The Blog

An Update From COP 21, Thursday 3rd and Friday 4th December

Thursday 3rd December

'Transport decarbonisation as an engine for growth' may not be the most gripping title for a panel debate, but like many working sessions at COP21, behind every dry title is a pressing issue which impacts upon everything from national policy to how we all get around our towns and cities on a daily basis.

It is the EU's flagship Transport session at COP21, held in the EU pavilion within the restricted Blue Zone. Hosted by the impressive European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, and moderated by Christian Egenhoffer from the Centre for European Policy Studies, the session was in the spirit of the tone of this COP - one of cautious optimism and forward thinking solutions. As Jean-Paul Huchon, President of Region Ile-de-France, said in his opening speech, in his region decarbonising transport means up to 200,000 new jobs by 2025 - linking it with economic growth as much as environmental benefit.

It's my first formal session of a day that is to end with dinner in the Louvre, hosted by Mike Bloomberg on behalf of C40 cities. So while my increasingly harassed two person support team work on some high profile arrangements for the next couple of days I'm spending my time preparing my thoughts on the sometimes thorny issue of transport, in this case mixed with a healthy dose of positive innovation.

This isn't just about bemoaning emissions - a huge health issue in all cities - but principally about seeking solutions and, more excitingly, opportunities. The debate posits that reducing carbon in our transport methods and infrastructure presents real opportunity for innovation and growth. The panel, including E.ON, Liftshare, EU and other representatives, have many ideas, some informed by their particular business model, and a real appetite for progress. By pure coincidence the Managing Director of Liftshare, Ali Clabburn, went to university in Bristol and it was there he hit on the idea of his future business after posting a request for a lift home to Norwich on the student union noticeboard. This is a great example of an entrepreneur growing a business from an practical need and turning it into a great environmentally friendly business that can have an immediate impact on congestion and pollution.

The relevance of the topic at COP21 is high. For while this event may be serviced by 100% electric buses and a fleet of bookable electric cars, the stark truth is that, according to Anil Srivastava, CEO of vehicle battery producer Leclanche SA, about one fifth of EU greenhouse emissions come from transport systems. And along with other pollutants, those emissions are killing us.

In Bristol we see strong evidenced links between our busiest commuter routes and low air quality. Research for our air quality strategy shows a direct correlation between vehicle emissions and an estimated £200m of health costs, apart from the personal misery of ill-health and premature death.

Attempts to reduce congestion in Bristol are many and varied, with over £400m being pumped into our current public transport improvements to the city region, major new cycling infrastructure. This is reinforced with park & ride and parking restrictions designed to ease commuter pressure and pollution in residential areas.

Perhaps more importantly, we're also embracing innovation to ensure a lower carbon future. It's one of those projects I bring to the debate - our plan for the 'Bristol Brain', a city simulator of sorts. We're the first and only city in the world to install a super high-speed experimental mesh network, running through old TV cable ducts and linking to the University of Bristol's super-computer, all designed to enable informed policy making and behaviour: See for more.

Our aim is to link this to many different city sensors and systems, allowing us to work with real-time, real-world data projected in both virtual and - through 3D printing - physical form. This unlocks a myriad of possibilities, including demonstrating the impact of different transport management systems and options, and has the potential to contribute to such innovations as driverless cars which could have a transformational effect on reducing individual car ownership.

A lift into Paris in one of the COP e-cars took me to the C40 city Awards and onto dinner at the Louvre with several world city mayors, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England and other leading global figures. The pressure for nations to listen to the call for action from the cities is growing, and Bristol is punching well above its weight!

Friday 4th December

Yesterday marked the largest ever gathering of global mayors, for the Paris Climate Summit for City Leaders, held in the glittering surroundings of Paris City Hall. This was brought together by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who has shown such great leadership following the Paris massacre of just a couple of weeks ago, and ex New York Mayor, Mike Bloomberg, working together with global networks of cities. The result was a new declaration presented to Ban Ki-moon, committing signatories to going above and beyond any international targets agreed by the UN Conference of the Parties (COP21).

Impressively, together we have promised that we shall contribute to up to 3.7 gigatons of urban greenhouse gas emissions reductions annually by 2030 -- the equivalent of up to 30% of the difference between current national commitments and the 2 degree emissions reduction pathway identified by the scientific community. Which, for those keeping count, still leaves a very large gap which national governments need to step-up and fill. Next day I was to attend the plenary session of the talks to hear Hidalgo & Bloomberg bringing our strong collaborative message to the national delegations.

This is the biggest ever joint commitment from many of the world's cities - large and small - including Bristol as European Green Capital. I was fortunate enough to play an active role in the day's key events, representing major European cities network Eurocities in presenting the pledge to Ban Ki-moon, alongside fellow independent Mayor of Seoul, Park Wan Soon, representing the ICLEI network with whom we are staging the Cities and Regions Pavilion at the COP. This should build confidence amongst investors that decarbonisation is the new local and global direction and that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Mayors now wanting to work in partnership with them on real projects.

It was a long but inspiring day with contributions from everyone from Elon Musk, of Tesla, to All Gore (whose interviewer dramatically fainted from the heat, mid questioning) and from President Francois Hollande to actor Leonardo DiCaprio. I took a break from City Hall to travel to the Blue Zone with Mike Bloomberg and EU Finance Commissioner Pierre Moskovici to announce the joining forces of the global Compact of a Mayors and European Covenant of Mayors. I was representing one of the founders of the Compact, ICLEI the global sustainability network of more than 1000 cities. Back to City Hall for plenaries, a Google Hangout (; - 9hr 27min in) and for the confirmation of the Paris City Hall Declaration.

Now for the action! It is crystal clear that the current generation of decision makers must act decisively to decarbonise the world, not in the interests of future generations but those that are already here, and this was underlined by a moving presentation from the young people of Paris. Ban Ki-moon told me, as we were applauding the kids, that it was one of the most moving events he had witnessed - now that means something!

I find a brief moment to log into some of the breaking and pending news from home - small local initiatives come together to make a difference. Citizens preparing a street party to celebrate their new 'bike hanger' parking. The launch of an online tree sponsorship gift package as part of our One Tree Per Child project. Rolling out digital smart energy metering in our council properties. A great Canadian news feature on Bristol which shows the local bus company hoping for a fleet of over 100 bio-buses and the amazing Alice from a local café inventing a system to use waste from her fish tank to help grow plants and vegetables. It's this stuff that matters. It's somewhat off-set by less happy reminders of the challenges - the buses are caught up in traffic congestion affecting their reliability, and, surprise of surprises, as a city our recycling rates aren't as good as those of the affluent rural areas and towns around us.

Very much in the mood of COP21 then - tomorrow is Action Day.