Clean Air Day

Today at the Create Centre I delivered a speech to outline our plans to tackle air pollution in Bristol.

Bristol City Council last year declared a climate emergency.  We were the first council in the UK to do so. In April we were joined by the University of Bristol who also declared a climate emergency, becoming the first university to do so.  Declaring the emergency is just one part of creating a green, healthy and prosperous city.

The council motion was unanimously carried. It said:

“Humans have already caused irreversible climate change, the impacts of which are being felt around the world. Global temperatures have already increased by 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Atmospheric CO2 levels are above 400 parts per million. This far exceeds the 350 ppm deemed to be a safe level for humanity;

“In order to reduce the chance of runaway Global Warming and limit the effects of Climate Breakdown, it is imperative that we as a species reduce our CO2eq (carbon equivalent) emissions from their current 6.5 tonnes per person per year to less than 2 tonnes as soon as possible;

“Individuals cannot be expected to make this reduction on their own. Society needs to change its laws, taxation, infrastructure, etc., to make low carbon living easier and the new norm.”

It went on to say:

“Cities are uniquely placed to lead the world in reducing carbon emissions, as they are in many ways easier to decarbonise than rural areas – for example because of their capacity for heat networks and mass transit.”

Both in our leadership of Bristol and the leadership role in key global city networks such as the Mayor’s migration Council and the Global Parliament of Mayors that I co-chair, we are making real the potential of cities being at the forefront in recognizing and tackling the wave interdependent global crisis from as migration, climate change and unprecedented inequality.

Within Bristol itself. 

• We have introduced the City Leap prospectus, a £1 billion package of projects that will transform the way Bristol generates, distributes, stores and uses energy. We are set to deliver a low carbon, smart energy infrastructure that will put us on the path to be the leading carbon reduction city in the UK.

• We have been installing district heating systems, insulated 20 thousand council properties and launched a citywide programme to tackle fuel poverty.

• We are overturning decades of failure and under investment, and have opened up the prospect of a mass transit system – including an underground – with ultra-low carbon output.  And despite the negativity and lack of belief from my political opponents and the understandable caution of many citizens, who struggled to believe anything from a city with such a tragic record of failure, we are now making progress and could link the city centre to the south and to the airport within 8 years. 

We have shown we are the administration that’s broken free of the cant do, risk-averse culture that bound the council for so long. We have genuine ambition for Bristol, a commitment to get stuff done and an impatience with those touch line prophets who shout down our city’s potential and anyone who has the guts to step onto the field of play to work for it.

The Bristol One City Plan was written over two and a half years with over 200 city partners. It sets out a sequence for ambitious city targets for carbon reduction taking up to 2050 and all aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals. These ambitions include:

• A regional bus deal that will double public transport usage as we improve our road infrastructure and bus lanes using both private and public sector investment;

• radically increasing the number of electric car charging points year on year,

• working with all our public partners to transition to non-fossil fuel fleet vehicles;

• tackle food poverty including introducing food production sites in every ward and create a regional produce hub to keep food miles low and ensure local food is available;

• work through Bristol Waste and the Clean streets campaign to transform the city’s relationship with waste: reducing the amount we generate, increasing reuse and recycling, and making better use of waste such as turning it into energy.

And our aim that within three years we will:

• Achieve the gold standard for Bristol in the Sustainable Food City Awards,

• Be using smart energy technology to support the efficient use of energy in over 50% of homes, the proportion growing year on year thereafter;

• increasing the number of taxis on Ultra Low Emissions;

• have a full fleet of bio-fuel buses;

• continue metro west developments to grow rail usage;

• have a fully operational freight consolidation centre, reducing freight journeys in and around the city centre;

• and complete the ring of park and rides around the city to reduce the number of commuter cars driving in.

And of course, we intend to work with partners to double the tree canopy. 

The sheer scale and breadth of what we have done should stand in stark contrast to the background noise and opportunistic criticism our opponents have attempted to attach to us. A mentor once said to me “values are what you do, everything else is just words”. It is worth reflecting on this as you look at the conduct of politicians, would be politicians and self-appointed leaders as they compete for attention, approval and seek their purpose across the social media platforms on which too many are living their lives.

But it would be foolish not to recognise there are limits to what cities alone can achieve.

The 2017 Carbon Majors report warns that the big carbon emitting companies need to change behaviour if we are to get the systemic change the world needs. It says:

• not much has changed for the biggest polluters and it’s a relatively small number of fossil fuel producers hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions. 

• that more than half of global emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 25 corporate and state owned entities.

• and it heightens concerns around temperature rises, confirming that if fossil fuels are extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as the last 28, we would be on course for a temperature rise of 4C. 

Yet the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change tells us we have only 12 years to limit global warming increases to below a rise of 1.5C. Beyond that we face irreversible and self-enforcing climate change characterized by global drought and food shortages, extreme heat, floods and the extension of extreme poverty to many more hundreds of millions of people. 

I want to dwell on this last point for a bit, this relationship between environmental and social justice. Because while it is true that environmental injustice compounds social injustice, it is also true that social injustice and poverty can rob people of the financial space they need to be able to think beyond the crisis of today to think about the crisis of tomorrow. As a result the environmental movement lacks the class and racial diversity it desperately needs to legitimise its democratic energy and evidence that it truly represents a way of doing politics that is truly different to the hierarchical and exploitative systems that have brought us to this point.

What’s more, if we do not hear the voice of the poorest, if they are not with us on the journey, we run the risk of further distancing people from political and economic hope. And that creates conditions ripe for the kind of populist reactionary politics offered by Trump, Farage and Johnson. And we will set environmental and social justice back by decades. 

My plea, my warning is this: we need this to be an inclusive movement. The tactics and approach of some people who claim to offer political leadership on environmental causes, alienates some people. There can be a tendency to use the poorest as items of evidence in any debate rather than colleagues to be respected and worked with.

I recently invited Professor Richard Pancost, the Head of School for Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol to write a guest blog for me.

He said: “to protect our civilisation, we must drive our society towards sustainability, circularity and carbon neutrality, but most of all minimise climate change”.

But he also issued clear warnings to the environmental movement. 

“Climate change is an affront to our putative ideals of fairness and equality.  It is classist and racist.”

“If climate action is a question of social justice then those marginalised groups must be part of the movement.  They must set the agenda of the movement and lead the movement.  And if they are not, those of us who claim the title ‘environmentalist’ cannot ask why they are not engaged but instead must ask how we have failed.  We must challenge ourselves, our privilege and our institutions and understand how we have excluded them”. 

“Have we honestly created an open space for multiple agendas?”

I wholeheartedly agree with Rich…

He concluded

“It is vital to recognise that your own privilege includes your institution, whether that’s a university, a small green business or cash starved charity.  And especially our movement, a movement perceived as being by and for the white middle class” 

A key line from his blog sums up the challenge facing the city, the environmental movement and the need to recognise environmental justice and social justice have to come hand in hand.

 His words:

“It is time to concede that a thousand ripples have yet to become a wave”. 

He is right.  Every time I get the line thrown at me – “there are no jobs on a dead planet”, – I know the person isn’t listening, isn’t building a movement.  To dismiss the importance of decent employment with a glib phrase, shows no understanding, respect or empathy for those who most need economic hope.

The environmental movement must become the movement that draws people together for the environmental, social and economic struggle.  It must be a movement that listens and respects the diversity of experiences and worldviews of the new groups it would have join rather than a pulpit from which to lecture and signal superior values.


Real leadership attempts to deliver on many issues at the same time – some shape the whole world and others the whole of a single person or family’s world. It grapples with the fact that sometimes, the many issues on which we have to deliver conflict, with each other, growing the economy for jobs and reducing our energy footprint on the planet for example. It’s that very reason that real leadership is also about taking responsibility for both your decisions but the consequences of that decision both intended and unintended. 

This is why single issue politics so severely underserves us.

If you take a position that will cost people jobs, and you ignore the consequence and have no solutions, then you are failing the people no matter how noble your reason for taking that position.

In the west Wing, President Bartlet exposed an opponent for talking in “10 word” slogans but having nothing to follow it up with. Yes it is just tv but it is true that campaigns are too often about leaflets and soundbites that can be delivered in under 10 words.  There are Mayoral campaigns gearing up all over the city looking for their 10 words. Take it from me, when you’re in power, you need the next 10 words and the 10 words after that.  If you don’t have them you don’t have enough.

The airport expansion is a perfect example of a complex issue being given the 10 word treatment..  There are mayoral candidates who simply want to oppose it – that’s their 10 words. Easy to understand.  But if the airport doesn’t expand, we will miss an opportunity for thousands of new jobs in the next decade, in particular for Bristol South. So your next 10 words must be on what you will do to replace those jobs. 

The environmental impact of airport expansion is not a binary option. In 2018 alone, 7.8 million travellers from the South West and South Wales bypassed Bristol to fly from Heathrow, Gatwick and other airports, generating an additional 157 thousand tonnes of carbon to add to their flights. So the next 10 words need to address how we will minimise the road miles that come with the growing number of flights that will come irrespective of whether or not Bristol Airport expands.

We will also use the growth of Bristol Airport to strengthen the financial case for Bristol’s mass transit system which we hope will be the means by which we takes millions of car journeys off of Bristol’s roads and the carbon and nitrogen dioxide they bring.  The weaker the airport, the weaker the business case for the underground. So you will need 10 words to explain how you will secure the investment the underground will need and avoid us being trapped in the current, inadequate arrangements.

A Lebanese friend once shared with me “A problem well defined is a problem well solved.” A new paper, due to be published by US researchers later this month, will forecast that information and communications technology will create up to 3.5% of global emissions by 2020.  Carbon output from data centres will surpass the emissions of aviation and shipping combined. It is incumbent on responsible leaders to communicate the complexity of the challenge we face accurately, rather than looking for the easy symbol like the airport, over the substance of a challenge like data centres. 


This week, we have announced the launch of the required consultation on options for us to reach Nitrogen Dioxide compliance. 

Improving air quality is another perfect example of how we need to be inclusive.  We cannot slide into categorizing people who drive cars or anyone who doesn’t experience the world as we do, as the enemy. 

Of course cars are a contributor. But they are also the inevitable consequence of decades of failure resulting in a limited public transport offer.  We will eliminate the worst polluting vehicles and we will improve the worst polluted areas.  But, we will do it by acknowledging the potential impacts on the lowest income households and we will do it by ensuring we protect and drive a sustainable, inclusive economy. 

We will only achieve modal shift by offering better alternatives.  Any change to arrangements for people coming into the city centre to work, will be protected with mitigations for the lowest paid and a scrappage scheme or car replacement scheme for the oldest cars, for those who need support to buy a newer, cleaner car. 

We are continuing the modelling because we are pursuing the quickest path to compliance and we will listen to all citizens while we do so. 

I will leave you with a series of announcements that my administration is working on and will introduce in the next year and beyond.  A lot of our work is being done in partnership with UK 100, a national network of local government leaders focussed on climate action. They will be seconding a person into my office to help deliver on the environment, going far beyond NO2 compliance.


We will improve monitoring of nitrogen dioxide pollution levels throughout the city.  And we will openly publish all that data. 

We will raise awareness and enforce the existing Smoke Control Legislation in licenced premises to reduce the illegal burning of wood and solid fuels.  This will include domestic wood burners and bonfire nuisance. 

We are working with schools, parents and pupils to close roads to cars, outside of schools during drop off and pick up, everywhere it’s possible. 

In the Construction industry, we will review the new powers planned by government to reduce emissions from non-road mobile machinery, like cement mixers, and gather evidence to further consider tightening mobile machinery standards used in Bristol, in line with low emission zone standards.  We will adopt the 2018 Institute of Air Quality Management best practice guidance on monitoring construction and demolition sites to ensure effective management of emissions of dust and particulates. 

Working with our city partners on the city centre revitalisation group and our preparation for the Western Harbour, we are putting active travel at the heart of the plans. This will include planning that brings homes together with retail and entertainment in the name of minimizing the need to travel.

We have submitted a bid to the future High Streets Fund and are focussed on re-designing Nelson Street.  This will include re-modelling the old city and removing traffic from parts of it. 

We are taking a fresh look at the possibility of a workplace parking levy in part as a means to raise revenue for a mass transit system.  This needs to be done responsibly and with our business partners.

We want to introduce green walls and roofs to Bristol.  At a recent Big Offer, Big Ask session, my team met with LiveGraft, who are one organisation who have plans for urban vertical gardening.  We will be structurally reviewing car parks, large buildings and walls and where possible, bring them alive. 

And with UK100 and others, we will continue our campaign to get government to devolve the powers and money we need to move at the pace we need. If government simply rolls down responsibility to cities without resources or powers, we will fail.

We are calling on the government to:

ban diesel generators for domestic energy supply.  We recently saw our planning committee take the strong step of refusing diesel generators positioned next to a nursery in St Phillips but we know the appeal has a strong chance of success. The government must give us the powers to say no to pollutants, especially in heavily populated areas.

Grant increased powers to ban particulates, particularly in industrial and domestic use. And we need the power to ban private wood burners. 

As part of our proposal towards a clean air zone, we have insisted on a city wide scrappage or vehicle replacement scheme. But we are calling on the government to install a national scheme giving everyone who needs it, financial support to update their vehicle to a cleaner one.

Near the very top of the list of actions government must take is to introduce legislation and funding for all new houses and their supporting infrastructure, to be carbon neutral.  Our city region alone has plans to build in excess of 100 000 new houses by 2036 and it would be criminal to set out on that path without the foresight to reduce carbon output. And we need the funding and resources to retrofit older homes and buildings. 

We will be working with UK100 to call for more powers and to strengthen legislation in the Comprehensive Spending review and through the next legislative year. 


From UK 100 to the University of Bristol’s Cabot Institute, we are fortunate to have world leading expertise available to us in Bristol.

I am pleased that we are able to work with the Green Capital Partnership and they are working with us to establish the One City environment board and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. It is through the Bristol One City Plan, that we will ensure we are able to extend the influence of this expertise beyond the narrow confines of the committed and to the whole city.

If we get this wrong, not only will we miss the opportunity to roll back the climate catastrophe many people in the poorest countries already face, but it will extend to many millions more. If we get it right, we can be a source of hope for our planet.

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