Week 1 Bristol in COP21 Paris: blogs from Cabot Institute
30th November 2015
Cabot Institute Director Professor Rich Pancost will be attending COP21 in Paris as part of the Bristol city-wide team, including the Mayor of Bristol, representatives from Bristol City Council and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. He will be writing blogs during COP21, reflecting on what is happening in Paris, especially in the Paris and Bristol co-hosted Cities and Regions Pavilion, and also on the conclusion to Bristol’s year as the European Green Capital.
These blogs are by Prof Rich Pancost, Director of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol and are re-posted from http://cabot-institute.blogspot.co.uk/
COP21 Daily report: Friday 4th December
The first several days of COP21 have seen a flurry of announcements, propositions and commitments. Just within the Bristol/Paris/ICLEI tent, numerous new ideas have emerged as city after city has stepped forward and proposed its Transformative Action Plans. Despite the diversity of propositions, the key themes are emerging: Leaders must be brave and adventurous; we must all work together in new and innovative partnerships built on trust; and engagement with the next generation is crucial.
These are not terribly surprising!
The challenge for leaders to be brave was the key message from the Mayors of the past and future European Green Capitals. Speaking after the panel, Katarina Luhr, Vice Mayor from Stockholm, said:
“My message to the politicians negotiating at COP21 is to look to the future and be brave.”
I could not agree with this more. Going ahead, as we face increasingly difficult challenges, navigate contentious compromise, or try something new and unknown, this bravery will become even more important… and more complicated. Populations will have to empower leaders to be bold and leaders will have to earn that right by building trust.
The Cabot Institute has been discussing this with our colleagues and partners (including the University’s new Brigstowe Institute) over the past year – and we are certainly not alone in this. We will report more on these issues in the coming months, but one emerging theme is how trust can be built through partnership. (See my blogs on the importance of University of Bristol partnerships here and here).
Few challenges, whether it be tackling climate change, resolving inequality or building a sustainable health service as our population ages, can be solved by a single agent acting alone. Appropriately, George Ferguson and Cllr Daniella Radice, Assistant Mayor for Neighbourhoods, including Environment, emphasised partnership as they opened the discussion on the first day of the Cities and Regions Pavilion. And of course, the Pavilion itself is the product of partnership between Bristol, Paris and ICLEI, itself a partnership of >1000 local and sub-national organisations.
Partnership is necessary. Diverse contributors with diverse perspectives and expertise must work together to solve the climate change crisis.
And partnership is hard. It requires a deep and long-term commitment and a willingness to share, compromise and trust. It is at the heart of the University of Bristol’s ambitions , including how we work with our city, but we also recognise that that requires long term commitment. We’re trying but we’re not going to pretend we have it cracked.
One great example of successful partnership is Bristol is Open, a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council but designed in a way to be open to a variety of new partners from business and civil society. BIO is a combination of state-of-the-art, publicly owned fibre-optic infrastructure, environmental sensors, 5G wireless technology, the university’s high performance computing and programmable city models. It could enable a new type of smart city in which traffic, flood, emergency, and energy services are managed in real time to achieve efficiency, sustainability and resilience.
But that is the future of BIO. What it is now is a city-wide laboratory that will be open for experimentation and innovation. It is an invitation to partnership. And one of the first steps in that invitation was the 18 November Festival of the Future City launch of the Data Dome, the UK’s first 3D, interactive dome for data visualisation at At-Bristol. The purpose and value of the smart, programmable city can be difficult to grasp – it was for me! The Data Dome, similar to the Playable City initiative, is a way to share and explore the potential of this technology while learning about our city. [And the Bristol Brain, one of Bristol’s Transformative Action Plan propositions discussed on Tuesday, will also be central to this.]
Another truly exciting arena for partnership is the recently announced UKCRIC programme, led in Bristol by Professor Colin Taylor, also the theme leader for the Cabot Institute’s Future cities and communities research theme. We will be discussing this
much more in the future, especially as we launch the Collaboratory component of it, which will bring investment to the centre of Bristol to support even further collaboration and innovation.
Of course, one of the most exciting and successful examples of partnership that I have seen in Bristol or any other city is the Bristol Green Capital Partnership (BGCP), which was key to winning the European Green Capital award and remains dedicated to building momentum for climate action. Gary Topp, Development Director for the Partnership and Honorary Fellow in the University of Bristol, was part of the team showcasing Bristol’s ambition on Tuesday in Paris, where he outlined its work involving over 850 organisations committed to creating ‘a low carbon city with a high quality of life for all’. For other Green Capitals, creating a partnership was a major success; we started with one. And it is now the largest of its kind in the world.
One of the things I am most proud of in the Cabot Institute has been our support of and work with the BGCP (which predates my current role by several years). Our Manager Philippa Bayley was the directly elected co-Director of the Partnership in 2014 (with the amazing Liz Zeidler of Happy City, about which I could write a whole extra blog!), and we have several ongoing projects. The Partnership is now gearing up to be a central and sustainable part of the 2015 legacy, serving as a uniting, empowering and vocal participant in the future of our city. On 26 November 2015, working with Crowdfunder UK, they launched their most recent initiative, the Better Bristol campaign to find new ways to support exciting and potentially transformative
projects. The largest such partnership in the world, the BGCP will play an essential role in ensuring that Bristol continues to be a place where grass roots projects thrive.
Mayor George Ferguson emphasised this principle in his concluding comments, noting that while targets and technology were important, the European Green Capital award was about people and partnerships among civil society, with schools, businesses and other cities. “Recognising that we cannot work in isolation,” he added, “is absolutely vital. We need to shape our cities in partnership, finding common links to suit everybody, provide confidence to deal with the unknown and take control of our destinies.”
A final example of this Partnership came later in the day, when our former Cabot Institute colleague Professor Andy Gouldson (now at Leeds) shared his research in investment in a sustainable future for Bristol. It revealed that over the next decade, such investment could save Bristol up to £300 million on its energy bills and create up to 10,000 jobs. The report ‘The Economics of Low Carbon Cities: a Mini-Stern Review for the City of Bristol, was commissioned by the Cabot Institute and funded by the University, and uses a robust model to assess the costs and benefits of low carbon projects to accelerate Bristol’s progress. A similar initiative, STEEP, involving Cabot Institute academic Mike Yearworth, showed how Systems approaches could also bring about city-scale energy efficiencies. Both are underpinning Bristol’s consultation around its Climate and Energy Security.
So enough patting ourselves on the back. These are some nice emerging success stories. But we can do better.
Partnerships work best when everyone benefits, but we must put more effort into building deeper and more powerful trust so that partnerships create room for compromise. Or even temporary sacrifice. Perhaps more importantly, we recognise that many people do not feel included in these ‘partnerships’. This requires more thought and reflection than a few paragraphs in a single blog. Therefore, allow me to simply note this challenge and trust me to return to it; and I will finish by focussing on one of our most important partners.
The youth of our city and our planet
As an educational institution, we must make a strong commitment to prepare the next generation. Our offer should be imaginative, distinctive and innovative – and it should prepare our students to be global citizens, committed to a sustainable and just future, and inspired to be creative and enterprising. These concepts are intrinsic to our ongoing Strategic Review, being led by our new Vice-Chancellor Hugh Brady.
They are also being embedded at an earlier age through one of Bristol 2015’s flagship successes. On 24 Nov, the city launched the Sustainable Learning programme, shared with thousands of Bristol children and underpinned by the award-winning Shaun the Sheep app.
We must prepare the next generation to live in a more volatile and unpredictable world. The University of Bristol is committed to that.
We must also prepare the world for them. This is not about solving all the problems for them; nor is it just about giving them the education to solve problems. It is also about creating the social, economic, legal and infrastructure framework that leaves room for them and their ideas and their creativity. I think all policies, regulations and treaties (or their removal) should be tested against a central rule: does this create options for future generations or take them away. The next generation must inherit a world where creativity and innovation are allowed to thrive. The Cabot Institute is committed to that.
But we must be equally committed to working with them now.
George Ferguson emphasised this in Paris: “We all recognised the importance of putting our young people first and foremost; involving them in how we plan for their future… those young people often come up with ideas and solutions that are better than those of their older counterparts. Building cities for the future cannot just be for youth, it has to be with them”.
I have written (and tweeted) about how deeply impressed I am by our Youth Council and our Youth Mayors, several of whom were just nominated by RIFE Magazine as 24 Influential People under 24. They are brave! And smart and informed and passionate. They have ambition for themselves and ambition to make the world a better place and we would be fools to simply wait for them to become future leaders. They have much to offer now.
But that involves more than just inviting them to the meeting; it means letting them set the agenda.
Are we brave enough to do that?
COP21 Daily report: Thursday 3rd December
Thursday's blog is written by Cabot Institute member Professor David Gordon. Prof Gordon studied environmental and climatic change for his PhD research and has worked at Bristol for 25 years in the School for Policy Studies. He is the Director of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research and was the editor of the European Journal of Social Quality for two years.
The Climate Change (COP21) conference in Paris is one of the most important gatherings of politicians, civil servants, academic experts, journalists, business and civil society representatives of the 21st Century – over 50,000 people are expected to attend. The need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions is clear as in 2015 global temperatures may rise to an average of 1oC above the pre-industrial level and atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels rose above 400 ppm for the first time in the past 800,000 years. Some climate model results show that if greenhouse gas emission were stabilised, which would require a 60% reduction in global emissions immediately, then the World’s climate would still warm up to 1.6oC above the average pre-industrial level.
The natural sciences have made huge efforts to investigate the problem of climate change; unfortunately, the social sciences have not been so active. This lamentable situation needs to change, so under the auspices of the IASQ (International Association on Social Quality) over 200 social scientists from around the world have signed the Sustainability Manifesto which argues that;
“one-dimensional solutions cannot address multidimensional problems like those we currently face..... environmental change is still viewed primarily in physical science terms, whereby the (interrelationships of) socio-environmental, socio-economic, socio-political and socio-cultural dimensions of sustainability receive insufficient attention”.
Interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research is needed particularly to fill the current knowledge gaps about socio-political and socio-cultural aspects of sustainability. A lot is now known about the environmental and economic aspects of climate change but this has not been sufficient to persuade many politicians or some sections of the public that major actions are required which may affect their lifestyles. Research is needed into how best to overcome these socio-cultural and socio-political barriers to sustainability.
The Sustainability Manifesto has received the unanimous backing of the executive committee of the International Social Science Council (the World’s governing body for the social sciences under the auspices of UNESCO) and the ISSC president, Alberto Martinelli, has called on all “scientists and colleagues all around the world to support the Initiative”. I have helped to draft the Sustainability Manifesto and have signed it on behalf of the University of Bristol.
COP21 Daily report: Wednesday 2nd December
Bristol’s presence at COP21 started with a bang, with some of its most important contributions being showcased as it opened the Bristol/Paris/ICLEI Cities and Regions Pavilion. There is a lot to digest from that and that will be the focus of tomorrow’s or Friday’s blog. Today, however, I am going to take a step back and revisit the climate science that is the basis for the political, entrepreneurial and social actions currently being discussed in Paris.
When I started by PhD in 1992, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere was about 355 ppm and already a huge source of concern to climate scientists.
About one year ago, depending on the station or the season, CO2 levels passed 400 ppm for the first time in human history. And for the first time in ice core history, extending back nearly 1 million years. And – based on our recent work using chemical proxies to reconstruct atmospheric carbon dioxide – probably for the first time in about 3 million years.
If we continue burning fossil fuel, even with reduced emissions, we will reach 550 to 700 ppm by the end of this century. Our work and that of others reveals that these are values that the Earth has not experienced for at least 10 million and maybe even 30 million years.
This is causing the Earth to warm. That relationship is derived from fundamental physics and first articulated by Svante Arrhenius over a century ago. Our climate models elaborate and clarify this relationship. Earth history validates and confirms it - when CO2 was higher, the planet was warmer. And consistent with that, this year is on track to be the warmest in recorded history, with human-induced warming now thought to have warmed our planet by 1C.
This is half of our agreed limit of 2C; and due to the slow response of the climate system, more warming will come.
These are some of the truly eye-opening facts surrounding climate change, the challenge we face and the need for this week’s negotiations.
There are many who will argue that the science of climate change is too uncertain to act upon. The observations listed above, and many others, reveal that to be a manipulative half-truth. There is an astonishing amount of knowledge about climate change – and global warming in particular.
Moreover, as Steve Lewandowksy (and Tim Ballard and myself) discussed in an article in the Guardian yesterday, the uncertainty that does exist in our understanding of climate change impacts is cause for mitigative action not complacency. This was based on our recent volume in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, in which a great diversity of researchers highlight the impact of uncertainty on the economy, cooperation, action and creativity.
This has long been a focus of the Cabot Institute; Living with Environmental Uncertainty is a central tenet of our mission. ]We have hosted consultations and workshops on understanding, constraining and communicating uncertainty; advised decision makers and leaders; produced papers, reports and even handbooks. This year as part of the Green Capital, we framed much of our own activity, as well as our contributions to the Summits, Arts Programme and Festivals, around this theme: The Uncertain World.
A great example of this research is that of the Bristol Glaciology Centre. Tony Payne was a Lead Author on the IPCC report on ice sheets and sea level rise. Glacial biogeochemists, Martyn Tranter, Jemma Wadham and Alex Anesio, are studying how surface melting can create dark patches of algal growth which could absorb light and accelerate melting. Jonathan Bamber led a fascinating expert elicitation study which suggested a wider range of potential sea level rise than previously thought.
All in all, this work is consistent with the most recent IPCC report that sea level rise will likely range from 0.7 to 1.1 m by the end of the century. However, that range belies deeper and more frightening uncertainty. Professor Bamber spoke about this yesterday at COP21 as part of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative and Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research session on Irreversible Impacts of Climate Change on Antarctica. Their presentation highlighted that the IPCC range of potential sea level rise is largely a function of the 2100 time frame applied. Longer timescales reveal the true magnitude of this threat. The projected ~1m of sea level rise is probably already inevitable. It will be even higher – perhaps several metres higher – if we warm our planet by 2C, and even more so if it warms by the 2.7C that current Paris commitments yield. The geological record suggests even more dramatic potential for sea level rise: 3 million years ago, when CO2 concentrations were last ~400 ppm, sea level might have been 20 m higher. These changes almost certainly would take place over hundreds of years rather than by 2100. But their consequences will be vast and irreversible.
This uncertainty is not limited to warming and sea level rise. Uncertainty is deeply dependent in rainfall forecasts for a warmer world; we know that warmer air can hold more water such that rainfall events are likely to become more extreme. However, how will that change regionally? Which areas will become wetter and which drier? How will that affect food production? Or soil erosion?
Of course, climate change is about more than just warming, sea level rise and extreme weather. It is also about the chemistry of our atmosphere, soils and oceans. Again profound concern and uncertainty is associated with the impact of coastal hypoxia and ocean acidification on marine ecosystems. In fact, it is the biological response to climate change, especially when coupled with all of the other ways we impact nature, that is most uncertain. Unfortunately, Earth history is less useful here. Even the most rapid global warming events of the past seem to have occurred over thousands of years, far far slower than the change occurring now, a point that emerges again and again in our research and frequently emphasised by the Head of our Global Change Theme Dani Schmidt.
What is happening today appears to be unprecedented in Earth history.
We are creating an Uncertain – but also volatile, extreme and largely unknown world. Some of that is inevitable. But much of it is not. How much will be largely decided in Paris.
But not just by nations. Also by mayors and councils and LEPs, NGOs, citizens, businesses and other innovation and transformation leaders. This is why the actions being proposed in the Cities and Regions Pavilion, not just by Bristol but by hundreds of cities and local authorities across the globe, are so very exciting.
COP21 Daily report: Tuesday 01 December
On Monday, the Bristol Team arrived in Paris for the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21). The Bristol cohort includes not just the Mayor and Bristol City Council, but also representatives from the Green Capital Partnership and an independent group from Love the Future (15 stalwarts who cycled from Bristol to Paris through typically British November weather). I’ll be joining them on Sunday… but some of the most exciting activity will happen today.
Bristol’s primary engagement with COP21 will be via the Cities and Regions Pavilion, hosted by Paris and Bristol and facilitated by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, with support from over 40 partners. It is testimony to the stature of Bristol as 2015 Green Capital that it is able to share this venue with Paris. Moreover, the Pavilion is a fantastic opportunity for Bristol to share, connect with and learn from hundreds of cities from across the globe.
Bristol is one of 88 cities and regions in 42 countries to present innovative projects aimed at placing local and regional governments at the heart of positive and long-term climate action. These Transformative Action Plans (TAPs) represent a 10-year initiative that aims to transform the lives of their citizens. They arise from ICLEI’s recognition that local entities must take the lead in delivering but also extending the commitments emerging from the national-scale negotiations. Bristol is pitching two projects, one on energy efficiency and one on smarter future planning of cities. The University of Bristol, including its Cabot Institute, has been closely involved with the development of both and former Bristol Professor Andy Gouldson will be sharing the stage with Mayor George Ferguson today.
George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, said:
“Bristol’s innovative plans, boosted by our year as European Green Capital, have been rated amongst the very best across cities and regions around the world thanks to their potential to transform the lives of our citizens. We’re proud to be among the world’s pioneering sustainable thinkers at COP21 and we look forward to bridging the gap ahead of the expected 2020 agreement with immediate actions that help reduce emissions, tackle poverty, improve lives and create new jobs through investment in low carbon projects.”
The first proposal, entitled ‘Energy efficiency for everyone’ (or Bristol Billion), is for a $1B (or £700m) investment to make Bristol’s buildings more energy efficient, thereby achieving significant carbon, energy, economic and even health savings. It will involve refurbishing 56,000 homes in Bristol – 30% of the city – and crucially it will not only make our city more sustainable but it will lift these homes out of fuel poverty and reduce health costs. This proposal is based in part on a Cabot Institute-commissioned report that has also been released to the public today: The Economics of Low Carbon Cities: A mini-Stern Review for Bristol. This research shows that Bristol can achieve marked reductions in its emissions while saving money; in fact, the whole project could pay for itself in under a decade. However, such a bold endeavour requires bold financing and hence the Bristol Billion proposition.
The Bristol Billion should achieve the energy efficiency gains necessary for the city to meet its 2015 to 2025 emissions reductions targets, but Bristol must also establish a foundation for the more challenging emission reductions to occur beyond 2025 and especially 2030. Whether it be transforming the South West energy supply chain via the Bristol Energy Company or transforming its transport system, these changes will be more challenging and controversial. And that is the basis for the second project, the ‘Bristol Brain’, which seeks to reimagine how citizens and planners can work together to shape a sustainable future for the city. The Bristol Brain is ‘a physical and digital city model, on top of which, real-time data and sophisticated analytics can be projected and visualised, creating environments that can be explored through virtual and augmented reality. This will allow different scenarios for future developments to be explored as if they are real, and for the impact on energy, transport, air quality and other factors, to be fully understood.’
The Bristol Brain could facilitate city-scale planning decisions ranging from emergency services, road maintenance, and new public works. It could allow the social and economic impacts of major investments to be assessed and justified. Most importantly, it is a tool for testing and thereby empowering the radical reimagining of Bristol. It is the type of tool that citizens can use to justify maintenance of the M32… or its conversion into a bus-exclusive route… or even closing it and turning it into a city-scale garden.
This type of creative imagining is vital. Professor Colin Taylor, the head of the Cabot Institute's Future Cities research theme, has argued that robust future city planning requires a city emulator so that we can truly explore the potential costs and benefits of truly transformative change. Crucially, the Bristol Brain would also support the more real-time interactive experiments that will be enabled by Bristol is Open and ensure that Bristol remains at the cutting edge of creative technology.
There remain challenges. According to Bristol City Council, ‘The critical next step is to ensure these projects receive adequate financial resources to address urgent and evolving local needs to create a sustainable future.’
Another challenge is ensuring that such projects, especially the Bristol Brain, create an open and inclusive conversation about Bristol’s future. The University is committed to supporting these efforts. If the Bristol Brain were to be made available to the public, perhaps via an allotment of the University’s High Performance Computing facility, then it becomes not just a resource for planning and consultation but for citizen-led propositions and inclusive innovation.
The COP21 ambition, expressed by national governments via their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), is very likely to fall short of the global target of 2 degrees C warming. As such, it is crucial that other actors, including cities, take the lead in driving a more ambitious emissions reduction agenda. Moreover, they must work with universities, industry and civil society to stimulate, incubate and test new innovations.
Bristol recognises that it can do more than follow an emissions path set by others. It can be a Laboratory for Change.
Note: This blog is based partly on and includes text from a Bristol City Council press release.
COP21 Daily report: Monday 30 November
I started pondering this opening blog, the first in our Bristol at COP21 series, on Friday morning, while walking from the St Werburgh’s Community Centre back to the University.
It was a reflective walk. The previous evening, Bristol’s COP21 team met at Brunel House to talk logistics, covering everything from travel, to security, to the main messages Bristol would want to share with the rest of the world. All of this had come at the end of a whirlwind month of events and announcements. In November, we had already hosted George Marshall and Jonathan Porritt (with the National Union of Journalists and Festival of Ideas), celebrated our fifth birthday, and discussed what we will achieve in the next five years with our new VC and in a rapidly transforming university. The previous week had seen the Festival of the Future City, at which we presented some of our findings from the year on Bristol’s climate challenges, its future resiliency, its nature and connection to the countryside, and the new governance and financial structures needed to achieve transformative change.
And despite all of these announcements and achievements, the year feels incomplete. The meeting in St Werburgh’s, co-sponsored by ourselves and some great partners, thoughtfully examined whether the Green Capital project had really engaged all of our citizens, from all perspectives and all walks of life. The answer to that was complex and we will be exploring that more during 2016 as the conversation continues. But there was an overall consensus that much had been achieved but much more could have been achieved. It seems a common opinion as 2015 races towards its conclusion in Paris. The interactive Bristol Data Dome had opened on 18 Nov, the first in the UK and part of the rollout of Bristol Is Open. The City’s Sustainable Education programme launched, and the Shawn the Sheep app that underpins it won the ‘App with a Purpose’ prize. Bristol City Council launched its own Energy Company, only the second in the UK. George Ferguson gave his annual lecture in the Wills Memorial Building, at which he announced his ambition for an up to £1 billion investment in a citywide urban retrofit to increase energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty (a plan partially based on our mini-Stern review of Bristol as a Low Carbon City). And of course, we are headed to COP21, where Bristol will co-host the Cities and Regions Pavilion with Paris.
I’ve seen this tension between satisfaction and ambition exemplified on a large scale by Andrew Garrad, co-founder of Garrad Hassan now part of DNV-GL, Chair of the Bristol 2015 Company and member of the Cabot Institute’s Advisory Board. He has spent 35 years in the wind industry; in one sentence he can celebrate the success of UK renewables, which in 20 years have become central to the UK’s energy mix, and then pivot to regret that he has not been able to push even further.
This is something that sometimes frustrates me about my adopted city but that ultimately I love – and is perhaps what I love most about it. No matter how much we achieve, we argue about how we could have done better. Or more. Or faster.
Bristol is the least complacent place I have ever lived, sometimes exhausting but always exhilarating.
I am concluding this first blog on Sunday night, having just returned from the Climate March, which drew thousands of people on a cold, wet and windy day. And at which people sang songs, chanted, cheered – but also debated and argued and demanded more innovation and more action. My abiding memory of the Climate March will be listening to the smart, informed and passionate debates among members of the Bristol Youth Council about the future of their party.
That edginess and ambition is exactly what the whole planet needs as we tackle the profound challenges not just of climate change but the sustainable use of the resources on which we depend. No matter what happens in Paris, complacency must not be accepted and it will not be accepted in Bristol.
Bristol was awarded the European Green Capital in part because we are ‘the City with a sense of fun’. And Bristol is fun – and quirky and odd and artistic and brilliant. But it is also edgy and passionate and often proudly unsatisfied. We do not have all of the solutions, but we will never stop looking. That is the Bristol I will be taking with me to Paris.