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One year on from declaring a Climate Emergency – is Bristol on track?

One year after declaring a Climate Emergency in Bristol, Greens say new information from environmental group shows Bristol needs to radically step up action to meet climate targets.

In November 2018 Green Councillors in Bristol moved a motion at a council meeting to declare a climate emergency and set a new target for the city to go carbon neutral by 2030. The motion, which passed unanimously, made Bristol the first city in Europe to declare a climate emergency – it has since been followed by over 200 councils in the UK, as well as Parliament itself. However, one year later, Green councillors have warned that Bristol faces a “stark gap” between its current position and the action needed to reach its ambitious 2030 target, citing new evidence released by environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) have published a new tool called ‘How Climate Friendly is Your Area’ which lets visitors put in their postcode and see how their local council is doing on climate action. The summary for Bristol states that the city is doing “better than most” compared to other local authorities but that all councils need to do much more and “Bristol particularly needs to do much better on improving home insulation and increasing tree cover.”

Bristol scores well on renewable energy generation – it generates 72MW compared to the best comparison which generated 81MW. However FoE note that to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 Bristol will need to meet tough targets, including more than tripling its tree cover, insulating 11,475 homes per year, and increase cycling uptake to 30% of commuter journeys. According to FoE 8% of commutes in Bristol are by bike – the Council’s current energy efficiency plan is to insulate 1,200 properties per year. (Cabinet April 2018, p188)

The report also suggests the Council should cease promoting airport expansion and other ‘high carbon’ infrastructure and divest from fossil fuel companies as soon as possible, issues that Green councillors have challenged the Labour administration on repeatedly. Leader of the Green Councillor Group Eleanor Combley charged the Mayor with “not backing up his words with the action needed” to tackle the climate emergency, citing slow progress on recycling rates and major road building proposals as examples.

Councillor Combley said:
“Friends of the Earth have done a brilliant piece of work which shows us how big a gap we have to close in Bristol if we are going to do our fair share to combat climate change and meet the target we set of going carbon neutral by 2030. I am optimistic that, given the years of work already put in by the council’s energy service, the 81MW target for renewable energy generation should be easy to meet, and exceed. But in other areas we’re faced with a really stark gap between where we are right now and where we’ve got to be.

“For example we need to increase the proportion of people who travel to work by walking, cycling or public transport from 41% to 70%. This will take a real shift in how we think about transport. Unfortunately we’re not seeing that priority from the Mayor when it comes to Bristol’s key decisions. Developments like the South Bristol link road, an out-of-centre arena (with at least 50% of visitors arriving by car), or a proposal for Cumberland basin that drives a four-lane highway past people’s homes, suggest Marvin Rees is not backing up his words with the action needed to prepare us for a carbon neutral future. Similarly, increasing household waste reuse, recycling and composting from 50% to 70% is simply not going to happen under a Mayor who’s avoided taking bold action to boost our recycling rates.

“This will not be easy – it lays out the scale of the challenge before us – but not everything Friends of the Earth are calling for is expensive. For example, we’ve repeatedly asked the Mayor to stop promoting new high carbon infrastructure, such as the expansion of Bristol airport, and to support divestment of the Avon pension fund, but there are no signs of him softening his position on either of those in a way that is consistent with declaring a climate emergency. Bristol is doing better than many local authorities in some areas, but if we are really going to show leadership in this climate emergency, we need to see much more and bolder action.”


Find below a summary of Friends of the Earth’s report on Bristol. Sources for FoE figures are in the original report available at

-          Housing – according to FoE only 37% of homes in Bristol are well insulated. The city needs to get this figure to 100% by 2030, which means insulating a whopping 11,475 homes per year. At present the council’s energy efficiency plan is to insulate about 1200 homes per each year. (Cabinet April 2018, p188)

-          Transport – just over 40% of people in Bristol commute by public transport, cycling or walking. Friends of the Earth suggest a target of 70%. This could be met by improving public transport – RAC survey suggests that 6 in 10 drivers would shift to public transport if its quality improved. It could also be done by improving cycle infrastructure – currently just 8% of people in Bristol ride bikes to work, but research cited by FoE suggests 30% of commuter journeys in Bristol could be made by bike.

-          Energy – this is one area where Bristol is doing well, as the city generates 72MW of renewable energy, not far behind the leading local authority which generates 81MW.

-          Trees – FoE suggest Bristol sets a target of increasing its tree cover to 20% of the local area. This would mean more than tripling the city’s current tree cover as national forestry data suggests just 6% of the Bristol area is woodland.

-          Waste – FoE say Bristol needs to reuse, recycle and compost 70% of its waste by 2025. Mayor Marvin Rees set a target of 55% by 2020 in his 2016 manifesto although the Council does not seem to be on track to close this gap as the Council’s result last year was just under 45%.

-          Divestment and airport expansion - FoE note that one way for Bristol Council to reduce emissions would be to divest council pensions out of fossil fuel investments and move them instead into green technologies. Greens campaigned for this and proposed a motion to enact it in July this year, which was supported by the Council’s largest staff union UNISON – however Labour and Conservative councillors amended the Green motion in order to prevent action. Greens have also repeatedly called on the Mayor to oppose the expansion of Bristol Airport which plans to more than double in size. However the Mayor has not changed his support for expansion, despite a new report finding that the Airport had overstated the benefits and that there could be “no economic benefit” to the expansion.

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