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Bristol Takes Steps Towards Becoming the UK's Second One Planet City

Bristol green capital

Bristol green capitalNext year Bristol is to be Europe's Green Capital City (this year it is Copenhagen). A partnership of 600+ local organisations is considering using the energy generated by this to launch a proposal that Bristol adopts the target of becoming a One Planet City.

Yesterday I attended a gathering of representatives to discuss this exciting prospect, which culminated in a decision to take the proposal to the next level.

The idea for One Planet Bristol originated with the Green Capital Partnership, which has been in existence as a network for four or so years.

Chris Richards, who first came up with the idea, put it like this: "If you imagine a circle for the earth, and Bristol's 550,000 inhabitants as taking up say a fraction of a degree of their share of the earth's resources, getting their consumption down to a proportionate level would be no mean achievement.

"It would inspire others, and if it inspired Europe to do so, that is maybe 20% of that circle. The rest of the world could follow later." By drawing a simple cartoon of this concept he illustrated it perfectly and succinctly.

Herbert Girardet, co-founder of the World Future Council and author of Creating Regenerative Cities, who lives just outside the city, spoke first, giving the examples of Adelaide and Copenhagen to draw upon. "Whereas it took Copenhagen 30 years to get to where it is now, and it is by no means at the 'one planet' stage, it is taking Adelaide 10 years to achieve its targets," he said.

These targets are based on a consultation exercise Girardet carried out with the city three years ago, yielding a comprehensive set of objectives. "But even when it achieves these," he said, "it will still only have reduced its ecological footprint from four to 2.5 planets. Australians have per capita the highest average ecological footprint of any nation's citizens."

Amongst the objectives are the turning of the city's food waste into 180,000 tonnes of compost per year which is used to feed 20 hectares of local farmland that contributes to the food supply of the city. There are also targets of 1GW of solar installations, a Metro, and targets for culture, cycling and biodiversity.


Herbert Girardet was followed by Sue Riddlestone, from Bioregional, which is this month celebrating its 20th anniversary. Bioregional is a consultancy which helps its clients around the world reduce their ecological footprints using the one planet living schema it has evolved.

"We try to make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing," was how she summarised their design approach. This is based around ten principles, amongst which, if applied to Bristol, would be to decarbonise the energy supply by 2030, move to a closed loop resource use system, provide local food, and promote local culture and happiness.

"It would be necessary to move from a per capita emissions rate of 12 tonnes of carbon now to 1.5 tonnes by 2050," she said. She outlined Bioregional's work in Brighton, the first UK city to announce a strategy to move towards one planet living, which has two plans, one for the city and one for the council.

Darren Hall spoke next, as facilitator for the city's bid to win the European Green Capital Award for Bristol as manager of the Partnership, Darren is also the editor of local magazine Good Bristol, and a Green Party candidate.

His key message was that it is "leadership, leadership, leadership" that is required. Three years ago the Partnership submitted to the council a proposal for greening the city that met with no response, "because there was no engagement with the city council on the ideas," event organiser David Parkes said afterwards.

"This time it must be different," Hall said. "We must connect with big business, with grass roots and with the council. We won the Green City bid because we submitted a plan to accelerate green progress in the city up to 2020. We can use the energy of next year to take it further."

He described the value of the 'one planet' concept as a powerful uniting and communication tool that avoids "the tragedy of the commons" when many people pool ideas, diluting and compromising them in the process. "One planet living can be the one rule that rules them all," he said, paraphrasing Tolkein's Lord of the Rings.

I also briefly outlined the work of the One Planet Council, of which I am a patron, and the experience of Wales, which has an aspiration to be a One Planet nation, and which has adopted a One Planet Development planning condition as a first step, and is now developing a Well-Being of Future Generations Bill as a next step.

Pre-requisites for a one planet city

Delegates at the meeting, of which there numbered around 50, compiled a set of pre-requisites for the process of adopting a one planet city aspiration for the city. These include:

  • the need for a detailed roadmap;
  • a set of independently verifiable standards or measurements;
  • bringing local businesses on board with the promise of jobs and a 'green economy';
  • a sustainable transport plan;
  • ward by ward meetings to gather ideas and build grassroots support;
  • the city council as a facilitator not as a leader;
  • affordability and finance;
  • knowledge of what it is within the power of the council to do;
  • support from national government to help with the rest.

Above all it was felt that the banner of 'one planet living', being easy to understand, can raise the profile of the city, and give it something to aim for after its year in the European green spotlight, which would therefore provide a springboard for greater things.

Bristol's mayor is the independent, and green-minded George Ferguson. Bristol is also part of the Core Cities group in the UK, which coincidentally was also meeting yesterday with the national government's William Hague to demand more devolution of powers, including tax-raising powers. The possession of these additional powers could make the road to one planet city status slightly easier.

Another factor in its favour is that it has its own currency, the Bristol Pound, in which Ferguson takes his entire salary. This helps to boost the local economy, keeping money circulating within it.

On the other hand, Bristol is scheduled to double its population within 20 years, being a popular destination, despite being almost as expensive as London to live in. This would make the task of reducing its footprint much harder.

Perhaps they should make a willingness to adopt a 'one planet' lifestyle a condition of being allowed to move to the city.

The Green Capital Partnership will now consider the next steps to take.