24.10.19

Leading the climate revolution

Source: PSE: Oct/Nov 19

The mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, explains how the city council has been leading the way with combating climate change and achieving carbon neutral goals.

In November 2018, Bristol became the first UK city council to declare a climate emergency, highlighting the action we were taking as a council, and a city, on climate change. Our approach is driven by two core beliefs: that climate change requires a ‘whole city’ approach and that we must have an inclusive mindset to make sure no one is left behind in transition to a green future. 

Globally, cities consume over two-thirds of the world's energy and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions, but they will also bring people together for solutions. Cities and their leadership are uniquely placed to lead the world in reducing carbon emissions, as they are easier to decarbonise than rural areas because of their capacity for heat networks and mass transit. CO2 emission reductions in core cities has been greater than the UK as a whole - 31% in core cities compared to 27% nationally. 

As a local authority we’re delivering cleaner energy, transforming public transport, rolling out heat networks and flood defences, as well as other initiatives that challenge ‘business as usual’. Our world leading City Leap Prospectus is a multi-billion pound investment scheme that will decarbonise Bristol, create green jobs, and ensure a healthier and fairer city for all. 

We have successfully achieved our own carbon reduction target two years early, with a 71% reduction of carbon emissions. We now have a target for the council to be carbon neutral for its own direct emissions by 2025, leading by example and bringing the city around a target of 2030. 

Because, of course, councils alone do not control all emissions and consumption. All of their people and institutions have to be leaders, as climate change cannot be solved alone. This is why developing a One City Climate Strategy for Bristol is critical to putting in place the governance structures we need to bring together our city to effectively and urgently make the changes we need to ensure transformative action. 

However, even with a co-ordinated whole city response, it’s clear that we can’t achieve ambitious climate goals without support from the Government – so we’re working closely with core cities leaders to clarify our asks, and also offer Government our help in co-producing solutions - they can’t meet national targets without us. But we’re not just waiting around for government cash amidst the current chaos - in the meantime we’re getting on with facilitating inward investment to harness low carbon innovation opportunities. 

As local leaders know, there are no single issue solutions. As well as the climate emergency, we face a social care crisis, in Bristol and many other places there is a housing crisis and with the threat of a no-deal Brexit on the horizon, we know the UK’s retail crisis could evolve into severe economic instability. Poverty, and how to best use our planet’s resources, drives our thinking. In addressing the climate emergency we must also acknowledge and take action to realise environmental, economic, social and political justice together. 

To achieve this, it is crucial to recognise how these themes link. In our city, over 23,000 households live in fuel poverty. This isn’t just about energy it impacts health, housing, education and social outcomes. So our solutions involve collaboration between services and take the whole picture into account. We’re addressing fuel poverty through city partners and our own company, Bristol Energy – whose overall fuel mix is 79% green (UK average is 32.8%) and is becoming greener. 

This is just one example of the inclusive Bristol ‘One City’ approach that we believe is our best chance of realising the systemic changes needed to safeguard our environment while ensuring that the most vulnerable in our communities are not left behind. 

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