Citizens at the Centre

Citizens engaging policy-makers on air quality and climate change

How do we get to the scenario in the top-right hand corner of the above image? A scenario where a given city is both ambitious about its clean air and climate change policies and its citizens are involved in the decision-making process? That is the question sustainability scientists have been grappling with for a number of years, and that the ClairCity project sought to explore. Drawing on the latest social and political science and pollution modelling, the research team set to work in understanding the context of their partner cities and regions, engaging citizens through various creative means to gather their preferences, and presenting the outcomes to key city decision makers to influence decision making*.

Around 820,000 citizens were involved in some way or another, with approximately 8,500 directly engaged. The project spoke with people on the streets, at festivals, on webinars, and through various formal and distributed dialogues across each city or region to increase representivity. There was a mobile game, videos of people’s lived experiences, and various schools’ lessons and activities, all designed to spread the ClairCity message and capture the voice of citizens. The project was the largest of its kind and perhaps one of the most creative.

And what did it find out? An overwhelming willingness by citizens to change, and a real appetite for greater policy ambition and speed of implementation. For instance, citizens that drive today, largely want to drive less in the future and choose more sustainable alternatives for their commuting, shopping and leisure trips – across all cities and regions. Many want to choose renewable fuels in the future also, although cost is a big barrier for some cities across Europe. In some cities a lack of awareness on certain sources of air pollutants, in particular wood burners, may be a limiting factor to citizens’ ambition – or alternatively, citizens may not feel able to challenge authorities to do something about these issues and therefore choose not to raise them**. All in all, the willingness was there, but more often than not barriers existed to prevent change from happening sooner.

When local citizens’ top policies were presented to policy makers in their city or region many agreed with their level of ambition, although in some instances they were slowed down, largely as a result of cost. As always with politics, a lot of negotiation and compromise is involved, often bound tightly by purse strings. However, as has been shown in Amsterdam, sometimes you can get a situation where the local government is so ambitious that its citizens are rushing to keep up.

As ClairCity comes to a close in 2020, Covid19 has proven to be a window of opportunity in which to accelerate air quality improvements across Europe. While an awful tragedy, the pandemic opened up fertile ground to push for more ambitious walking and cycling policies. Although the intention was to make places safer for public health (and indeed air pollution worsens coronavirus), the result is still the same – fewer cars on the road and more people on the streets. In The Netherlands they initiated Holiday Streets, in London, England the Mayor committed himself to making central London one of the largest car free spaces seen anywhere in the world, and in Milan, Italy they announced plans to turn 35km of streets to make more space for cyclists and pedestrians. And to ensure the environmental message wasn’t lost, Extinction Rebellion activists took cycle lanes into their own hands in several cities across the UK.

Ultimately, we all have a part to play in acting on these issues. Beyond individual change and technofixes, real momentum can be built through joining together as communities to amplify the message and show the will of citizens, and if done in dialogue with people in positions of power, there is a chance policy may begin to change.

As a result of the ClairCity project, we’ve produced a whole host of resources to support such groups! We have an Educator Pack full of lesson plans and activities, including postcards to send to people of influence and Clean Air Top Trump cards – print them out and use in your next schools outreach day. There’s also our Community Activator Pack, for activists old and new, wishing to reach more marginalised voices and champion their voices in decision-making. Every person’s actions makes a difference, but by joining together we can have a unified voice of the many to bring about change.

Join us this Thursday for our final webinar, which will see organisations from across Bristol sharing their experiences of engaging diverse audiences around these issues and championing their voice to influence decision making.

*Find out more about the process here: www.claircity.eu/our-story

*Find out about the priorities of citizen’s in each of our cities and regions here: www.claircity.eu/reports

Bristol residents support measures required to achieve cleaner air

Our research found that residents’ suggestions on tackling air quality reflect the ambition of the city to reach clean air compliance and net zero carbon emissions as quickly as possible, in line with the Government’s legal requirements. As part of our study, 1,400 Bristol people were asked what they want from their future city. Many indicated they would be willing to drive less in the future and adopt more pro-environmental behaviour.

Three-quarters (74%) of participants surveyed in the ClairCity study want to use public transport or active travel in the future, compared to 54% now. For shopping and leisure, 66% want to use public or active transport in the future, compared to 38% now.

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We found that if residents’ preferences were implemented, compliance with legal levels of air pollutant Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) would be reached in the timeframe required by Government. The study was conducted in 2017, before the announcement of the Clean Air Zone (CAZ) plan but the policies identified as being popular with citizens were similar to those being developed by Bristol City Council to achieve compliance in the shortest time possible.

In fact, our research showed that citizens supported measures that went further than those currently being developed. Implementing the policies identified by residents would also allow the city to achieve carbon neutrality sooner than current baseline policy ideas, the EU study revealed.

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ClairCity involved citizens in decision-making through a variety of methods, including surveys, workshops (in Brislington, Bishopston, Barton Hill, Knowle West) and an interactive game for smartphones called ClairCity Skylines. They were presented with possible policy measures and asked what they would support to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions, as well as what enabling changes could be made to make adoption more favourable. Our modellers across the EU then took these ideas and quantified what the results would be.

The favourite policy measures that resulted from the engagement process were banning/phasing out the most polluting vehicles (not just charging vehicles); making buses greener and cleaner; making public transport cheaper, and creating good alternatives to car use – through better walking and cycling infrastructure.

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Residents taking part in the study also called for a faster implementation of change or more ambitious targets to enable them to be more environmentally friendly. However, these engagements occurred prior to the IPCC report in 2018, which indicated there was a 12 year window in which urgent action on climate change. It is possible the suggested measures would be more ambitious if the research was conducted today.

Our Technical Director, Professor Enda Hayes, Director of UWE Bristol’s Air Quality Management Resource Centre, said:

“Citizens clearly seek ambitious targets to reduce air pollution and climate change causing carbon emissions in Bristol. Our research shows that citizen involvement in these discussions can spur on city wide action. People want to change but need support from our businesses, workplaces,  councils and national government if we want to live with clean air.

“The West of England is faced with the daunting task of reducing air pollution and carbon emissions to safe levels as soon as possible. These citizen supported ideas indicate that it’s not just about banning or phasing out polluting vehicles – the conditions have to be created so that citizens can access local amenities without polluting our environment and health. ClairCity shows that the task of future proofing the city can be sped up with the involvement of Bristol’s citizens.”

Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, said:

“We have a duty to clean Bristol’s air, and we are currently working hard to achieve legal compliance with the Government’a air quality limits in the shortest possible time.

We welcome these findings and have made significant progress. As always, we will continue to engage and listen to people’s views as our plans develop further”

For the latest information on the clean air plans for Bristol visit https://www.cleanairforbristol.org/


The politics of air quality management

In order to bring air pollution emissions back in line with EU law, tough decisions have to be made by business, governments and citizens across Europe. Such decisions generate resistance as it means a change to the status quo and the redistribution of power. But change is essential to improve our health and create a future with clean air.

A farming crisis

In October Dutch farmers took to the roads, driving their tractors to the Hague to fight back against new rules on nitrogen emissions. They felt they were unfairly treated and as a result several councils decided to scrap tighter rules.

Image result for dutch farmers protest

The Netherlands is currently experiencing a ‘nitrogen oxides pollution crisis’ largely attributed to industrial farming and vehicle emissions. Drastic changes are needed to fall within EU law to protect nature from these emissions, including several that will impact on the farming industry.

Farming is a leading cause of air pollution and climate change and many scientists believe we cannot protect our planetary life support system within the industrial model. Among the Dutch law changes are tougher emissions inventories for farmers and plans to change livestock feed to include an enzyme that reduces nitrogen emissions from cows. However, they will only be implemented if councils can remain united on these national regulatory measures.

Leaving no one behind

As the Dutch farmer case shows, those with the loudest voice (or rather biggest economic stake) have the biggest influence in decision making. What results is watered down measures to continue business as usual (link to our other blog), rather than the radical shifts needed to mitigate our current Climate and Ecological Emergencies. Indeed, over 11,000 international scientists have recently called for urgent action from politicians to stop ‘untold consequences’ of growing carbon and other emissions.  

In the UK a similar pattern is emerging. As a result of failing to tackle one of the root causes of pollution – the private car – transport is now the largest sectoral source of carbon emissions in the UK. Private cars take the lion’s share of these emissions and they are still rising.

Local councils have been left with the unsavoury job of trying to tackle the problem locally, in a political climate that invests in mass road building.

In Bristol, the City Council have spent the last several years preparing its Clean Air Plan. They have consulted communities across the city, including economically deprived areas, and spoken with businesses and various organisations.

If approved by Central Government, the city intends to ban all privately-owned diesel vehicles from entering the city centre from 7am to 3pm, daily, from 2021. “There would also be a wider Clean Air Zone (CAZ) where non-compliant commercial vehicles such as buses, taxis, HGVs and LGVs would be charged. A car scrappage scheme would also be launched” says the Council. “Modelling that informed this ‘hybrid’ approach shows the council can meet the government test for improved air quality in the shortest time possible (by 2025). The hybrid approach also reduces the number of lower income households directly affected by the measures.”

Bristol already has a growing number of cycle lanes and footpaths, along with e-bike hire schemes and hybrid electric buses, but more work is required to spread and connect these across the city, to increase their visibility and appeal. Continued consultations will be required to overcome barriers that communities face to ditching diesel. And in the long-term, changes in the design of neighbourhoods is required to minimise the need to take a polluting vehicle for work, leisure and shopping.

Clean air balancing acts

The process towards reaching net-zero emissions is clearly a challenge for decision makers, as is the nature of politics. Redistributing the centres of power – be that from farmers, car owners or others – will require persistence and collective power. The Climate Strikes and acts of rebellion this year are signs that this table is starting to turn. They are disruptive but they are also constructive, demanding that citizen assemblies be established so the collective voice of ‘the people’ can be amplified.

The ClairCity project offers evidence to support the important role citizens can play in the future decision making of cities and in particular the process towards a future with clean air and net-zero emissions. We will be releasing our results in the coming months so stay tuned for more information.

Space to Breathe

Gridlock in Bristol @Robert Ashby
Gridlock in Bristol @Robert Ashby

Gridlock – a word we hear far too often in European cities. Like clogged arteries, our cities struggle to push through their traffic and continue business as usual. When the blood stops pumping, it is a sign that the (transport) system is failing. In this series of blogs we look at some of the main air pollution challenges for each of our partner cities… starting with Bristol

In Britain, in one decade, the yearly commute is now on average 18 hours longer. Britain’s rail network is overcrowded, its bus service has been severely impacted by ongoing budget cuts despite it being the most frequently used mode of public transport, and cars and vans remain the most popular mode of travel for trips. Two thirds (62%) of all trips are made by car/van, compared to 25% for walking, 8% for bus and just 2% each for trains and bicycles. Most trips made by private car continue to be less than 5 miles (see NTS0308). That equates to over 12 trillion tonnes of CO2 per year emitted each year through these largely avoidable car journeys[1] – or 24% of UK’s domestic greenhouse gases. Pollution from cars and vans costs £6 billion per year in health damages, which to bring the analogy full circle, clogs our arteries. And it effects the poorest the most – in Bristol, you only have to look at the houses either side of the M32 for this to sink in.

Freeing up space

If these sub-5-mile journeys were avoided then two thirds of road users in any given day would be removed from the equation. This frees up the roads for a much improved bus network, and creates space for millions more cyclists who were once fearful of being knocked over during rush hour. With this new space, we could also improve life for those who can’t get about by active travel. Trams could be installed, cycle and foot paths built and pedestrian zones created across cities, not to mention all the possibilities for recreation and wildlife corridors! It’s these policy decisions which ClairCity has been examining through its Delphi process, with many Bristol residents showing great support for major changes in our cities and a preference not to travel by car to work in the future.

Neighbourhood design and life in the future

We need to consider how we will all work, live and play in the future. For our city to work as it should, we need a transport system which can get people from a-to-b safely, in a reasonable time and in the healthiest way possible.

Part of the reason why people travel by car/van is because their local neighbourhoods lack local amenities, such as green grocers, sports clubs, libraries, or places of worship, meaning not only are people needing to drive for their leisure pursuits, but they are finding it increasingly harder to have enough social contact in a given week. Each neighbourhood needs to be designed with environmental and social impact in mind.

Imagine if more people worked from home, could use local co-working spaces, or teleconferencing instead of travelling to work every day? And with more local amenities, people can enjoy the places where they live and hopefully gain upskilled work in climate adaptation, community organising or some other role that has not been invented yet.

We are already starting to see some of these ideas come to pass. From National Clean Air Day, to Playing Out, School Streets, school buses, cycle-to-work schemes, and city electric car rentals there are already many committed activists out there. With Bristol, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset Councils all declaring a Climate Emergency along with pledges to Bristol’s Leap Energy Partnership (the biggest ever council-led energy investment programme in the UK) we are off to a promising start.

Show me the money

However, the battle has not yet been won. Local governments are struggling to keep up with the pace of change required and marginalised communities continue to be left out of decision-making processes, meaning those with the biggest carbon footprint continue to have the biggest voice.

As Alex Morse wrote earlier this year in the Independent: “The problem is, Bristol is leading a blindfolded egg and spoon race. It has scraped together a £250,000 emergency budget, and like all the other cities it will have to invent its own direction, lacks crucial powers and has to rely on much goodwill, luck and voluntary compliance to address some of its biggest carbon emission problems. There is no jurisdiction over local businesses or residents to audit or regulate their carbon emissions”.

Holding business accountable

At the moment, some of the biggest industries, either operating in the city or supplying goods to the city, leave us in the dark about their carbon footprint. As Morse adds: “Either we adopt the mantra of buying local or we are largely dumping our carbon overseas”.

Big businesses need to be held accountable for their impact, for example by auditing the carbon footprint of teams or departments, the products they make or services, and where they are investing their money (including pension schemes). Meanwhile, central Governments need to implement a principle of ecocide to prevent environmental destruction, invest in and subsidise renewable energy, invest in community infrastructure and prioritise our national railways – the list is not exhaustive.

Demanding change

At a collective level, we can unite around these issues to push for change, and draw on precedents to help the campaign.

Some things we could do in Bristol to help shift the balance of power could include:

We need all hands-on deck in Bristol to ensure we can reach net carbon neutrality by 2030 and ensure that marginalised voices are included. What actions could your community take? Share your comments below.

[1] 46.9m (62% of the population) x (5 miles x 364 days) = 85358e10 miles/y). 5mi in a Diesel car (with an average MPG of 51.7) = 1.15kg CO2. 1.15kg x 85358e10 = 12803700000000000 = 12,803,700,000,000 Tonnes CO2. This is not the most sophisticated calculation, and it is unlikely that all of these drivers commute by themselves… but the fact of the matter is that we are polluting a lot of unnecessary CO2.

Supporting Bristol Clean Air Day 2019

The UK celebrated its third Clean Air Day on 20th June 2019, and the ClairCity team were in high demand across Bristol and the media.

Our day started with a morning assembly at Ashton Gate Primary School in South Bristol thanks to Action Greater Bedminster, where 300 keen young air quality scientists had lots of ideas on how to clean up Bristol’s dirty air.

Many thanks to our new friends at Ashton Gate Primary – 300 smart and ready air quality experts with loads of ideas on how we can improve the air we breathe together #CleanAirDay @cleanairdayuk @DayBristol @sbristolvoice pic.twitter.com/aI2LRFBRII

— ClairCity (@ClairCity) June 20, 2019

The children already knew that air pollution was a problem, but they were glad to hear that their location and the traffic calming measures in front of their school meant that their playground was under the legal limit. Worse news was that their city centre was not so safe. They planned to do an air pollution activity using our ClairCity chatterboxes to learn more and take the message home to family and friends.

Heading east

Next stop on our tour was the neighbourhood group St George Breathing Better in East Bristol. We helped them with resources and stickers while they ran a photo action campaign about air pollution in their neighbourhood. The event took place in the Beehive Centre, a busy community centre where Thursday mornings include toddler groups and supported activities for older residents – two of the most vulnerable groups for air pollution.

In the news

While Corra helped with conversations amongst neighbours, Dr Laura De Vito was interviewed on Ujima Radio, a Bristol station that designs content specifically to meet the needs of the African-Carribean and other Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Interviewed by Jasime Ketibuah-Foley, one of Bristol’s previous “Green and Black Ambassadors” for a show also featuring the Mayor of Bristol, Laura explained the links between air pollution and social inequalities.

Elsewhere in the city, Dr Jo Barnes was being interviewed for the regional lunchtime and evening BBC news, and as part of a national piece shown on Channel 4 news.

Sunshine afternoon

Then it was a lunchtime stop off at the Bristol Clean Air Alliance event in Castle Park, where a number of organisations gathered to share information on local air pollution and environmental issues with lunchtime park goers.

In the afternoon, the team hit the town again with representation at Mayor Marvin Rees’ official Clean Air Plan launch and supporting Clean Air Bishopston out on Gloucester Road in North Bristol. Colleagues from the Centre for Transport and Society at UWE Bristol provided key facts, information on transport research and options to the after-work crowd. Our huge thanks to all of the community groups involved in setting up all of the events we visited.

Super happy with our turn out today for #CleanAirDaypic.twitter.com/bUxhdJLJk4

— Bristol Clean Air Day (@DayBristol) June 20, 2019

#cleanairbishopston .. for clean air day … pic.twitter.com/8aYwWAJiDe

— The Bishopston Society (@BishSoc) June 20, 2019

If your community would like a visit from an air quality expert for a chat about the situation in Bristol or more information then please get in touch.