‘public apathy’ or ‘poor communication’ can also clog up your deck adding another challenge to reaching that net-zero goal.


All cards belong to a different sector and by using your budget you purchase whatever helps you cut your carbon. For example two ‘flexible budget’ cards could buy you a ‘medium factory’ card but this increases your carbon by three. Whereas an ‘eco-house’ card costs eight coins but can cut your carbon by seven.

Win through effective trade-offs

By effectively navigating the trade-offs encountered along the way in becoming net-zero, players must do all they can to cut their carbon and win the game.

The game has been trialled with a number of people, including those who work in the heat and energy sector. The photos I've attached are from the heat game workshop held in Manchester. This was an opportunity to trial the game and feed back any comments to Paul and Sam who designed the game.

Developing the game

Sam Illingworth from Manchester Met, one of the developers of the game, said "We really enjoyed this process of designing a game around heat decarbonisation. We wanted to create something that would enable people to engage in dialogue around the subject in a fun, but also meaningful way.

"To begin with the topic seemed quite daunting, but after listening to several different audiences and stakeholders it was clear that there was definitely an enjoyable gaming experience to be found."