Bristol’s ambitious new pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030 – 20 years earlier than planned – met with cheers and jubilation on Tuesday.
Calls for the city to declare a climate emergency and take urgent action to tackle the pressing threat of “abrupt and irreversible changes that will wreck livelihoods” gained unanimous cross-party support at a full council meeting.
Bristol is now committed to the most ambitious climate change target of all UK Core Cities, thanks to the motion put forward by Green councillor for Clifton Down Carla Denyer.
Admitting that she did not expect to get the backing of the full council, Denyer called it a fantastic day for the city, saying that we can’t wait for national and international governments to act, but must lead the way.
The commitment comes in the wake of a new IPCC report, which warned that humanity has 12 years to take emergency action in order to prevent global warming greater than 1.5°C – a rise that could see hundreds of millions extra people, especially in poorer countries, thrown into climate-related poverty, chaos and starvation.
Insects and plants would lose vast chunks of habitat, coral populations would be wiped out and 3 million tonnes of global fish stocks would be lost.
“Climate change – these days, more accurately described as climate breakdown or climate chaos – is not an abstract or distant threat, it means abrupt and irreversible changes that will wreck livelihoods,” said Denyer, addressing the full council meeting on Tuesday.
“It is an emergency. When a child steps out in front of a car, you don’t carry out a feasibility study or convene a working group, you act immediately to prevent a tragedy. The same is now true of climate change.”
The motion called on Bristol City Council to recognise the extent of the problem by declaring a climate emergency and pledge to take action by making the city carbon neutral by 2030.
Seconding the move, Stephen Clarke called it the most important speech he has ever made.
“If we were more ambitious, we could achieve,” stated the Green councillor for Southville.
“We are desperate for Bristol to take a lead on this issue. The recent LGA Peer Review said that this council ‘could be a catalyst for change’. Well let’s see that in action.”
One of many to voice support from the public gallery, Tanguy Tomes called the motion a “fantastic opportunity for the city to recognise the scale of the problem and the problems it creates around the world”.
Echoing his sentiments, Jack Hedger said: “We will be judged in a generations time for the actions that we take today and it’s vital that we take the correct action.”
Anthony Negus, the Lib Dem group leader, drew loud cheers from the chamber with a passionate speech calling on Bristol to take the lead on such a serious issue.
“When we brought the European Green Capital to Bristol, we had the whole world listening,” he said. “If it has to start now, we are the ones to do it because we are the ones who are here now. We have to get really serious.”
Tory group leader Mark Weston voiced some reservations about the chances of Bristol meeting the ambitious target and whether cities are best placed to tackle the global issue, but pledged his party’s support nevertheless.
Adding his backing, mayor Marvin Rees said: “It’s not about cities acting alone, it’s about cities acting collectively. National governments are failing.”
He called it a huge opportunity to think about how to go about achieving change and warned that it is not about the council acting alone, but rallying the entire city to get behind the pledge.
“If we are going to have the confidence to put ambitious targets on the table, then we need everyone to turn up and help us come up with solutions. It takes more than political will,” said Rees.
Bristol City Council will also call on Westminster to provide the powers and resources to make the 2030 target possible.
Speaking after the meeting, Denyer said that thanks to the widespread support, Bristol is now leading the rest of the UK on climate change.
Although it will surely be a battle to fulfill the target and the planned expansion of Bristol Airport remains a bone of contention for many Green party members and campaigners.
Main photo: A climate change protest on College Green in 2017