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Ferguson at COP21: 'Bristol is punching way above its weight in the world'

Bristol mayor George Ferguson at COP21
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Bristol mayor and architect George Ferguson talks to the AJ about what the city is doing to reduce its carbon emissions

At COP 21 in Paris, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Bristol mayor George Ferguson has been actively promoting the city’s achievements during its year as European Green Capital. Cities are the focus of considerable attention at COP 21, and last week Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and Michael Bloomberg held a meeting with 1,000 mayors.

Bristol is co-hosting the Cities and Regions Pavilion at COP 21 and has set up a free online toolkit, The Bristol Method to spread its message to other cities. In 2015, Bristol City Council met its 2020 carbon reduction schedule five years early, reducing its emissions by almost 40 per cent compared to its 2005 baseline.

Ferguson set out the city’s proposed £700 million investment in making buildings more energy efficient and the ‘Bristol Brain’ project which will project real time data on a 3D model enabling more joined up thinking around the impacts of new developments. This includes data on energy use, traffic and flooding. 

Also released in Paris this week was a report commissioned by the University of Bristol, The Economics of Low Carbon Cities: A Mini-Stern Review for the City of Bristol, which assesses the costs and benefits of different routes to Bristol’s decarbonisation. The report estimates that more than a third of the city’s current annual energy bill of £870 million could be eliminated within a decade through cost neutral measures. Ferguson shared these comments with the AJ.

What is the most exciting thing you’ve seen at COP21?

The Mayors of the European Green Capitals, starting with Stockholm in 2010, showing a greater grasp of the issues than many of our national counterparts, including plans to transform the built environment to create carbon neutral and fossil free cities.

How would you describe the mood there?

One of cautious optimism, public enthusiasm and political pragmatism.

What do you consider most significant about what Bristol has achieved as EU Green Capital?

There is so much to choose from, including the galvanising of civil society via our 800+ organisation member Green Capital Partnership, but my personal favourite is our sustainable education programme. 

This is taking sustainability into all our primary schools, and is supported by our industry award winning game, ’Sustainable Shaun’ for a game with a purpose. It’s a partnership with Bristol based Aardman Animations featuring Shaun The Sheep. It is now being played across 150 countries. 

We’re hoping to roll-out the education programme nationwide, one of many lasting legacies of our year. 

Bristol is leading the charge

How does Bristol measure up to what other cities are presenting?

I really think we are leading the charge! As European Green Capital this year, and co-sponsors of the Cities & Regions Pavilion we have been more prominent than most major world cities, with a huge amount of interest in environmental and smart city agenda. I’ve had the opportunity to take part in several panel discussions and presentations about issues ranging from urban resilience to decarbonising transport, and the feedback I’ve had is that Bristol is punching way above its weight in the world.

Bristol has a great mix – in both infrastructure and policy achievements including solid progress towards our citywide 40 per cent carbon reduction target by 2020. This is matched by great grassroots projects such as our partnership with the Australian charity One Tree per Child which sees us planting 36,000 trees – one for every primary school aged child. It is now serving as a global pilot and has attracted the attention of Kevin McCloud who is helping to take it to Africa with Bristol based charity Tree Aid.

We need to give more freedoms to cities to act on climate change

What is your sense of where the UK stands relative to other countries?

In terms of cities grasping the challenge we’re doing well, but it is noticeable that we have a remarkably low-key national presence at COP compared to other countries. I feel that it is almost left to us to wave the flag!

British people do seem engaged in the sustainability agenda and we’ve seen that demonstrated by local engagement in our European Green Capital year. We would benefit from giving more freedoms to cities to act. Cities produce 70 per cent of the world’s carbon output and are best placed to grasp the issues and solutions at a local level.

In terms of real outcomes, is the ‘Energy Efficiency for Everyone’ your keystone initiative? What else?

Energy efficiency is extremely important, but there are many other outcomes of our work. Across the city we are lowering emissions, tackling energy poverty, creating warmer homes, inventing new ways to tackle long term challenges, investing around £400 million regionally in more sustainable public transport, planting trees, educating our kids… and much else besides.

Looking forwards I see learning as a key issue, helping young people and indeed people of all ages develop vital skills and knowledge, including carbon literacy. I have designated 2016 as Bristol’s Year of Learning, which will carry the momentum on from our year as European Green Capital, with education and sustainability at its heart.

What examples have you seen of architects engaging with COP’s agenda?

The Architecture Centre has been one of our best allies in promoting a liveable green agenda, and several Bristol practices have engaged with the Green Capital Partnership and our Go Green business challenge, but I have not bumped into any other architects at the COP. 

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