Bristol at COP26 - but how is the city taking climate action?

Bristol at COP26 - but how is the city taking climate action?

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) has dominated global headlines for the past two weeks, but how was Bristol involved and what happens now it’s over?

18 November 2021

Bristol has made a big contribution to COP26 as a city taking real action.

Last week, on the three-year anniversary of Bristol City Council becoming the first UK local authority to declare a Climate Emergency, Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees attended the COP26 inner Blue Zone, where global leaders, key decision-makers and experts from around the world met for international negotiations over climate change agreements and actions.

At the main Cities, Regions and Built Environment Day Action event organised by the UN, Mayor Rees raised the issue that cities and their mayors should be put front and centre of any COP26 commitments. Cities already account for three-quarters of global carbon emissions, and by 2050, 68 per cent of people will live in urban areas.

Good urban planning is needed to reduce carbon emissions, support the recovery of wildlife, and build more just and more inclusive societies.

As part of the UK Cities Climate Investment Commission’s event, his message was that national governments, international organisations, and private finance must work together to enable the scale of investment needed for decarbonisation.

Representing the C40 cities network and Mayors Migration Council to launch their Action Agenda, he outlined that a just transition is needed for the people who will be hit first and hardest by the consequences of climate change and who are at risk of being further disadvantaged by the economic restructuring needed to meet the 1.5C target. 

Mayor Rees said: “COP26 has been a significant opportunity for us to demonstrate the critical role of cities in tackling the climate emergency and importance of a socially just green recovery.” 

He continued, “Bristol’s goal is to be carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030. To reach this goal we need the whole city to be on board and working together, which is why we launched the One City Climate Strategy. Already businesses and citizens are taking action right across the city. However, the city needs significant additional funding from both investors and government to accelerate the transition, and leading discussion on this was one of my main focuses at COP26.”

Back in Bristol, the council’s climate team joined forces with Business West to host the regional COP26 Green Zone ‘The Business of Net Zero’ where local businesses discussed how they’re working towards achieving carbon neutrality and climate resilience by 2030. It was here that Mayor Rees asked businesses to make their own commitments to be net zero by 2030.

The University of Bristol, in partnership with the council and Praxis Research, hosted a ‘Mock COP’ event, where over 50 A-Level students from 10 state schools in Bristol heard from Deputy Mayor Cllr Asher Craig who warned that the impact of global warming would be felt more by the students in the room than the leaders in Glasgow. She outlined the ways in which Bristol will be impacted and urged students to think about what climate action they could now take. During the day, students were also tasked with navigating, negotiating and voting on key climate issues, facilitated by 14 Master’s students from the university’s Cabot Institute for the Environment.

Bristol City Council on behalf of the One City Office launched the #BristolClimateAction campaign which highlights actions that Bristol citizens are taking to tackle the climate emergency. The short films tell the stories of people from all across the city who are taking action in their own way and inspiring others in their communities.

The films include: Roy, who installed a heat pump to heat his home without burning gas; Martin who swapped driving to work for cycling; Elsie and Sylvia who are making space for nature in their companies; Nobby and Jim who fix things; Katherine who has given up flying; and two businesses, Proctor Stevenson and Burges Salmon, who have embedded more sustainable practices into the way they do business. The films can be viewed on the One City YouTube channel, and will continue after COP26.

In the three years since Bristol City Council declared a climate emergency and announced its goal to be carbon neutral and climate resilient by 2030, it has been working hard to meet its targets. The council and the city have:

  • Developed ambitious strategies and plans to guide our climate action: the One City Climate Strategy and the Mayor’s Climate Emergency Action plan
  • And put in place parallel plans for the ecological emergency: the One City Ecological Emergency Strategy and the BCC Ecological Emergency Action Plan
  • Invested £42 million on retrofitting council homes to reduce tenants’ carbon footprints and energy bills since 2005
  • Granted £250,000 for local community energy projects and supported the development of England’s largest on-shore wind turbine in Lawrence Weston
  • Invested over £60 million on other low-carbon projects, which have helped cut the council’s and city’s energy bills
  • Expanded district heat networks into new parts of the city 
  • Started installing the UK’s largest water source heat pump (drawing heat from Bristol Harbour) to provide zero-carbon heat, and recycling Bristol’s hot shower water to heat homes
  • Invested £12.8 million to improve strategic cycling links. Bristol is now served by 12 miles of cycle tracks that are physically separated from traffic and pedestrians; 49 miles of traffic-free cycle routes away from the roads; a total of 112 miles of cycle routes
  • Achieved Gold Sustainable Food City status for our work to reduce the environmental footprint of our food
  • Committed to at least 30 per cent of Bristol’s land to be managed for the benefit of nature
  • Committed to reduce its use of pesticides by 50 per cent 
  • Planted thousands of trees, with more than 9,000 planted in the last year alone 

Future plans include:

  • City Leap Energy Partnership to bring over £1 billion of investment into the city for renewable energy and energy efficiency
  • Further transport improvements to key bus routes
  • Increasing segregated priority routes for pedestrians, cyclists and buses 
  • Installing more EV charging points
  • Stronger sustainability policies for new development.
  • Small grants for communities to tackle climate and ecological issues in their communities
  • Completing a programme to change all our streetlighting to low energy use bulbs

To get ideas and inspiration for how you can lower your carbon footprint, visit

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