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COP21 reflections: What next for the University of Bristol?

If you have read my previous blogs on my COP21 reflections (see links at bottom of this blog), that brings us to the University of Bristol and the Cabot Institute.  I hope that this year we also have made some steps towards being a trusted participant in shaping our city’s future. I have lived here over 15 years and so I know that has not always been the case.

We must contribute via our role as a business.  With the NHS, we are the largest employer in the city and our behaviour should lead by example.  This is why we have developed a district energy strategy with BCC and the NHS.  This is why we are planting trees all over the city.  That is why we collaborate with Bristol City Council and fund community initiatives. But we do need to do more.  We will be judged on how we build our next buildings.  We will be judged on how we procure our goods. We will be judged on how we engage with the other citizens of Bristol.

We must contribute via our role as an educational institution.  We are already committed to pan-University Education for Sustainable Development (and thanks again to Chris Willmore for championing that). Now we are exploring a new initiative to build sustainability, enterprise and global citizenship across the student experience; those of us in the Cabot Institute are very excited to have been asked to play a role in translating our ambitions for multidisciplinary, challenge-driven, environmental research to our Undergraduates.
Students working with a local organisation in Bedminster, Bristol.
Of course, those students are driving us as often as we are leading them!  In the words of Hannah Tweddell of Bristol’s Student Union:
‘Our students and young people are the future. We've seen the amazing work they've done in partnership, helping Bristol Green Capital transition towards a more sustainable inclusive city. We're committed to getting 100,000 hours of student engagement with the city to help make our city more sustainable every year - real action on the ground to tackle climate change, inequality and sustainability.'
And finally, the Cabot Institute will continue to conduct ambitious research in this area. Being at COP21 with Bristol City Council showed me the power of academic contributions.  Our Mini-Stern review and the STEEP Project sit at the foundation of Bristol’s Climate Change and Energy Security Framework.  Bristol is Open was repeatedly cited as an exemplar in Future Cities thinking. These partnerships were embedded in the argument by ICLEI and others that cities must be taken seriously as partners in this endeavour. Our climate change research was also on display and invoked at key stages as ambitions were raised.

It is not all about the Cabot Institute.  Sustainability policy is increasingly linked to health issues, whether it be the benefits of cycling and walking or of cleaner air; as such, the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute is also a central part of this conversation. The Brigstow Institute will explore the role of self, identity and community in the 21st century, issues that will be central to the social transformations that the Paris Agreement requires.  And there is no doubt that Big Data will be key to understanding, managing and navigating the future city; our new Institute (currently the Bristol Institute for Data Intensive Research) is poised to make major contributions.
Our research must continue and become more ambitious because we do not have all of the solutions - yet. So we will continue to innovate, whether it be exciting new functional nanomaterials to underpin the next generation of renewable technology or the mathematical expertise that will help us best extract tidal power from the Severn. We will have to help explore new financing tools to fund a new kind of global development; and there is a role for Bristol in shaping the emerging new forms of governance and economy. But new solutions require an engaged and interested public – and we do not intend to develop them in isolation or in our old disciplinary silos.

As our train pulled into Temple Meads, Alex Minshull told me that what he took from the Conference was a renewed awareness of what he already knew – do not get ‘locked in’ to the future you do not want. We must make the right choices today, choices that do not pile future carbon debt onto the future.  We must invest in our young people today so that they are prepared to lead tomorrow.  We must invest in new technology today so that it is ready when we need it.

It starts today.

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Prof Rich Pancost

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

Other blogs in this COP21 reflections series include:
What have we acheived and how do we go forward?
What next for the University of Bristol?







COP21 Daily Reports


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