Carbon management at the city scale

An exploration of the low carbon futures for the Bristol region.

Project details

Funding body: EPSRC CASE Award


  • Centre for Sustainable Energy
  • Bristol City Council

Dates: 2008-2012


Project summary

Cities are increasingly recognised as important for achieving climate change commitments, due to their large environmental demands and the concentration of people and activities within them. However, the all-encompassing nature of decarbonisation necessitates cooperation and commitment to act across all sectors and institutions, and the temporal scale of carbon reduction targets (80% by 2050) poses a significant challenge for policy makers. This research aims to help close the gap between ‘where we are now’ and ‘where we need to be’ by exploring through participative scenarios the low carbon futures for the Bristol city region, and aims to assess the suitability of such an approach for improving long-timescale carbon management.

Using an innovative hybrid Delphi-backcasting methodology with key local stakeholders, a three-stage iterative consultation process resulted in two broadly consensual narrative ‘visions’ for the Bristol city region in 2050. Pathways of key actions and drivers of the scenarios were identified in a backcasting workshop. The two resulting scenarios for the region in 2050, named ‘X’ and ‘Y’, broadly emphasised ‘global connectivity, economic growth, and technology’, and ‘relocalisation, self-sufficiency, and resilience’ respectively. However, the results also identified the presence of entrenched worldviews and preferences within sectors, and found that the process of imagining an alternative preferable future is challenging for participants.

The research concludes that the method is a successful approach for engaging a range of cross-sector stakeholders, challenging their worldviews and integrating their priorities. It also finds that achieving an 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050 is a significant challenge, requiring considerable economic, social, technological and political change, and that the approach currently being pursued nationally is not considered either preferable at the local level, or likely to achieve the long term targets due to a lack of faith in technological development. The anticipated impact of resource constraints and "shocks" in the 2030s will by necessity bring about the more 'preferable' future of increased localisation and resilience through disruptive adaptation, therefore the Bristol region needs to improve its resilience to such shocks so that the preferable future is achieved proactively rather than reactively.

Bailey, R. (2012) An exploration of the low carbon futures for the Bristol region. PhD, UWE Bristol.

Please email Professor James Longhurst at for more details.

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