Putting people at the heart of climate action
23rd June 2023
Aisha Stewart is Net Zero Business Advisor at Business West supporting SMEs across the South West on their decarbonisation journey. Outside of her 9-5, she’s a Director for Bristol Energy Network, an umbrella organisation for community groups and individuals with an interest in energy. In this blog post she shares her reflections on ‘A just transition for Bristol: a Partnership gathering’ that was held on 13 June.
I think there is something about the energy in a room filled with people that want to make a difference, that see the challenges and inequality that some communities are facing and want to be part of the solutions to address and tackle it. Last week I spent a very mild summer afternoon at the Trinity Centre with over 120 people that want to be part of making the transition to a low carbon future, one that doesn’t forget to put people at the heart of it.
The event started out with a range of incredible speakers, many of which highlighted that despite how progressive and often potentially ‘radical’ Bristol can be, it faces some of the most significant experiences of inequality. “The average life expectancy of residents living in economically poorer areas within in the city are 10 years lower than in more affluent parts of the city” was one of the statistics that has stayed with me days after the event.
For a city that amongst its accolades was voted ‘Best City to Live in Britain’ in 2017 and ‘Best place to live outside of London for under 25s’, it is facing challenges of extreme inequality. Tackling the climate crisis and transitioning to a more sustainable future provides the opportunity to address both environmental and social injustices. As keynote speaker Ed Atkins mentions in his recent blog post, “a just transition encompasses more than just decarbonisation. Instead, climate action takes into consideration the immediate concerns of individuals who worry about the cost of living and their ability to make ends meet”.
The Pecha Kucha style provocations from speakers that covered topics from energy, disability, race equality and more, in the context of the just transition really cemented how this transition is the opportunity to rethink the structures and systems that have been in place for years and tend to only benefit a small few. This is the opportunity to consider how to engage more with communities to ensure active participation in decision making that’s reflective of the diverse communities within our city and wider society.
As Sophia Hatzisavvidou from the University of Bath highlighted, it’s not a matter of “if” or “when” this transition to a low carbon future will happen but more about “how” this transition will happen. And events like this one hosted by Bristol Green Capital Partnership are an important part of determining how this transition could look and providing the space to collectively question and challenge the systems currently in place.
For me, this event was hopefully a catalyst for action on how we highlight the interconnectedness between social justice, climate, and nature, and address and tackle the systems that reinforce inequality within society and here in Bristol. It created the space for community organisations, businesses, universities and many more to share their knowledge, expertise and lived experience on this topic and discuss how we can galvanise action and use our collective power to ignite change.
I’m still riding the wave of inspiration and motivation from the event and I’m sure others are feeling the same. Leaving the Trinity Centre after an afternoon of rich and inspiring conversations, I was reminded as I walked home that warm summer evening about the incredible people and organisations that are in this city and that this event and future work is the opportunity for further partnership and collaboration across the city.
So I’m excited to see what happens next and how we can utilise the passion and energy within that room to progress work on a transition that truly puts the people of this city at the heart of it.