Bristol Net Zero by 2030

Providing an evidence base for the Bristol One City Climate Strategy

Project duration: July 2019 to December 2019

In July 2019, six months after Bristol became the UK’s first local council to declare a climate emergency, the city’s elected mayor adopted the goal of achieving a carbon neutral city by 2030.

This bold and ambitious target is for greenhouse emissions from both direct use of fossil fuels and electricity in the city (Scopes 1 and 2) and from the emissions caused by the production of goods and services which are consumed by the city’s residents and businesses (Scope 3).

CSE was commissioned to lead the study that would help the council, and the newly formed One City Environmental Sustainability Board, understand what needs to happen in Bristol, and more widely, for this to happen.

It’s a big ask: the city aspires to do in the next 10 years what the UK Government has now committed to achieve for the whole country in the next 30.

The detailed analysis focused on cutting to near zero by 2030 the carbon emissions associated with the city’s use of fossil fuels (gas, petrol and diesel), the electricity it consumes and the waste it produces. It also describes the nature, scale and speed of the huge transformation required, not least in how we heat and illuminate our buildings and how people and goods get about.

CSE partnered with Ricardo (on transport) and Eunomia (on waste) to undertake the analysis.

To download a copy of the report click here.

Separate studies were commissioned by the council to explore the scope 3 carbon emissions associated with consumption – from food to flying – by Bristol’s residents and businesses and the city’s resilience to climate change.

Together these studies form the evidence base for the new Bristol One City Climate strategy, published in February 2020, which sets out a clear pathway of action for how Bristol can become carbon neutral and climate resilient by the end of this decade.

Simon Roberts, Chief Executive of CSE and member of Bristol’s Environmental Sustainability Board led the study: “Bristol City Council asked the right questions for this research: What changes will be needed in the city for Bristol to meet its declared ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030? What are the conditions for success which will need to be in place for these changes to prove possible? What are the key interventions and initiatives which will be needed to create these conditions?" 

"The detailed analysis we undertook reveals that there is a route to achieving net zero by 2030 for the city. And it also describes the nature, scale and speed of the huge transformation that will be required, covering how the city heats its buildings and uses energy, how people and goods get about, and how we reduce and treat our waste.

What does the route to net zero by 2030 look like?

It looks challenging! Our analysis shows that Bristol can achieve net zero by 2030 but to do so will require an unprecedented rate and scale of change. It requires applying technologies and techniques and establishing and maintaining levels of public and business engagement which are currently the exception rather than the norm.

As shown in the graph below, the scale of effort required between now and 2030 for Bristol to achieve net zero is 1.6 times the rate of reduction achieved in recent years.

But if the conditions for success are met, the co-benefits of action are significant, particularly in employment (some 75,000 – 100,000 person years of work ranging from semi-skilled to highly technical) and air quality, but also in public health and an improved public realm as a result of reduced traffic.

The fundamental changes identified by the analysis include:

  • The phasing out of the use of gas for heating (replaced by combination of individual electric heat pumps and heat networks serving much better insulated buildings).
  • The decarbonisation of electricity nationally, supported by far smarter use in the city (plus growth in roof-top PV).
  • No more petrol or diesel vehicles in the city (with a major modal shift to public transport and active travel to cut vehicle miles and switch to electric vehicles for the remaining vehicles).
  • No net carbon emissions from all new build developments.
  • A significant reduction in waste, greater re-use and recycling, & the removal of plastics from residual waste.

Each of these areas was explored in depth in the study to understand both the nature of technical changes involved and the conditions required for success - including political and regulatory aspects, commercial and funding needs, capacity and skills, and socio-cultural conditions.

Ten key interventions

Drawing on this detailed analysis, the study report outlines ten key interventions which are needed to establish the conditions in the city in which achieving net zero by 2030 becomes possible, as well as the ‘first next steps’ to achieve them.

A city for net zero: fostering shared purpose and enabling active participation

 1.  Sustained and extensive public and business engagement programmes to create shared purpose and secure participation from the whole city in ‘net zero’ initiatives.

A city empowered to achieve net zero: securing powers & capacity

 2.  The securing of new powers (to organise and require action and raise levies) and devolved (additional) funding, with national backing for ‘2030’ pioneers to accelerate investment.

 3.  An extensive skills and capacity development programme to enable delivery at scale and capture the jobs created for city.

 4.  Effective powers to set and enforce local planning policies and building standards to ensure all new build developments achieve meaningful net zero carbon standards and are aligned with the city’s approach to decarbonisation.

A city with net zero infrastructure: installing the technology we need

 5.  Orchestrated city-wide programmes for insulation & heat pump retrofit and for district heating installation, on district-by-district basis (as ‘net zero heat zones’).

 6.  An electricity distribution network upgrade programme (including smarter operation) to accelerate the achievement of a ‘network for net zero’.

 7.  Major investment in transport modal shift (public transport and active travel infrastructure) to secure rapid reduction in vehicle miles, reclaiming road space from private vehicles, encouraging freight consolidation, and discouraging car journeys into and around the city.

 8.  A controlled approach to EV charging infrastructure roll-out with a sustained push for EV car clubs and mobility as a service.

A city enabled for net zero: sector-specific initiatives to enable change

 9.  A significant drive to reduce, re-use and recycle, with particular focus on food waste, plastic use and recovering plastic from residual waste.

 10.  A programme to involve businesses and households in smart energy initiatives, sign up for genuine 100% renewable tariffs, and install PV.

Our approach: ‘walking right round the issue’

The study used the ‘walking right round the issues’ model (see below) which was developed by CSE and has been applied in previous studies. This allowed the study team to approach this, not purely as a technical exercise, but with deep consideration of the non-technical factors which strongly influence – or even ultimately determine – whether the scale and nature of technical change required will be realised in practice.

For example, the transformation of how we heat buildings and travel around require different capabilities and supply chains, many of which are relatively rare, still emerging, or focused on serving other interests (which may currently appear more rewarding).

Some changes also require a level of public involvement and consent which, to date, has often not featured in nationally driven programmes. In many cases it will require a different regulatory approach and the balance of costs and incentives will need to be changed.

By assessing each of the dimensions in the model below, the study established a clearer picture of what needs to happen and the full range of factors influencing the opportunities and challenges involved in achieving change, the starting point for any successful strategy.


Click here to download a copy of Bristol net zero by 2030: The evidence base from CSE with Ricardo and Eunomia.

To read a technical explanation of the methodology we applied to the analysis for decarbonising heat in Bristol, please click here.

For further information contact:

Simon Roberts OBE | 0117 934 1441

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