Lessons from Bristol – European Green Capital 2015

October 6th, 2015 by Richard Lord

George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, speaking at the Business for the Environment Climate Summit conference in London (©RLLord - click image to expand)

Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson CBE, speaking at the Business for the Environment Climate Summit conference in London (©RLLord – click image to expand)

Speaking at the Business for the Environment Climate Summit in London on 9 September 2015, George Ferguson CBE, the architect and charismatic Mayor of Bristol, gave an impassioned speech about the imperative and urgency to make cities and communities more energy efficient.

He wrote the booklet “Races Against Time” in 1983 and said that action to become more energy efficient and resilient was more urgent now than ever as ‘we haven’t moved far enough’.

During his short tenure as Mayor of Bristol he has been a strong advocate for action to tackle climate change.

Mayor Ferguson holds the portfolio for Energy, Climate Change and Resilience with the Core Cities which include ten Core cities in the UK from Glasgow to Cardiff, and eight of the principal English cities that are not London.

He described Bristol as a historic, complex and hilly city of 500,000 people with a third of its area covered with greenery and water.

“Bristol is the UK’s most energy productive major city partly because over the past decade the city has moved from a heavy engineering base to developing high tech and clean tech industries and more service industries,” he said.

“The city has a very skilled workforce with two universities present. Ten percent of the population is made up of current students and a large percent of the population are former students who did not want to leave because Bristol provides a high quality of life, which is a very important issue for the sustainability of our cities.”

Bristol has formed its our own energy company to invest in energy efficiency and to create cleaner and more efficient energy.

“We have put about £150 million into the efficiency of our own housing stock but we need to put a £1 billion in – we need to invest so much more,” he said.

“We have another Hinkley nuclear power station threatened downwind of us.  It is dangerous to the energy argument because it is a diversion from what we should really be doing.”

“No sensible business person would ever build a nuclear power station. It can only be done artificially,” the Mayor said.

“We really must think much more sensibly about how we find alternative ways of dealing with the energy shortfall and that is what we are determined to do.”

As an example, Mayor Ferguson said “Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul, South Korea has a campaign to save one nuclear power station and I think that is what every city should be doing.”

Bristol has been nominated as European Green Capital 2015.

George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol speaking at the B4E Climate Summit conference in London (©RLLord - click image to expand)

Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson CBE, speaking at the B4E Climate Summit conference in London (©RLLord – click image to expand)

“Bristol is a typical European city and the Green Capital designation presents a challenge and an opportunity but I think other cities can replicate what we do.”

“The first lesson in terms of of energy efficiency is to make the most of what we have got,” Mayor Ferguson said.

“We can work in partnership by aligning our interests with businesses and with those that own property across the city.”

Bristol has to build better infrastructure and better homes, improve mobility, and improve digital information systems to develop a true Smart city so that service provision can be enhanced while at the same time cutting costs such as controlling street lighting more effectively.

“We have an absolute duty to share what we do.  For example, we are working with cities like Guangzhou in China. If we can make a little impression on a city that size we can make a difference,” he said.

The Mayor comes across an enormous amount of resistance to his parking and transport policies but he says we have to change our behaviour. He believes that we cannot be all driving around a city as single drivers without passengers.  As Mayor of Bristol, he invests a great deal in active travel to help clean-up the city air and make sure that the city has a healthy population.

“Health and well-being comes above GDP in my mind but I think GDP follows. I think it has to be that way round,” he said.

The Mayor believes strongly in investing in the public realm. Queen Square in Bristol is the largest Georgian square in the country outside of London. It used to have a dual carriageway going through it but is was removed and now the square is a wonderful place for the community.

“That is what cities should be made of and that is what will attract people out of their cars and walking and talking and being a community,” the Mayor said.

Bristol has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions but it will get more challenging to reduce it further as the city approaches the target it has set for itself.

The city has been investing to attract green businesses in clean and green technology.

As part of Green Capital, Bristol has just completed a green business park bringing together large businesses; start-ups, that inject so many ideas into big companies; and Bristol’s universities; to encourage those that want to work together to come-up with solutions to the challenges faced.

“Our vision is vital; we have a simple mission to make us the best city.”

“A good city isn’t just good to itself but good to the rest of the world. Cities should be advocates not just to other cities but to national governments. Working with the global network is vitally important,” he said.

The Mayor and his team are going to the Conference of the Parties (COP) on climate change in Paris to provide the Cities and Local Government pavilion where 100 cities will present their transformational changes. Mayor Ferguson hopes the national delegations will take notice of these initiatives.

As a stepping-stone to the Paris climate change conference, the city of Bristol has organised two summits on the 22 and 23 October 2015 – one is a business summit and the other is a city leadership summit.

Mayor Ferguson urged conference delegates “to do everything we can to contribute to making a better place because that will only increase value.”

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