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COP21 daily report: Monday 30 November

Cabot Institute Director Professor Rich Pancost will be attending COP21 in Paris as part of the Bristol city-wide team, including the Mayor of Bristol, representatives from Bristol City Council and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. He will be writing blogs during COP21, reflecting on what is happening in Paris, especially in the Paris and Bristol co-hosted Cities and Regions Pavilion, and also on the conclusion to Bristol’s year as the European Green Capital.  Follow #UoBGreen and #COP21 for live updates from the University of Bristol.
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Image credit: Local street by St Werburghs Community Centre

I started pondering this opening blog, the first in our Bristol at COP21 series, on Friday morning, while walking from the St Werburgh’s Community Centre back to the University.

It was a reflective walk. The  previous evening, Bristol’s COP21 team met at Brunel House to talk logistics, covering everything from travel, to security, to the main messages Bristol would want to share with the rest of the world.  All of this had come at the end of a whirlwind month of events and announcements.  In November, we had already hosted George Marshall and Jonathan Porritt (with the National Union of Journalists and Festival of Ideas), celebrated our fifth birthday, and discussed what we will achieve in the next five years with our new VC and in a rapidly transforming university.  The previous week had seen the Festival of the Future City, at which we presented some of our findings from the year on Bristol’s climate challenges, its future resiliency, its nature and connection to the countryside, and the new governance and financial structures needed to achieve transformative change.  
Bristol Data Dome
The interactive Bristol Data Dome had opened on 18 Nov, the first in the UK and part of the rollout of Bristol Is Open.  The City’s Sustainable Education programme launched, and the Shaun the Sheep app that underpins it won the ‘App with a Purpose’ prize.  Bristol City Council launched its own Energy Company, only the second in the UK.  George Ferguson gave his annual lecture in the Wills Memorial Building, at which he announced his ambition for an up to £1 billion investment in a citywide urban retrofit to increase energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty (a plan partially based on our mini-Stern review of Bristol as a Low Carbon City).  And of course, we are headed to COP21, where Bristol will co-host the Cities and Regions Pavilion with Paris. 

And despite all of these announcements and achievements, the year feels incomplete.  The meeting in St Werburgh’s, co-sponsored by ourselves and some great partners, thoughtfully examined whether the Green Capital project had really engaged all of our citizens, from all perspectives and all walks of life. The answer to that was complex and we will be exploring that more during 2016 as the conversation continues.  But there was an overall consensus that much had been achieved but much more could have been achieved.  It seems a common opinion as 2015 races towards its conclusion in Paris. 
Image taken from Hotel Royal Saint Germain
I’ve seen this tension between satisfaction and ambition exemplified on a large scale by Andrew Garrad, co-founder of Garrad Hassan now part of DNV-GL, Chair of the Bristol 2015 Company and member of the Cabot Institute’s Advisory Board. He has spent 35 years in the wind industry; in one sentence he can celebrate the success of UK renewables, which in 20 years have become central to the UK’s energy mix, and then pivot to regret that he has not been able to push even further. 

This is something that sometimes frustrates me about my adopted city but that ultimately I love – and is perhaps what I love most about it. No matter how much we achieve, we argue about how we could have done better.  Or more.  Or faster.

Bristol is the least complacent place I have ever lived, sometimes exhausting but always exhilarating. 

I am concluding this first blog on Sunday night, having just returned from the Climate March, which drew thousands of people on a cold, wet and windy day.  And at which people sang songs, chanted, cheered – but also debated and argued and demanded more innovation and more action.  My abiding memory of the Climate March will be listening to the smart, informed and passionate debates among members of the Bristol Youth Council about the future of their party. 

That edginess and ambition is exactly what the whole planet needs as we tackle the profound challenges not just of climate change but the sustainable use of the resources on which we depend. No matter what happens in Paris, complacency must not be accepted and it will not be accepted in Bristol.

Bristol was awarded the European Green Capital in part because we are ‘the City with a sense of fun’.  And Bristol is fun – and quirky and odd and artistic and brilliant. But it is also edgy and passionate and often proudly unsatisfied. We do not have all of the solutions, but we will never stop looking. That is the Bristol I will be taking with me to Paris.
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This blog is by Prof Rich Pancost, Director of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol.  For more information about the University of Bristol at COP21, please visit bristol.ac.uk/green-capital

Prof Rich Pancost

This blog is part of a COP21 daily report series. View other blogs in the series:
Tuesday 1 December: Setting a more ambitious agenda - Bristol’s Transformative Action Plans

Wednesday 2 December: Reflecting on the science of climate change

Thursday 3 December: The politics and culture of climate change

Friday 4 December: Be brave, work together and involve the next generation

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