Bristolians have long been committed to caring for the environment and averting dangerous climate change. Over the summer, I discussed the climate emergency with hundreds of people in my constituency to understand their concerns and listen to their ideas to resolve this crisis at a local level.
This showed that Bristol has huge expertise in this area. It also demonstrated the importance of bringing all communities to the discussion table. I have shared the suggestions from these discussions with the COP26 President and requested a meeting to discuss how Bristol can play a leading role in the transition to a healthier and cleaner environment.
The government has been much too slow to act on climate change. It must pick up the pace now. My conversations with constituents show that the public is far ahead of government ministers on this urgent matter. Nationally, opinion polls show the same, with 80% of people fairly or very concerned about climate change.
The government must do everything it can to make COP26 a success. And that starts with bold policies at home.
President of COP26 Alok Sharma
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
1 Victoria Street
27 October 2021
Re: Lessons from Bristol West for COP26
I am writing to you on behalf of my constituents, many of whom are deeply concerned about the climate emergency. I have collated their ideas, concerns and questions into a single document, which I hope will encourage you to take an extremely ambitious stance in your leading role at the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
As I’m sure you are aware, the stakes could not be higher. The last decade has shown us the terrifying effects of global warming. In the last year, fires have ravaged forests from Greece to Canada and floods have submerged entire towns across the globe, from Germany to Indonesia. The latest IPCC Assessment Report said that the human influence of global warming has been ‘unequivocal’. With this in the background, the outcomes from COP26, hosted by the UK under your Presidency, are of vital significance to every human on this planet.
In order to better understand the concerns of my constituents, this summer I organised a series of discussions involving hundreds of people from Bristol West, bringing together experts from environmental organisations, researchers, campaigners, business representatives and members of the public. I have compiled my notes from these events, which I wish to share with you today.
A strong mandate for action
People in Bristol West are well-aware of the dangers of unabated emissions. They realise that urgent action needs to be taken to avoid a climate catastrophe. In my constituency, 80% of respondents surveyed last year as part of the Bristol Citizens’ Assembly initiative, felt that ‘climate change and the environment’ should of the top priorities for the city’s future. Following the survey, the Citizens’ Assembly produced recommendations on reducing the impact of their homes on climate change. I believe you will find a similar eagerness for action, even when it comes at a personal cost or inconvenience, across the UK. Such a strong mandate from the people must be an impetus for the government to commit to taking firm action.
Listening to a wide range of expertise
Several constituents felt that there are many people who are left out of discussions on climate change. This is unfortunate, for several reasons: everyone will need engage with the large changes we will see in our economy; we will all be affected by climate change; and many marginalised groups may have useful knowledge or experience to contribute. On a global scale, this is also likely to be true.
At COP26, it is imperative to lend an ear to the most disadvantaged communities, including those who will face the brunt of a changing climate. As was recently demonstrated in a report by an environmental investigation group in the UK, too often it is the fossil fuel firms and lobbying groups who get the most access to those in decision making positions. According to another piece of research funded by the Cabot Institute for the Environment at the University of Bristol, “Participation in climate change decision making is heavily skewed towards white men.”
In Bristol, discussions about climate change have not been limited to a select few. People from different communities, ethnicities and religious organisations have shared their experiences and expertise, highlighting the breath of interest in tackling the climate emergency amongst the city’s residents.
At COP26, I hope you can make efforts to encourage meaningful participation from climate vulnerable groups, people of colour, the disabled and those fully committed to a green future, unfettered by corporate interests.
Financial mechanisms to drive change
Many of my constituents have raised the question of the UK’s public and private finances driving climate change. A scorecard of fossil fuel funding by G20 OECD countries released by the IISD last year ranked UK last. According to the report government support to fossil fuels in the UK stood at $16.4bn annually. Globally, countries provide £247bn of subsidies aiding harmful activities such as fertiliser overuse, deforestation and cattle production. My constituents would like the UK government to show leadership by switching subsidies from polluting industries to renewable energy infrastructure and green jobs.
Moreover, significant financial commitments at home would give you a stronger hand in negotiations. A future Labour government has committed to invest £28bn every year until 2030 towards tackling the climate crisis. I hope your government is able to make similarly ambitious commitments, in line with the scale of the challenge.
We have the technology. We need government support
Several constituents who have taken steps to reduce emissions in their own lives spoke positively about this experience. They would like to encourage greater uptake of these technologies, particularly where there are win-win benefits.
For instance, solar energy prices have dropped by almost 90% in the last decade. Today solar panels have become ubiquitous across the world and consumers can feel the difference in impact on their wallets as well as the environment. Similarly, those who invested in insulating their homes have begun to reap the rewards. Today, we have at our disposal a range of new technologies that can help reduce our carbon footprint, such as heat pumps, which have the potential for wide-scale adoption in the near future.
Nonetheless, several constituents raised the importance of government support increase adoption amongst the public – both domestically, but also on an international level, to increase uptake in less developed countries. Economies of scale will accelerate falling prices.
Learning from progressive cities like Bristol
One particularly fascinating discussing was around what a city like Bristol has to teach the world.
As a Member of Parliament for Bristol West, I have had the opportunity to see the positive changes that can be brought when public participation and political will work together.
Bristol was the first council to declare a Climate Emergency (something which I championed in Parliament). That clarion call was matched by the firm action of setting an ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
This puts Bristol’s administration ahead of the UK government, which the Climate Change Commission states has been “too slow to follow with delivery”. From insulating thousands of council homes, limiting vehicular access in the city centre, and investing in public transport infrastructure, Bristol Council and the city’s residents have matched their words with on-ground action.
Leading by example and keeping to our commitments
Through its position as host nation of COP26, the UK needs to lead by example. Many of my constituents feel strongly about this. The UK must commit to a domestic plan which demonstrates full commitment to this agenda, encouraging world leaders and countries to make ambitious emission reduction commitments.
It is unfortunate that the UK government has cut overseas aid, because it is such support that can help developing countries transition towards cleaner technology. The UK needs to make up for the shortfall by committing, alongside other countries, to exceed the $100bn promised to developing countries. We must ensure that poorer countries are supported by those countries and businesses with the means to do so.
Lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic
Lastly, several constituents drew important lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The last couple of years have laid bare the cracks in our public systems. While I am hopeful that we can quickly assess the government’s handling of the pandemic and learn how to avoid a similar health crisis in the future, there are a few valuable lessons we can draw immediately.
The past few years have shown us our ability to change quickly when faced with a crisis. We learnt the importance of putting aside our differences and coming together in working towards a solution. Of taking global a perspective and protecting everyone. ‘No one is safe until everyone is safe’ holds true for the climate crisis as it does for a pandemic.
Across the world, the efforts of healthcare and essential workers were highlighted and lauded for helping us emerge from the virus last winter. Similarly, we must recognise and reward the efforts of those groups battling climate change. During the pandemic, governments around the world took drastic action in protecting businesses and the economy from collapsing. In a similar vein, we must move to an emergency footing to rapidly tackling the climate crisis and accelerating the zero carbon jobs and industries of the future.
I hope the above notes, on behalf of the people of Bristol West, encourage you to demonstrate real leadership throughout the COP26 process.
I know that within the UK we have the public mandate, technological expertise and creativity to find solutions and lead the global response to the biggest crisis of our lifetimes. I hope that under your Presidency, COP26 creates a robust plan for governments to commit to real solutions, support disadvantaged communities and be held accountable for their actions. Our future depends on it.
I would like to meet you after COP26 and discuss how Bristol West can play a leading role in the UK’s transition to a net zero economy. My assistant will be in touch with your office to arrange for a date in mid November 2021.