“Boris Johnson launch of COP26” by UK Prime Minister is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Our thanks to all schools that took part in the Bristol Schools Climate Conference on 5 November 2021: Bristol Grammar School, St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School, Clifton College, Bristol Free School, Badminton School, Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, Bristol Brunel Academy, Clifton High School, Cotham School, Colston’s School, Redmaids’ High School, St Brendan’s Sixth Form College and Ashton Park School.

We are grateful to Fiona Carnie at Bristol Education Partnership for her support of the Conference and for actively encouraging so many schools to be involved. Thank you to Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust for their support of the overall Climate Voices project. We match-funded the conference with Scottish Power ‘Connecting the UK’ project funding and are grateful to them. Thank you also to the Erasmus+ programme for funding the event; we are a partner organisation and one of the schools is part of the I-CAN network.

This year, the Bristol Conference suitably coincided with ‘Youth Day’ at the COP26 summit in Glasgow and our Conference participants were more than a match for the world leaders and negotiators gathered there. Students took up the themes of COP26 and debated them clearly and with a tremendous depth of understanding. The global negotiations, summarised below in Section 1, were a testament to this and a real lesson in collaboration.

The second part of the Conference was when questions of carbon reduction promises and action were brought closer to home. There was a high-calibre panel and the students put them on the spot with some highly relevant questions. See Section 2 for the questions and answers from the ‘Climate Question Time’.

Students were asked to consider pledges they would make to take action back in their school communities. Their thoughtful and inspiring responses are gathered in Section 3.

Thanks to everyone for your contributions to the conference, to teachers for their support, and especially to all students for their engagement and enthusiasm throughout the day. As with COP26 itself, the time for talk is done and now it’s about our actions – across Bristol, in school and as individuals! 

Richard, Michila and Rachel 

ICN Team

Pupils representing the Marshall Islands, from St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School and Leah Bromley from CSE.

“We are in a threatening position. In 14 years time, due to rises in sea levels, we will be completely submerged. This not only displaces 59,000 people who will no longer be able to live in our country but also damages the coral and the fish. We have over 800 fish species living here. We would build defences but this would damage the environment. In 14 years time, we will become climate refugees unable to live in our country where we would love to stay but it may become impossible. We don’t have financial support.”

The Marshall Islands Team

Section 1. Global Negotiations: Cities, Energy, Forests and Food, Oceans

During the global negotiations at the Conference, there were some significant moves towards cooperation with strong messages and clear resolutions coming out of the working group discussions. There were some real echoes with COP26 itself, particularly around forests and food and energy, but also natural resources and cities as well. The proposals from this Conference offered greater ambition than those from its’ sister event in Glasgow.

  1. We had significant moves towards rolling out SMART cities and reducing energy use within cities.
  2. We had a crucial move towards renewable energies and a commitment to 2030 as the date by which would make this transition.
  3. We had an indication from some of the serious emitters of the world that there may be a shift towards halting coal power energy plants being built.
  4. There was an excellent proposal to put a legal framework in place to protect forests and end the process of deforestation. 

It was also proposed that nations subsidise others where they are not able to grow trees themselves. The discussion on oceans the focused particularly on looking to sustainable processes into the future for our fishing and the way that we use our resources.

Cities: Ethiopia, EU, India, USA 

  • SMART cities and better transport to help with climate planning
  • Reducing waste including banning single use plastics and other pollutants
  • Changing behaviour through encouraging use of public transport and less private vehicles

Energy: Australia, China, Gabon and Saudi Arabia

  • Half of energy to be renewable by 2030
  • All transport to be electric by 2030
  • Stopping all new coal plants by 2035

Forests and Food: Bhutan, Brazil, Indonesia, Russian Federation 

  • Increase reforestation in rainforests
  • Legal requirement for a certain percentage of land to be covered by forest
  • Reforestation programmes in less developed countries to be subsidised by developed countries

Oceans: Bangladesh, Marshall Islands, UK 

  • Finance from richer nations for adaptation in places where it is most needed
  • Restrictions on depletion of the oceans
“Bristol City Hall” by harry_nl is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Section 2: Climate Question Time


Councillor Nicola Beech – Cabinet member for Climate, Ecology, Waste and Energy

Leah Bromley – Centre for Sustainable Energy

Katherine Piper – Future Leap

Francis Marsh – Head of Waste Resources @ GENeco

Tom Phelps – Manager of the Bristol Food Waste Recycling facility @ GENeco

Alice Towle – Youth Mayor

Cathy Mayne – Engagement and Active Travel Team (City Transport) – Bristol City Council

Questions and Answers:

Bristol Brunel: Directed to Leah, are there (project) opportunities for younger students such as 12 to 14 years olds? 
Leah Bromley: Green Influencers is for 10 to 14 year olds, so that’s definitely something you can get involved in. If you’ve got an idea for a project that you’d want to do in your school, we can help you plan that and make it a reality as well as supporting you. Financially with that there is £360 in funding. 
Our Bright Green Future programme can be found at: https://www.bright-green-future.org.uk/. Email megan.blyth@cse.org.uk if you are interested in the Green Influencers programme.
Ashton Park: How long have you guys been running for?
Leah Bromley: So Bright Green Future is about five years old now, but we have recently changed our focus a little bit, so the program is now six months long rather than a year long. We’ll have applications open for the next cohort next April, but we’ll probably make applications live in the next month or so.
Colston’s School: Our school is looking to become more carbon neutral and have staff become carbon 
neutral. But we’re wondering how we get these resources to actually start and if you guys could support us in that and how would we start becoming carbon neutral?
Counsellor Beech: Have you got a climate action plan yet for the school? So how much carbon does the 
school consume at the moment? And how clean is the school from the carbon and environmental 
perspective? I think one of the biggest tasks that you need to do at the beginning is understand what your start point is. I can put a link in the chat to a Bristol Council perspective and the city partner perspective, all the things that we believe contribute to make a carbon neutral school. What sort of things would you include like food waste, how the school is powered, the way you travel to school etc.

There’s lots more to it in not just net reduction of carbon. So if you take a look at that flower diagram, that kind of pulls apart what we mean by climate action and it talks about those eight or ten different dynamics that you need to consider. And that’s a really good start point for the school writing your own climate plan as it’s not so overwhelming. Here is the plan: https://www.bristolonecity.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/one-city-climate-strategy.pdf
Katherine Piper: I would recommend similar to what Counsellor Beech was saying was how to put that plan in place. But it’s hard to know where your priorities are first. So I think one of the first steps you need to make is to maybe get a carbon consultant to look at your overall carbon footprint. And they will be able to then tell you where the biggest impacts are that you can make as a school. So it might be, for example, that the heating of your building is the biggest impact, and therefore you might want to think about switching like we did coming off of gas and going for an alternative like air source heat pumps or ground source heat pumps. There might be some really simple and not too costly fixes around the heating of your building where it might be that you need to put more insulation in for example, and make the building more airtight.

Very often the biggest impacts is in how we heat our buildings, so that would be a good first step, but you really need to sort a first look at your carbon footprint. Switching out your lighting for LED lighting, that sort of thing. Carbon emissions are associated with your travel to school, for example, and then you might want to focus more on that, so knowing where to focus is a is a good first step. I would suggest to come and have a look at those technologies within the Future Leap Hub and see what we’ve done because you might want to adopt some of those yourselves. Our consultants at Future Leap can help you with measuring your carbon: https://www.futureleaphub.co.uk/consultancy
St Mary Redcliffe and Temple: Directed to Leah, what projects have you done in the past with schools?
Leah Bromley: So Green Influencers is relatively a new program and we actually worked more with scout groups and things like that. So far in schools, we did a project with a group where they organised a community litter pick, and they’re going to make a sculpture out of all the litter they picked and put it in Lockleaze to raise awareness of the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean. There is a school I’m working with at the moment where we’re doing a wildflower project. At the moment we’re raising awareness, putting posters around schools and things like that. But come this spring, we’ll be able to actually start planting out that wildflower meadow. It’s very much you can decide which project you want to do, and we will just help you to run it. So if you have an idea that’s different to any of the ones I’ve mentioned, we’re definitely keen to work on any kind of any projects, you want to make happen.
Badminton School: What projects would you suggest for our school in order to improve sustainability and what projects do you view to have the biggest impact and need to be a priority?
Councillor Beech: What does the good impact look like really? What is the school’s priority? I guess a school building isn’t that different to other Council buildings other than what goes on inside them. I think heating and power by far are the biggest things that we all need to change in all the buildings in the city from your home to offices to community buildings as well, council buildings and schools. I think you know we have quite a lot of older buildings in the city and those can present quite a lot of challenges around keeping them and their heritage status, but also making them more airtight and making them better insulated and then looking at the way we heat and power them.

The best energy is the energy you don’t use, so we start to look first at insulation and actually look how we make these buildings better quality and more airtight before we start to spend a huge amount of money on things like air source heat pump. If you can give me the right point of contact then I’m more than happy to put you in contact with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership.
Katherine Piper: Yes, looking at the fabric of the building and making sure that you’re not using unnecessary energy is a really important one. But for the energy that you are using that you have to use, making sure that that’s coming from a renewable source. So switching to a renewable energy provider for your electricity, it’s more difficult for your gas, but there are some green gas options is a really important step and then the other thing I just wanted to mention was are raising awareness and getting everybody on board within your school is so important. I mean, I’m sure you’re all very aware of the climate emergency, but are all of your fellow students and are all the teachers really on board? And do they know how important this is?

It is a lot easier to make those changes within your schools if you’ve got everybody understanding why these changes are happening, I think as human beings we’re not very good at change sometimes, so just being able to explain why. Doing this is really important so that you don’t get any sort of kickback from people who maybe don’t understand. Here is a link to our weekly sustainability events. They are usually hybrid so you can choose whether you would like to join in person or not. https://www.thefutureeconomynetwork.co.uk/upcoming-events
Badminton School: Regarding the carbon consultant, we were wondering if the Bristol Council is reaching out to school leaders for this or are school leaders expected to reach out to the Council for support?
Councillor Beech: It’s a very appropriate question for now. Actually, I just was talking to the sustainability leader at Victoria Park Primary actually three days ago around putting the school at the centre of change because not just from the amazing debate today, we absolutely need our schools to meet that climate challenge as well. How do we do better to be blunt about this? So we are already doing a big decarbonisation program in the schools that are owned by the Council and we did 12 schools this summer and we did 15 schools this summer before, but I think your point is absolutely valid. I think the school leaders’ discussions are taking place but I do think there’s more to be done, so it’s a very good observation. Schools can contact the Council as well.

So we are working with another organisation called the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, we were given some money from the lottery to do climate action plans for six communities in the city, six physical communities, and then the refugee and disability community. And my ambition, I would love to roll that out to every community in the city and find the finance needed to support all communities in the city. Schools and all communities that have got a climate action plan is at the school, we can endorse that, and can shape that to suit their setting as well. And so I’d say watch this space in terms of the relationship between both primary and secondary education, and the kind of way we want to tackle the climate emergency at the community level. They’re just about to launch those Community Action plans. They ask what are those steps that we all need to take in order to actually get a more sustainable future? It’s not kind of lofty documents and a load of waffle. It’s really practical things, and so I think that might be a good first step, but I would love to see that in every single school in city.
St Mary Redcliffe and Temple: Is there a way that biodegradable waste from schools, homes and places of work could be sent over to the government and then sent to public transport companies so they can use that to power their buses because I know in Bristol almost all of the buses are now gas powered? Perhaps car companies as well?
Tom Phelps: Well, we do already make bio gas from food waste that’s collected all around the city. So what you can do is to make sure that all the food waste goes into the food waste collection system, separate from black bag waste and the more that’s segregated, the more goes into our process, which produces bio gas. That’s something you can all do to help with. We feed the bio gas back into the grid through our biomes. We have vehicles that fill up on our site and lorries that collect food waste. There’s sludge tankers that transport water waste as well and they fill up with gas on our site so we’re feeding it back into the grid. Make sure you separate out those teabags that can’t go in the compost. 
Here is an article about the GENeco Bio-Bus: 
Cathy Mayne: I have to confess that buses aren’t my speciality. However I know that there is a huge move to reduce air pollution caused by buses. Obviously the Clean Air Zone is going to impact on buses and large vehicles in the city centre. And you know, I don’t think we’ve got any choice in this. One thing I would just as a slightly side issue. I think we actually also need to be looking at what we are throwing into food waste. I think we as a country create far too much food waste and though I completely admire what you’re doing over at GENeco, I would personally prefer if there wasn’t quite so much food waste coming in your direction.
St Mary Redcliffe and Temple: Directed to Cathy, what is the strategy that you put forward for cycling?
Cathy Mayne: We get asked to do a piece of work because we thought there might be central government money coming our way and then inevitably sometimes that doesn’t happen, which is one thing I’ve had to learn. Maybe a year ago when the government were looking at their walking and cycling funding and creating but another city actually got the funding. It raised a really interesting question with the then cabinet lead for, which was he didn’t have the best engagement with schools because quite often the predominant amount of engagement would have been for primary schools telling him to plants and trees and that was about it. So we asked how do we meaningfully engage with schools, especially secondary schools, and get to the bottom of these questions?

There are a lot of surveys nationally that ask us whether we walk or cycle or drive to schools but we wanted to find out what led to transport decisions It’s a really interesting report and can be found on the Council website. walking and cycling report: https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/5688045/BCYC_Walking_and_Cycling_Report.pdf/c4639a3d-d065-2cb2-6bab-3d3a45058f37?t=1634125174039. We work with over 150 schools in with in Bristol on active travel and all those surveys are taken extremely seriously. We work within a government backed scheme called Modeshift Stars which is a travel planning scheme which aims to get some baseline data and then we have all sorts of interventions that we can offer in terms of educational sessions. There is training on all sorts of things that will promote active travel in school. It is data that we are actively using and it is really important to be able to show that our interventions are having a positive effect. More people are walking or scooting to school than cycling.
St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School: Directed to Cathy, we were just wondering what it was in particular that made Bristol Council and some of the powers in Bristol want to take on the electrification of transport and want to take on these changes to transport in Bristol and to really bring in that clean air zone?
Cathy Mayne: Well the motivation is manyfold. Firstly, pollution levels in certain parts of Bristol are unacceptably high. We know that particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide are very harmful to health, so that’s sort of number one for the clean air zone in terms of electrification. Again, as I said, I’m not a bus specialist and I would just caution us a little bit about this move towards some electric cars. Yes, they are infinitely better than petrol diesel vehicles. However in terms of road safety, if you’re hit by an electric car, frankly it’s not going to make any difference. You know 100 electric cars queuing are not going to be emitting quite so much in that local environment. However, as I said, the electricity is being generated somewhere else, and we know we are by sitting in the car we are doing ourselves a disservice. We’re not getting the physical exercise that we all desperately need, and you know, and we’re not getting the help to our mental health.
St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School: What is your opinion on VOI scooters and their ability to bridge this kind of gap?
VOI scooters are very popular, especially with young people, but there is some evidence that they are not reducing car use, but possibly taking the place of walking and bus journeys instead.
Bristol Free School: Directed to GENeco, what is the best way to cut food waste in school?
Tom Phelps: The priority is to prevent food waste but if it is unavoidable such as banana skins and apple cores make sure it doesn’t go into black bag waste.
Francis Marsh: The best way to cut food waste in school. – when you monitor something it usual improves, so weighing or measuring can be quite effective. Generally, considering how we store food, taking leftovers home, sharing food with friends, considering portion size (we generally cook or prepare more than we can eat!) Getting food waste collected by a vehicle that is powered by food waste is a good way of managing the unavoidable waste.
Ashton Park: We have been learning about environmental racism, is our plastic waste being exported to poorer countries?
Tom Phelps: GENeco has a zero landfill policy. Any mixed plastic contamination we extract from food waste goes to generate electricity near Avonmouth. None of our waste is exported.

Other useful links:

All schools in the Bristol Education Partnership are working on projects as part of our BEP Climate Challenge. You can read our latest report with details of school activities here: https://www.bristollearningcity.com/download/bep-climate-challenge-update-2021/ 

Youth elections information is on the link www.bristol.gov.uk/youthelections 

Sustrans support schools to encourage active travel – www.sustrans.org.uk  


Section 3. School pledges made by delegates at Bristol Schools Virtual Climate Conference

School pledge
Colston’s School– New recycling bins
– Rewilding school grounds
– Join ‘Lets Go Zero’ campaign
Bristol Brunel AcademyWe want to encourage teachers to turn off lights when not in use, may be a little thing but can have a huge impact.
Bristol Free SchoolWe feel the most important issue to deal with in school is tackling waste – plastic waste, poor recycling and excessive food waste.
Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital SchoolChanging to locally sourced food in the cafeteria and using odd shaped fruit and vegetables which otherwise would be thrown away.
Cotham SchoolWe would like to set up a climate club to petition for change by our SLT on some of our activities. We would also like to come up with a project to make our space greener! We would love to work with Bright Green Future group on our project!
Redmaids’ High SchoolPromoting biodiversity through the creation of special wildlife areas and planting initiatives of things such as bulbs, to offset our carbon footprint.
Bristol Grammar SchoolWe pledge to discourage fast fashion and to put this in action, we have a clothes swap at Christmas time. We also plan to plant more around the school especially in areas lacking biodiversity.
Clifton College– More recycling bins
– Encouraging more green transport for students
– Fundraising for climate
– More vegan options
St Brendan’s Sixth Form CollegeWe have established an environmental community project which aims to increase biodiversity.

Our thanks to the Erasmus+ programme for funding the event. We are a partner organisation of I-CAN and one of the schools is part of the I-CAN network. I-CAN (International Climate Action Network) is an Erasmus+ funded project aiming to give teachers the skills and framework to teach students to become “effective critical thinking collaborators and active climate conscious citizens“.