The mayor of Bristol has just published his response to the climate emergency – a report mandated by the Green Party’s climate emergency motion, which passed last November and set a carbon neutrality target of 2030 for the city.
This report is a positive step and Bristol’s Green Party councillors are proud to have kick-started it. Since November, more than 100 climate emergencies have been declared around the country, including in the House of Commons.
And now the rest of the country will be looking to Bristol to see how we follow that up, hoping that when the climate emergency motion was passed it was more than a symbolic gesture.
There’s a lot to like in this report. It’s great that the mayor has taken on Green proposals like an annual carbon budget, requiring all new homes to be carbon neutral, and putting solar panels on council houses. And the report provides an important stock-take of the progress Bristol has taken already, Bristol’s current carbon reduction trajectory, and how much further we have to go to meet that target of carbon neutral by 2030.
However, I think we have to be clear that this report does not constitute an emergency response or a change from business as usual. It is making plans for boards to meet, and research to be commissioned next year.
While this is important stuff, there is a lot of work we already know that we’re going to need to get done – e.g. massive improvements to our transport infrastructure to prioritise walking, provide safe segregated cycle routes and create more car-free areas of the city – that have already been agreed cross-party.
Let’s get started on this now!
We have a lot to learn from the good people in our emergency services, who don’t wait for one task to be completed before the next one starts – they get to work at once. For example, in a serious fire they need to put up the ladder, get the hoses going, send firefighters inside the building, call for backup and clear the public out of the way, and they do as many of those as possible at the same time.
The same needs to happen in our response to the climate emergency. We need to do everything we possibly can, right now. That includes commissioning reports and plans, and calling for more powers from national government, but it also means getting started on all the obvious ‘low-hanging fruit’ immediately.
We also all need to be honest with ourselves where there might be inconsistencies between what we say and what we do. The biggest example of this that I can see in Bristol is the airport.
Let me be very clear – an emergency response means opposing the very carbon-intensive airport expansion. It is fruitless trying to cut back Bristol’s annual direct emissions of around 1½ million tonnes CO2, while supporting the expansion of an airport which will create an extra ½ million tonnes of CO2 per year.
When we’ve got just 11 years left to take bold climate action, supporting airport expansion is like turning on the gas when the house is on fire. Being able to change your mind in politics based on evidence is a good thing, not a sign of weakness, and I hope the mayor will see this.
So, while recognising that the city council’s own direct carbon footprint is a small proportion of the city’s overall emissions, the council has the power to use its influence to reduce many of the citywide emissions too.
So my ask to the mayor is for the council to respond effectively to the emergency and do absolutely everything within its powers to reduce the city’s carbon emissions now, including:
- A congestion zone and/or car-free areas of the city to discourage private car use.
- Significant improvements to walking and cycling infrastructure that go far beyond what we’ve seen so far.
- A workplace parking levy, used to fund public transport improvements, like Nottingham Council has done.
- Lobby the multi-billion pound Avon Pension Fund to withdraw its money from fossil fuel investments rather than continuing with business as usual.
- Push hard towards zero waste and a circular economy, using all powers at the council’s disposal.
- Amend the Bristol Transport Strategy, which was agreed by cabinet only last week and yet contains a carbon neutral target of 2050 rather than 2030.
Read more: ‘We can be a source of hope for our planet’