Climate pledges from Bristol Mayor as divestment blocked

Bristol City Council held a Climate Emergency meeting on 16 July, where the Mayor presented his Climate Emergency Action Plan to Full Council. In the same meeting, Labour and Conservative councillors vote to amend a Green Party motion calling for fossil fuel divestment, which Green councillors say rendered the motion ‘pointless’.

Bristol Council Building
Bristol Council Building
Imogen Benson

The Bristol Mayor’s Climate Emergency Action Plan was presented to the council last night (16 July) as Extinction Rebellion protests continued around the city. 

The plan, which was produced as a response to the Green motion passed in November to declare an official Climate Emergency in Bristol, sets out the Labour Mayor Marvin Rees’ proposed actions to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The plan outlines action to create low carbon jobs and businesses, build and retrofit homes to make them energy efficient and affordable, and provide clean and sustainable travel. 

The Bristol Green Party has responded to the Mayor’s plan, criticising its lack of urgent action, as many of the proposed actions in the report are part of existing policy developments. 

Carla Denyer, the Green councillor who proposed the Climate Emergency motion in November 2018 – the first such motion anywhere in the UK – explained: “This is a good first step, but it really doesn’t reflect the urgency of an emergency – there’s little change from business as usual.

Surely the point of an emergency is that we have to act fast, and do everything in our power now

“There are some things to like about the report – for example adopting Green ideas like an annual carbon budget for the council, and fitting out council housing with solar panels. And it’s great news that our council is now ahead of schedule in cutting its own emissions – but as this represents just one per cent of the city’s total we have to look at ways we can influence emissions across the city.

“Unfortunately instead of an emergency response this feels in some ways like a ‘plan for a plan’. For example, we heard a lot about work that the current and previous administrations have already done, and about boards and committees being set up, but we didn’t hear much about simple, deliverable actions that the council is actually going to carry out to reduce Bristol’s carbon emissions. Surely the point of an emergency is that we have to act fast, and do everything in our power now.”

Read more: The route to a carbon neutral Bristol

Divestment blocked

The council meeting also saw Labour and Conservative councillors vote together to water down a Green Party motion calling for fossil fuel divestment. The motion had called for the council to divert the investments of the multibillion pound Avon Pension Fund away from fossil fuels, but was amended at the end of the meeting, something Greens say rendered it ‘ineffective’ just shortly after the release of the Mayor’s climate plan.

Instead of divestment, Labour and Conservative councillors voted to adopt an ‘active engagement’ approach with fossil fuel companies. As a result, Green councillors felt unable to vote for the motion they had proposed and instead chose to abstain.

The time for dialogue with fossil fuel companies is so clearly over

Councillor Martin Fodor criticised the amendment: “The time for dialogue with fossil fuel companies is so clearly over – these are the companies who have lobbied for increased methane pollution, asked for tax breaks, and plan expanded exploration and production. 

“They claim to do one thing, like stick to the Paris Climate Agreement, but act in the opposite way. Divestment is also backed by UNISON, the council’s largest union, who recognise that if we do not act soon there is a real risk that workers’ pensions will be stuck invested in ‘stranded assets’ as the value of fossil fuel investment falls.

“Labour’s amendment removed the ‘divestment’ from our divestment motion so we cannot vote for the motion as amended – it’s pointless. If Labour and Conservative politicians – including our Mayor – want to talk the talk on the climate emergency then they need to follow through in their actions and not block steps to actually achieve carbon neutrality when it counts.

“Meanwhile Greens will continue to demand the Mayor listens to what his employees in UNISON want – invest in the future economy, not the past, and safeguard the planet for future generations. The Mayor must use the council’s influence on the Avon Pension Fund to pull investments out of fossil fuels.”