One City Environment Board will continue work on Bristol’s response to the climate crisis
27th April 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic is having far-reaching impacts across our society and economy, despite Bristol showing strong community resilience. In this blog, Ann Cousins and Mayor Marvin Rees, co-chairs of the One City Environment Board, reflect on the challenge this presents and their insights about the board’s continued commitment to Bristol’s ambitious plans to tackle the climate crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing the strengths and weaknesses of all the social, political and economic systems we rely on, from waste to education, jobs and the democratic process. Surviving and transitioning out of this crisis will be costly and hard. But it also presents an opportunity to better understand our city and re-imagine and rebuild our systems so that we are more resilient to future shocks, while changing the way we function so that we make future shocks less likely.
For many of us the immediate focus is surviving the virus and the consequences of the actions we’ve taken to stem its spread. We are being forced to adapt quickly to the largest scale of change most of us will ever have experienced. A lot of people are facing huge personal challenges, organisations are concerned for their future, and the full impact on our economy, our politics and our society, are – as yet – unknown.
The transition out of this crisis will also be painful for many. However, we all have a role to play in shaping the future and building the environment, economy and the society that we want. We can learn from history. If we look back to the aftermath of the World War II, Britain laid the foundations for much of what we now accept as the essentials of our society: the NHS, secondary education for all, and many measures to protect the countryside. We learned we had to be intentional about these positive measures. We learned we had to act and invest at scale.
If the chancellor is right about the scale of economic devastation we could be facing, rebuilding like we did after World War II could be the best way of describing the challenge.
There are also many parallels between tackling this pandemic and tackling climate change – they both require us to listen to experts, they require global cooperation and local action, significant changes in the way we think about food, work and travel, and measures to protect the most vulnerable among us. Perhaps they both require us to focus on what is really important for the health of people and planet.
There are undoubtedly things to reflect on and learn as the pandemic eases. In the midst of dealing with the immediate crisis, we have been working with City Office to protect space for thinking about Bristol’s recovery and the kind of city we want to rebuild. The One City Economy Board has also been thinking deeply about this and talking to businesses about what they will need.
Central to this thinking are our values and an aim to rebuild for a more inclusive and sustainable future. We have an opportunity to use the global Sustainable Development Goals as the framework for rebuilding post-COVID-19, which include generating affordable and clean energy (SDG7), creating sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), consuming and producing responsibly (SDG12) and taking climate action (SDG13).
The City Office is convening a group to explore what a different future for Bristol could be, joined by Global Parliament of Mayors Advisor, Robert Muggah, a specialist in cities, security, migration and new technologies. To avoid a rebound which merely falls into the old assumptions, we must be intentional about making Bristol what we want it be.
Many of our city partners will be heavily involved over the coming weeks and months in maintaining the health and safety of our fellow citizens and on minimising the impacts of this crisis on our city’s vulnerable people and the economy. However, we would also like to provide reassurance at this time, when it can be tempting to feel like the derailment of progress is inevitable, that the city continues to be fully committed to responding to the climate and ecological emergencies that we face.
These emergencies are part of the reality with which we must contend. From the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2018 report, we know that if we fail to prevent further warming– and therefore exceed a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature – we will face increased and simultaneous risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth in the future.
So, although the One City Environment Board and partners will need to adapt its work in light of the current crisis, and do all that we can to support Bristol’s recovery, the ambition of the One City Climate Strategy that we launched in February 2020 remains unchanged, and we will continue to work on our response to the ecological emergency.
We look forward to working together, and in the meantime, we hope that you are keeping safe and well, and that you are able to take comfort from the amazing way Bristol’s communities are coming together at this time.
For the latest news from the Environment Board visit the Bristol One City website.