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New ways of working to tackle environmental sustainability in Bristol

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Ann Cousins, co-chair of the One City Environmental Sustainability Board outlines the opportunity that the new ‘whole city’ approach may provide in responding to the climate and ecological crisis.

This is an emergency

We are facing a climate crisis and an ecological crisis. The science shows us that we need to live within planetary boundaries, respecting the world’s limited resources and increase biodiversity.

Cities are exciting places where a range of actors can come together to address these twin crises. The complexity and “messiness” of Bristol – the city I am proud to call home – is part of what makes it such a great place to live. That complexity extends to how decisions are made and where responsibility lies.

An innovative ‘One City’ approach to governance

Bristol is experimenting with an innovative ‘whole of city’ approach to governance.

The One City Approach is all about aligning the strategic aims of different businesses and other organisations to get more from the resources that are available to us in Bristol. And this new approach offers a way to deal with the complexity and uncertainty of challenges and a way to make the most of the enormous opportunities. We may not get everything about it right at the beginning, but innovation is all about testing new approaches – failing fast then learning and evolving quickly.

The first iteration of the One City Plan was published in January of this year. It is great to see the environment at its heart, as one of the six themes alongside health and wellbeing, learning and skills, economy, homes, and transport.

A new Environmental Sustainability Board has been created to take a lead on and deliver on actions on this theme, including accelerating progress towards a carbon neutral city, alongside 5 other ‘One City’ boards focusing on the other themes.

Also, a new Bristol Climate Change Advisory Committee – modelled on the national Committee on Climate Change – is also being created to provide technical advice on climate change to all of the One City boards.

Each of the thematic boards is very different. Some have been around for many years, others are very new. Some are required by law, others are not. Some have what are known as ‘decision-making powers’ over public money, delegated via the council’s constitution– although I understand that these have not been used for some time.

The new Environmental Sustainability Board has no powers to make decisions directly about the allocation of public funds. The members of the Board may take collective views on key city issues, but it will be for each member – including those representing Bristol City Council – to take these views back to their own organisations and their decision-making structures.

Delivering benefits for Bristol

Bristol has a history of being the home of real action on the environment. It is home to major national charities, such as the Soil Association, Sustrans and the Centre for Sustainable Energy. It is home to a thriving businesses in the low carbon sector. And, founded in 2007, Bristol Green Capital Partnership has been bringing the city’s environmental sustainability community for well over a decade. In 2015, the city gained global recognition for its work, as the UK’s one and only European Green Capital.

The Environmental Sustainability Board builds on this rich history, and it is fitting that Bristol Green Capital Partnership – which has taken forward the good work before and during 2015 – was invited to support open recruitment processes for both the Board’s members and those of the Advisory Committee, and to provide valuable administrative support to both.

Bristol’s One City Plan and the proposed Climate Strategy cannot be delivered by one organisation – even Bristol City Council – alone. The ES Board will oversee both the planning and the delivery of the One City Plan and the Climate Strategy. Many of our members or their organisations hold direct responsibility for key actions, and we warmly welcome representatives from our fellow West of England local authorities and the Combined Authority to attend meetings as observers.

Collectively we will also be looking for ways to encourage wider action across Bristol’ businesses and organisations and by citizens – the crises we face need input from everyone, and all have a role to play in meeting ambitions like carbon neutrality by 2030. We will also be looking for opportunities to present asks or make offers to regional and national government.

Learning quickly and evolving

On our novel city governance journey, we will face challenges. I have put myself forward to co-chair the Environmental Sustainability Board because I want to continually test and challenge this approach, and make sure that this wider governance for our city – not solely Bristol City Council — and lead action to address the climate and ecological crises that we face.

The principles, approach and culture of the ES Board will be critical to our success. We will strive to be transparent, open to new ideas and challenge, be collaborative, adaptive and willing to share our resource and expertise, and make the most of what Bristol and the region already has to offer. We will draw conclusions based on evidence, and we will continue to learn and evolve.

At the Board’s first meeting, we unanimously agreed to publish our terms of reference and agendas for our meetings in advance, and future meetings should generally be held in public.

We published an initial summary of actions, around the brief for a new One City climate strategy and how best to go about refreshing the environmental sustainability aspects the One City Plan –  which will need to consider the city’s 2030 carbon neutral ambition – ahead of the second annual edition in January 2020. More detailed key points and actions (in draft) are also on the Bristol One City website

At our second meeting, on 1 Oct, we considered wider stakeholder engagement, including how to draw on expertise and views on the refresh of the One City Plan and drawing up the city climate strategy in the months ahead.

On behalf of my fellow Board members, we look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead.

More information

Find out more about the Environmental Sustainability Board here

More on the One City Plan

More on Bristol Green Capital Partnership

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