The route to a carbon neutral Bristol

Bristol was a trailblazer in the growing Climate Emergency movement, the first UK council to make the declaration in November 2018 – and at the same time pledging to become carbon neutral by 2030. Now, the councillors who proposed the motion have launched a report detailing short- and long-term actions to reach that goal.

Bristol suspension bridge at night
Bristol suspension bridge at night
Kate Dickinson

Bristol’s Green councillors have launched a report detailing how the city can become carbon neutral by 2030, a pledge that was supported by all councillors in November 2018.

Bristol City Council was the first in the UK to declare a Climate Emergency, a motion put forward by Green councillor Carla Denyer. A key part of this declaration is the ambitious target to make Bristol carbon neutral (achieving zero net carbon emissions) by 2030, bringing the previous target forward by 20 years. This is in line with the findings of a report published last year by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which stated the world had only 12 years to limit global temperature rises and avoid irreversible and devastating environmental impacts.

Mayor Marvin Rees welcomed the motion and said he thought that the 2030 target could be incorporated into the city’s Green Plan. Rees has been tasked with developing an action plan in response to the declaration within six months. Today (11 January), the Green group on Bristol City Council has published its own report, which details possible actions that could lead the city towards its carbon neutral goal.

Titled ‘Change Starts Now: Towards carbon neutral Bristol by 2030’, the report focuses on five key areas where carbon savings could be made: energy generation and smart energy; house-building, retrofitting and efficiency; transport; business and industry; and food, waste and land use.

Areas for action 

Investment in low-carbon and smart energy infrastructure projects is identified as a key action. Bristol is already aiming to facilitate up to £1 billion of low-carbon and smart energy infrastructure investment over the next ten years as part of its City Leap Prospectus – but the report also points to research that shows how 70 per cent of renewable energy in the West of England could come from tidal and geothermal sources, which need further development and investment.

Making housing more energy efficient – both in new builds and through retrofitting older houses – is also recognised as an important method of reducing carbon emissions. Other suggestions, in line with wider Green Party policy, include investing in public transport, walking and cycling infrastructure to reduce the emissions from Bristol’s congested roads, as well as opposing airport expansion, reducing food waste and promoting reuse and repair.

Bristol has already made strides in a number of these areas. For instance, a new initiative by the council-owned Bristol Waste Company, called ‘Slim my waste’, is aiming to encourage householders to improve their food recycling rates and prevent food going to landfill, where it generates methane. In one area of the city, 87 per cent more food waste was collected in the month after the trial compared to the month before.

'Going carbon neutral is good for everyone in Bristol, especially those who need the most help'

Councillor Eleanor Combley, leader of the Green group on Bristol City Council, said: “Our ‘Change Starts Now’ report showcases some of the inspiring action cities across the country and the world are taking to respond to the climate emergency, as well as the extensive work already being done across Bristol.

“We know Bristol has the expertise and drive to succeed in becoming carbon neutral by 2030. We now look forward to hearing the Mayor’s formal announcement of the climate emergency and his endorsement of the 2030 commitment, followed by an implementation plan due in May.”

Green Party Mayoral candidate Sandy Hore-Ruthven added: “Becoming carbon neutral is a real opportunity not only to reduce our environmental impact but to create jobs, improve our transport and our homes. It’s good for everyone in Bristol, especially those who need the most help. Reducing emissions from transport will make it easier for everyone to get around the city.  Greener homes are cheaper to run – saving the poorest much-needed money on fuel bills. Generating that energy from renewable sources creates more jobs than traditional energy generation.”

As noted by Hore-Ruthven, there is a strong focus on how different issues interlink. The report states: ‘Many of our challenges are no longer technical, but economic, social and psychological, and without addressing these we will struggle to see the progress that we so desperately need.’ It is noted that environmental priorities should work alongside commitments to improving social justice and equality.

Next steps for the council

While long-term radical change is needed if Bristol – and other councils that have declared a Climate Emergency – is to meet its ambitious target, there are also short-term steps that the council will need to take within the next few months. These include:

  • Embedding the 2030 goal across the entire council, in part through staff training;
  • Developing a method for gathering existing expertise on decarbonisation;
  • Creating a strategy for developing plans for each department within the council;
  • Developing a stakeholder programme to work with communities, businesses, experts from across the city;
  • A strategy for a fundraising and financing plan;
  • A public awareness and communications campaign; and
  • A system for monitoring and evaluating progress.

Commenting on the report, Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party, said: “It's great to see Bristol setting the gold standard on climate action. While the government fails to act on the climate crisis, our communities and cities are stepping up and showing real leadership – because they know that the consequences of failing to act are immeasurable. And they are doing so despite the desperate austerity measures imposed by the government.”

The full report, ‘Change Starts Now’, can be read on the Bristol Green Party website.