EkoSosnowiczanin – ClairCity’s final public engagement activity

On a sunny day in late July, the ClairCity Sosnowiec team made their way to the most popular recreational area in the whole of the city – Stawiki Pond. There aim: to host a competition for residents to improve their knowledge on air pollution, health impacts, sustainable mobility, and ways to combat smog and related issues.

After setting up a marquee with bright ClairCity branding, passers by were invited to test their knowledge on these issues with the chance to win prizes. “The competition was very popular among the residents,” said Edyta Wykurz from the local team.

“Between the questions, we provided the residents with educational and informative content (e.g. where one can get funding for modernization of the home heating system, what the benefits of installing a heating system using renewable energy sources are, how to properly segregate waste, etc.)”. Prizes consisted of a fitness tracker, a ClairCity postcard, reflective band and lanyard and a stop smog sticker.

All of ClairCity’s case study partners have now finished their dissemination activities. ClairCity drew to a close at the end of July and this event was one of the project’s last. Stawiki pond is such a loved space by residents that it was even chosen as a landmark for the Sosnowiec ClairCity Skyline game. It is rather apt therefore that we end our activities in such an iconic place – a place that brings citizens together to be active, to walk, rent bikes, to roller skate and feel safe among the trees and on the beach. An iconic place for Sosnowiec, and a place where a clean air future really does seem possible.

*The event was conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the Polish Ministry of Health regarding the organisation of outdoor events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

In conversation with children – how can we all play a part in a better future?

On 20th May Vera Rodrigues, one of ClairCity’s modellers from the University of Aveiro, participated in an initiative organized by the municipality of Oliveira de Azeméis to bring children into the conversation about climate change, and discuss what can be done about it.

The municipality has been proactive in tackling social-ecological issues, with an Adaptation Plan for Climate Change and an Education for Sustainability strategy. Under this framework, they organize an event every year called The Week for the Changing Climate (in Portuguese “Semana pelo Clima (S)Em Alteração”), in partnership with the Department of Environment and Planning of the University of Aveiro. This event aims to raise awareness and inform young people of climate change, its consequences, and the actions we should adopt to adapt and mitigate climate change.

Due to COVID, this year they needed to adapt, with the municipality, together with the high school Escola Soares de Basto, instead opting to organise four webinar sessions. In total 9 classes of approximately 210 students attended the sessions, from years 5 and 6 (9 – 12 year olds).    

“My talk was about climate change, with a special focus on our actions to adapt and mitigate climate change,” explains Vera. “The title was inspired by our climate change infographic: A better future is possible – how will you play your part?”

“It was really interesting to notice the enthusiasm of this students! I think they are in a particular stage of their lives, where they are very curious and surprised about the situation. I had a lot of reactions about “is it still possible to control this problem”.“

During the ClairCity project Vera and her colleagues worked with a number of schools in the Aveiro Region to raise awareness of the health impacts of air pollution and climate change, and involve students, in the form of a school’s competition, in clean air and zero carbon decision making. One of the participating schools also attended these webinars, testament to the strong relationships developed throughout our engagement process.

If you are a young person or educator wishing to act on air pollution and climate change then head to our take action page.

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/