EUKN interview with Mayor George Ferguson
11 November 2015
In the EUKN interview, Mr George Ferguson, a Mayor of Bristol noted: “It has been a challenge for cities to make their voices heard, but we are determined and Bristol is working with Paris and others to help bring the voice of cities to the climate talks at COP21”. As the Mayor of Europe’s Green Capital 2015 and one of the speakers during the upcoming Conference on Climate Change (COP21), Mr George Ferguson is embracing innovation in order to create a sustainable future.
EUKN: Bristol is Europe’s Green Capital 2015, what are in your opinion the preconditions to become a green capital and what does it yield?
GF: It’s important to have a strong commitment in the community – with citizens, businesses and leaders all working together in the recognition that more is needed to make a healthy city and combat climate change.
Bristol’s achievements are thanks to 40 years of innovative environmental efforts alongside this great community spirit around hundreds of different projects and initiatives, involving cross-party support from past and present councillors, and the UK’s largest city environment partnership, the Bristol Green Capital Partnership of 800 organisations.
This year I’ve worked to bring together the city administration and city council along with civic society, businesses, education and the voluntary and charitable sectors. The result has been a now flourishing Bristol Green Capital partnership. It’s these partnerships and collaborations which have truly boosted our national and international standing as a leading environmental city – one of the greatest legacies of 2015 for Bristol.
EUKN: Smaller cities – second tier cities - often receive far less attention from governments and research than in first tier cities, because they would contribute less to economic growth and development of a country. Should national and European authorities give more attention to the challenges and opportunities of medium-sized cities? How?
GF: At the recent Bristol Summit Series, I invited city leaders to engage and debate the challenge we face in making the necessary changes to our way of life within the democratic system. We have no choice but to act if our cities – of all sizes – are to become great places in which to raise families, to become child-friendly, safe and healthy. In order to achieve this, we need to take brave and transformational action to achieve our goals and this is what Bristol is presenting at COP21. Creating liveable cities requires major change. Meeting that must be our common goal as well as taking responsibility for demonstrating the point to others - in particular, to national governments.
It’s not about competition between cities or between urban and rural areas. It’s about complementing one another and capitalising upon our differences and strengths.
EUKN: What are, according to you, the biggest challenges for cities such as Bristol (medium-sized) for the coming years while focusing on sustainability? And how can cities best tackle these challenges?
GF: Transport is a crucial challenge in Bristol, as it is in so many cities. We cannot continue to accept the domination of the private car. All cities are different but it is important they engender momentum for big policy issues such as transport.
I’d like one of the lasting impacts from Green Capital year to be a significant increase in active transport – walking, cycling, or jumping on a clean-tech bus – all in order to improve air quality and citizen health across the city. We are making major steps with investment of approximately €500m in transport infrastructure in the city region between 2012 and 2020 – this includes cycling, electric car infrastructure, bus rapid transit and suburban rail infrastructure.
EUKN: Do you agree that cities had a limited influence at summits so far? And what strategies do cities have in place to ensure that cities have a stronger presence and influence at COP21? Why is it important that cities have an important influence on summits like this one?
GF: It has been a challenge for cities to make their voices heard, but we are determined and Bristol is working with Paris and others to help bring the voice of cities to the climate talks at COP21. We are working with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and are co-hosting the Cities and Regions Pavilion at COP21 to promote transformative actions which cities can make to not only help themselves, but to cast a wider influence on others about the climate debate.
Cities like Bristol hold the key to successful change – which must be heard at COP21. We’re embracing innovation in order to create a sustainable future, working collaboratively and in striking new ways with a range of partners to pioneer new things. Our mission is to inspire others to do the same.
EUKN: You will be one of the speakers during COP21. What will be your main message? How can cities fill the gap between now and 2020 when a new international climate change agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol will come into force?
GF: I will be talking about Bristol as an innovative city and a living laboratory for positive change. We are harnessing our thriving creative and technological sectors to become an internationally recognised hub of sustainable innovation and I am convinced other cities can learn from and mirror these successes. Cities need to aim to be resilient to the environmental, social and economic challenges ahead.
Our achievements are also matched by an aspiration to continuously learn and progress over the long term. We want our citizens to have a greater understanding of environmental issues and our wide-reaching schools programme has already put the spotlight on sustainability for Bristol’s 36,000 primary school children. It will leave a lasting impact for future generations both in Bristol and the rest of the UK when the programme is made available nationally. Educating future generations about sustainability is a vitally important legacy and one I would encourage all other cities to adopt.