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Green Great Britain Week blog series: Bristol – on a journey to carbon neutral by 2050


Ian Townsend, Bristol Green Capital Partnership Chief Executive.

As part of Green Great Britain Week, we’re celebrating leadership and action in Bristol and the South West to tackle climate change and drive clean growth in the UK.  Monday’s theme is ‘UK leading the world’. Bristol Green Capital Partnership Chief Executive, Ian Townsend, shares his thoughts on Bristol’s journey to carbon neutrality and our role in achieving national and global carbon emissions targets.

The first ever Green Great Britain Week runs from 15 to 19 October this year. The Week is an opportunity to showcase Bristol’s leadership among cities in reducing carbon emissions, and to highlight the vital role cities like ours have in limiting the worst risks from climate change by contributing to UK and global targets.

Bristol Green Capital Partnership has been working collectively towards a low carbon, environmentally sustainable city throughout its 11 years so far. So we are delighted to have brought together a range of activities organised by Partnership members in Bristol’s Green Great Britain Week programme. Events include sharing ground-breaking international scientific research on a what a warming world means for humanity, exploring innovative approaches to financing clean growth, promoting electric vehicles and much more. There’s something for everyone.

At the Paris climate talks in December 2015 – during Bristol’s year as European Green Capital – then Mayor Ferguson pledged on behalf of the city to accelerate its plans to become carbon neutral by 2050. Since his election in 2016, Mayor Rees has continued to support this ambitious commitment, pledging that the city will run entirely on clean energy by mid-century.

Bristol is rising to this challenge. Carbon emissions in 2016 were down 35% from 2005 levels, so we are on track to go beyond 2020’s interim target of a 40% reduction. And as the city’s population increases, emissions per person are down even more, by 43%. Such progress has even prompted some to call for bringing the 2050 carbon neutral city target forward.

Bristol’s 2050 commitment is our city’s vital contribution to meeting the critical challenge of climate change that is facing our planet and its people. This challenge was made even more urgent by the findings of a major UN report earlier this month*, though one that it says is achievable. If we act – now.

As we move beyond the relatively low-hanging low-carbon fruit, this is likely to become more challenging. The decisions that each one of us makes, and those of businesses and organisations, will be crucial to succeed.

With much still to do, we are pleased to be a partner in the Bristol City Council-led City Leap initiative, which is looking to ensure the city stays on track for 2050. You can get an update on the City Leap at the Financing the Low Carbon Economy event on Wednesday (17 October).

Bristol and the West of England region can benefit from unleashing benefits of low carbon. A major report on these benefits published in 2015 found that the case “political, social and economic case for large investments in the low carbon economy is very strong”.**

More recent research suggests the city’s annual energy bill could be £122 million lower if all profitable energy efficiency and low carbon options were invested in. Households would collectively save £41 million a year from their energy bills. Schools, hospitals, offices, shops, restaurants and industry could save a further £28 million. This could create more than 1,500 years’ worth of employment, and bring an extra 21% carbon reduction.***

The UK Government’s clean growth strategy focuses on such opportunities, speaking of “policies that deliver social and economic benefits” beyond reduced carbon emissions. Clean growth is also one of the four ‘grand challenges’ in the national industrial strategy.

Work is now beginning on the West of England region’s local industrial strategy. Realising a clean, low-carbon and environmental sustainable region will hopefully be a strong theme running through it, so that we can ensure we take full advantage of the economic and employment opportunities, and enhance our region’s reputation as a sustainability leader. Read more about the West of England Combined Authority’s involvement in Green GB Week here.

Green Great Britain Week 2018 comes after a successful year for Bristol Green Capital Partnership. We have developed new collaborative initiatives like Green & Black Ambassadors, supported inclusive and sustainable community projects through the Better Bristol campaign, and helped to engage city organisations in Bristol’s ambition to be the UK’s first ‘gold’ sustainable food city.

We are excited about what the future holds. We will be focusing on achieving the gold sustainable food city award, building a circular economy Bristol, addressing issues of environmental equality, and continuing to support our diverse membership of over 850 organisations from across sectors to reach the city’s carbon neutral by 2050 goal.

* Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Global Warming of 1.5°C, Oct 2018; see also “Key climate report urges deep rapid change”, BBC News, 8 Oct 2018

** Gouldson, A. & Millward-Hopkin, J. The Economics of Low Carbon Cities: A Mini-Stern Review for the City of Bristol (2015). This found “very significant & commercially viable opportunities” in retrofit, decentralisation, smart analytics, system controls – which come with fuel poverty and health benefits, as well at jobs at across all skill levels, not just in hi-tech but also in ‘retrofitting’ domestic properties to make them more energy efficient – and cheaper to live in. Its assessment was that collectively these opportunities could bring up to 10,000 more jobs and reduce citizens’ energy bills reduced by up to £320 million by 2025.

*** Can do Cities: Bristol page , accessed 1 Oct 2018

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