A proposal to link Past Climate Research to Inclusion Initiatives in Bristol

This is a proposal that was funded by the NERC to support the ongoing Green and Black Ambassador’s Project.

The Green and Black Ambassadors: Fostering a Dialogue between Environmental Research and BME Communities

Summary: During 2015, the city of Bristol delivered an extensive programme of activity around its role as the European Green Capital, the first British city to win this accolade.  Despite numerous activities, including new art, concerts, international Summits, workshops, a city centre office, and hundreds of talks, the year was widely perceived as failing to crack through the long-standing inclusion issues that affect the city of Bristol and other British core cities as well as much of the global ‘green’ movement. The PI of this project, Professor R Pancost, was strongly engaged with the Green Capital programme, including partnering with a wide range of other groups and hosting joint events with colleagues to showcase NERC environmental science. Given the inclusion concerns, Pancost (and subsequently the University of Bristol Cabot Institute and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership) funded Ujima Radio to continue its Green and Black Programme of activity, which started in late 2014 and explored issues of inclusion and points of opportunity throughout the Green Capital Year.  At the end of 2015 and in early 2016, we jointly convened a variety of workshops with BME leaders in Bristol, documenting their concerns and learning about how subtle organisational issues, timings, venue location and in-built pre-conceptions had a collective negative impact on inclusion.

One of the main findings was that the ‘in-crowd’ nature of Bristol’s enthusiastic environmental community, closely aligned to city leadership, universities, business and civil society, undermined engagement from outsider voices. We found little evidence for active exclusion – in fact, nearly all participants in the Green Capital year shared the frustration expressed above.  Nonetheless, many implicit assumptions and behaviours of that ‘in-crowd’ – from choosing venues that were perceived as ‘posh’ or ‘off-limits’ to last-minute planning – effectively disenfranchised some citizens.  Of relevance to this proposal, this implicit exclusion made it difficult to entrain the alternative voices needed to develop an ongoing dialogue about NERC-derived environmental and climate change research that appeals to, connects to and learns from the experiences of Britain’s BME communities. To address this, we are proposing to launch – in partnership with Ujima Radio and the Bristol Green Capital Partnership (BGCP) – a new Green and Black Ambassadors Programme.  This programme will have several goals, supported by the Cabot Institute and BGCP (£10K). However, funding is sought from the NERC Engagement Scheme for two of its most important features:

1) Initiate a dialogue with BME communities to identify new and vital research directions, inspired by their concerns, needs, experience and knowledge; and

2) Exploring the ways in which NERC environmental change research resonates with the BME community, revealing opportunities for stronger, more relevant and more inspiring dissemination of our findings.

Background: In 2013, Bristol was announced as the 6th European Green Capital (for 2015) and the UK’s first. This award acknowledge a wide range of initiatives, success stories and ambitions, including significant waste reduction, widespread cycling, city-owned renewable energy provision, a rapidly growing green economy, and strong university partnership. The year had a particularly strong focus on climate change, as it occurred during COP21. Crucially, the award itself as well as policy decisions made during and since the end of the Green Capital Year commit the city to a bold plan of leadership and social and technological innovation to become more sustainable and reduce its carbon footprint. For example, representing Bristol at COP21 Mayor George Ferguson committed Bristol to decarbonisation by 2050, a pledge that his successor Marvin Rees has reiterated. Such an ambition requires widespread buy-in amongst formal and distributed city leaders as well as Bristol’s population.

The PI was strongly engaged with these activities in 2015 and continues to support its follow-ups. As Director of the Cabot Institute, he seconded the Institute’s Manager to be the (elected) co-Director of the BGCP in 2014 to help prepare for the year. He served as a Science Advisor for the 2015 Company and helped to frame the discourse, Summits and cultural program. He hosted one of the flagship Summits, and advised and contributed to the others. He also contributed to the Arts Program, including writing the Introduction to its Guide, co-hosting the Coleridge Lectures with the Festival of Ideas, co-curating the Fog Bridge Exhibit, advising on @Bristol’s Blue Marvel movie, and co-sponsoring Withdrawn with the National Trust. Overall, he led or participated in events that reached >50,000 people. In all of this he showcased NERC Research, emphasising his own palaeoclimate, environmental and Earth system research but also that of others, especially that related to future climate change impacts globally and on the UK. This public engagement led directly to engagement with policy makers, with Pancost being invited to serve on the Bristol City Council (and Rockefeller Foundation) Resilience Sounding Group and to work with numerous city and national organisations on an ad hoc basis, including Bristol Health Partners, Somalia First, Bristol is Open, Voscur, Schumacher Institute and Happy City. He was invited to attend COP21 with Mayor George Ferguson, representatives of Bristol City Council and business and civil society leaders.  [RDP: A bit of bragging here, as one must do for proposals.  But there is a crucial subtext – I was deeply involved with the Green Capital project and by extension was part of the community that failed to engage and include more diverse voices.]

However, this engagement was incomplete. Throughout the year, Pancost (and many others) explored the social justice issues arising from climate change.  Echoing commentary by numerous international political and religious leaders, discussions at Green Capital events frequently focussed on the ethical dimensions of climate change, including those related to class, ethnicity and race. As such it was considered necessary to engage a diverse cross-section of society (and of course, this was also considered necessary to mobilise support for the aforementioned policy objectives). There were many efforts to achieve this.  The Year included a Neighbourhood Arts Progamme and a Primary Schools Programme, both of which were rolled out across the city. The Cabot Institute led several events in the poorest parts of the city, to complement those held on our campus. Nonetheless, poor inclusion was a persistent and legitimate charge (Pancost, 2015), as it has been for other Bristol activities. It was the disconnection between the Green Capital’s ambitions for inclusion and the lack of it that has proven to be particularly frustrating to many. There are vital lessons to be learned from this and there is a necessity to resolve it if Bristol – and other similar cities – are to achieve their desired transformations. Ujima Radio, recent winner of the UK’s Best Community Radio Station, initiated this effort in late 2014 and explored it throughout 2015 via the Green and Black Programme.  In late 2015, the PI, the Cabot Institute and the BGCP joined Ujima to explore this further via a series of workshops with BME leaders.  Two broad messages emerged, as summarised by our partner Roger Griffiths (Chair of Ujima Radio): ‘To many, the ‘green’ debate has hallmarks of being predominantly understood as a white, middle-class domain; moreover, there is a strong narrative of existing and potential engagement with green issues across BME communities that must be recognised and developed.’ Around these wider issues, a number of specific challenges were identified:

  • There was a widespread perception that formal activities – and especially the higher level decision-making – was led by an ‘in-crowd’ of established green activists, city leaders, and usual suspects (university and industry leaders).
  • Many venues were considered ‘off-limits’ to members of the BME community for a combination of issues related to perceived class bias, reputation or history (bearing in mind the role of slaving in Bristol’s history). Aside from that, many venues in the city centre, Bristol’s traditional focus for events (including the University), are not readily accessible.
  • Participation in events remains difficult for many due to childcare or work responsibilities. This reinforces the ‘in-crowd’ nature of activity and city planning, as many were able to attend as part of their jobs. Events were numerous and often organised at the last-minute, which further disenfranchised those with less flexible personal or working relationships.
  • Similarly, many were able to either volunteer time or were seconded from their businesses to participate; this puts particular stress on community organisations with limited resources.
  • BME leaders who were invited to attend workshops and planning meetings were often asked to attend or even speak but ‘rarely to help set the agenda.’

One of this consortium’s main conclusions was to launch a Green and Black Ambassador Programme, to pay, train and support (and learn from) a new generation of leaders who would: 1) foster dialogue among diverse groups, including showcasing examples of sustainability leadership arising from BME communities; 2) serve as a positively ‘disruptive’ participant on strategic boards (i.e. BGCP Board); 3) generate bespoke material on environmental issues and sustainability solutions for BME communities, some of which will be broadcast by Ujima Radio; and 4) conduct further research on the obstacles to BME inclusion in environmental initiatives. Given the diversity of Bristol with at least 91 languages spoken and 45 religions practiced, we have focussed on those communities of African and Caribbean descent, recognising that even that represents a great diversity of cultures, faiths and experience. Crucially, a goal of this initiative, directly identified during community consultations and reiterated by Mayor Marvin Rees, is to invest in the leadership skills of those bridging environmental and social justice ambitions. These goals are complementary and we argue that all fit within the remit of the NERC engagement call; however, we do note that goal (3) is most strongly aligned with this call to better share the results and value of NERC research.  As such, we are supporting this bid with matched funding from the BGCP and the UoB Cabot Institute and the requested funding will focus on this third area of action.

Approach and Delivery:

NERC Science to be the focus of Engagement. Pancost’s NERC funded research employs lipid biomarkers to study modern and ancient biogeochemical processes.  Superficially, such research appears to be rather fundamental and somewhat removed from the actionable needs of the public and policy makers, but three main strands resonated with public and policy partners during the Green Capital: (i) our research underpins our understanding that pCO2 levels have not exceeded 400ppm for about three million years, a symbolic threshold only recently crossed due to human activity; (ii) our research contributes to the evidence base that the current rate of climate change is nearly without precedent in Earth history; (iii) our work has also shown that rapid warming has complex biological and biogeochemical impacts – and feedbacks – on the Earth system.  These observations arise from a long research career and represent the achievements of many in the NERC research community but can be specifically related to at least three recent NERC-funded projects:

  • Terrestrial methane cycling during Paleogene greenhouse climates, 2012-2015; NERC Responsive Mode grant to RDP (~£900K to RDP and Paul Valdes, Bristol; David Beerling, Sheffield; and Margaret Collinson and Andrew Scott, RHUL).
  • Timing, causes and consequences of the decline in Pliocene pCO2; NERC Standard Research Grant to RDP (~£850K to RDP, Dani Schmidt and Dan Lunt, Bristol; and Gavin Foster, Southampton).
  • The Descent into the Icehouse, 2011-2014; NERC Thematic Consortium Grant: Long-Term Co-Evolution of Life and the Planet to Gavin Foster; RDP was Bristol Co-I (£110K to Bristol)

Engagement Plan. The focus of our plan is to appoint two ‘Green and Black Ambassadors’ from African and Caribbean communities, to provide reciprocal mentoring and support to and from the PI and his collaborators and research group. Ujima Radio has identified two ambassadors, Zakiya McKenzie and Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley, ensuring a prompt start to this project in Jan 2017. Specific activities in approximate chronological order will be:

Be trained in co-production research methods and then build on our existing research: The ambassadors are already receiving training on research co-production by Helen Manchester, who is directly linked to the ESRC-funded Productive Margins programme. The ambassadors will use this to explore areas of interest to the African-Caribbean community; for example, initial work indicated that air quality, a profound exacerbator of inequality in Bristol and other UK core cities, resonates more than climate change – but it is unclear how much more engaging it is or how the strands can be integrated into a wider narrative. We will also explore whether palaeoclimate can provide an alternative entry point to discussion by serving as a neutral space for discussion or by disrupting climate change fatigue (a concern of Andrew Garrad, Chair of the Bristol 2015 Company, and a reason why artists frequently engaged with Pancost). The two ambassadors will explore these issues and identify potential areas of common interest.

Test via Case Studies: Based on these findings, Pancost and the Ambassadors will develop a new suite of materials, including a joint presentation, but also interactive activities.  We will share these twice with members of the African-Caribbean public in local community centres (for example, the Malcolm X Centre).  Afterwards, the Ambassadors will use focus group discussions to identify how the NERC research could be better connected to their concerns and learning interests. We will specifically explore: 1) Are the research findings of interest, in and of themselves; 2) Are the findings more interesting when linked to other topics (i.e. air pollution); 3) Are the findings more interesting when linked to solutions or contemporary political issues (inequality, food or fuel poverty); and 4) what would the community like to know more about, both within and beyond NERC’s remit.

Create Media Projects: Arising from the previous activities, we will produce three brief radio broadcasts that will be broadcast on Ujima Radio.  The content will depend on the outcomes of the previous exercises, but in all we will feature some aspect of NERC science.  (NOTE: due to scheduling issues and the wider aims of the programme, it is unlikely that all will actually be broadcast by grant-end)

This is a pilot project but, via support from Helen Manchester who has expertise on co-production, we hope that it can be transferred to other excluded communities in Bristol and elsewhere and other parts of the NERC research portfolio.  We do recognise the profound challenges associated with simplistic translating of lessons learned in this project; in fact, it is the assumption that all communities have similar interests that this project will challenge. However, we still argue that the lessons learned will provide broader lessons on engagement of value to the whole NERC community, and this will be published as a public commentary (likely The Conversation). To ensure this programme’s legacy, the Ambassadors will write a follow-up proposal on behalf of Ujima Radio to the Esme Fairborne Foundation and help identify and recruit future BME community leaders who could benefit from the programme.

The roles of Our Partners: This project arises out of the Ujima Radio-led ‘Green and Black Project’, an inclusive movement for social and environmental justice. It recognises that this vision can only be realised when people are meaningfully involved in the environmental agenda regardless of race, religion, class or origin and when the environmental community speaks to – and for – the concerns of all. It is these ethos that inform the collaboration between the Ujima Radio and the PI, supported by the University of Bristol Cabot Institute (of which RDP is also Director, but formal representation will be from Hayley Shaw, the Institute’s Manager, and Kat Wall of UoB’s Centre for Public Engagement), and the BGCP, who will co-deliver the project with Ujima Radio to address the aforementioned concerns and deliver the crucial support, mentorship and training of the Green and Black Ambassadors.

The PI will be responsible for the project’s deliverables and ensuring that NERC environmental and climate change research is shared with a more diverse community, as guided and facilitated by the Ambassadors. However, in the spirit of this endeavour, Ujima Radio will manage ambassador selection. They will also provide mentoring and media training, curate and communicate media projects, and involve wider communities. Bristol Green Capital Partnership CIC will provide mentoring through leadership development – providing Ambassadors with constructive engagement with leading civil society sustainability organisations at Board level, in addition to brokering connections within wider ‘green’ networks. University of Bristol’s public engagement team and Cabot Institute will provide project administration and research curation.

2.4. Costings and Justification:

[RDP: This is important.  Nearly all of the funding went to our partners.  When you ask marginalised groups to help you with inclusion issues, you have an obligation to provide the financial support for their labour.  This was a partnership.  But it was vital to recognise the privilege the University had in that partnership and the obligation to direct the financial support accordingly.]

Activity Cost
Ambassador salary x2: Contract terms are 12 hours per week at £11.10 per hour for 14 weeks; 1 Jan to 31 March (These are the preferred working arrangements of the two Ambassadors) £3,730
Ujima Radio project management costs (inc. coaching, mentoring, media production); this partnership cost is vital for engaging community groups) £1,800
Ujima Radio operations and HR to support three pre-recorded broadcasts featuring NERC climate change science by the PI and collaborators £1,500
‘Green and Black’ Convo workshops focussed on ‘Is past climate relevant to the BME community?’ (inc room hire and catering costs) £450
Ujima Radio website hosting/online presence £250
Directly Incurred Cabot Institute Costs for hosting content on website and production costs for materials and video-recording of engagement events £750



Although this project has a relatively narrow focus – connecting a particular strand of NERC research to a specific community – we have ambitions that this pilot will enable much more substantive change. We will learn from one another, train new leaders, and start building new relationships among major institutions and diverse communities across the city. Through long-term widening of the public dialogue we aspire to influence, challenge or support current decision-makers, thereby delivering more ambitious policies, such as implementation of Bristol’s Climate Change and Energy Security Framework and its Resilience Strategy. We will do this by acknowledging, listening and promoting inclusive initiatives, engaging communities with environmental issues, and re-focusing organisations (including our own) to encompass the concerns of BME communities. Specifically, this multi-stakeholder approach will leverage the expertise of civil society partners to deliver long-lasting impact by: 1) contributing directly to a more diverse environmental community; 2) identifying and making progress on issues of concern for newly-involved communities; 3) developing new forms of communication, outreach and sharing, by which environmental and climate change issues can be better connected to BME communities; and 4) exploring how diverse communities can better access, understand and ultimately make use of academic research to drive their own social initiatives.