‘This is the critical decade for climate change’
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Research from local scientists was instrumental at the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, where world leaders and delegates met to address the climate crisis.
Key takeaways from the climate summit, which ran from October 31 to November 12, include agreements to phase down coal, cut methane emissions, stop deforestation, provide financial support for developing nations and reaffirm the Paris Agreement commitment to limit temperature rise to 1.5C degrees.
Every year, the University of East Anglia (UEA) on Norwich Research Park produces the Global Carbon Budget with the international Global Carbon Project in time for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
From an emissions perspective, executive director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Asher Minns argues that it’s “as if Covid never happened”.
He says: “There was a 5% decline in emissions because of global lockdowns, but now that reduction has disappeared and it has bounced back to business as usual.
“What we do see, however, is a slowing of the rate of increase in cumulative carbon emissions over the past 10 years,” Asher explains. “That's not the same as preventing carbon emissions going into the atmosphere, which is ultimately what causes climate change. It’s a welcome slowing of the rate of increase.”
Reflecting on the outcomes of COP26, Asher is positive about the growing influence of scientific research on policy, citing the Glasgow Climate Pact as proof of these achievements.
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“After 26 years of COP summits, the science is finally front and centre. The Glasgow Climate Pact begins with the science and refers to the carbon budget and the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. UEA people have been authors on all of them. For us, as members of the local scientific community, we can count that as a success.”
But the role local researchers played is not limited to the carbon budget. The UEA was also represented by doctoral researchers and professors including Corinne Le Quéré, Rupert Read and Heike Schroeder.
In his role as head of delegation for UEA, Asher was responsible for curating an exhibition inspiring public engagement with climate change research. The Green Zone at Glasgow’s Science Centre offered an opportunity for universities to showcase their research and communicate with the public throughout the 12-day summit.
“This was really showcasing the best of British climate change research. But it wasn’t just science – we had poets, artists and creatives,” Asher says. “Engagement with climate change is science and culture together.”
In total nearly 50 exhibitions were displayed. The Tyndall Centre also published regular content throughout COP26 via blogs, social media posts and videos.
“We wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to engage with climate change research and for researchers to engage with the public,” Asher says. “One of the successes of COP26 that I would like to build on is the huge public interest in wanting to respond to climate change in the UK.”
Here and now
Asher has a message for the people of Norfolk who have been inspired by COP26 to think about climate change and make a difference.
“Let the powers that be – councillors, civil servants, MPs – know that you want action on climate change and environment,” Asher says. “The politicians are only just beginning to catch up with the public. People are demanding leadership and politicians aren’t delivering on climate and the environment.”
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) surveyed 1.2 million people in 50 countries and found that 69% of respondents aged 14–18 think there is a climate emergency and 58% of those over 60 agreed. The Health Foundation and Ipsos MORI found that four in five members of the public (80%) think climate change is a global emergency and 81% believe it is caused by human activity.
You don’t have to go overseas to witness the effects of climate change, Asher says.
“Climate change is happening here and now in Norwich and Norfolk,” he says. “The East of England is the UK’s most vulnerable region to climate change. It's suffering from major coastal erosion. Flooding is only going to get worse. Extreme weather like droughts, heatwaves and storms impact on our agriculture. So it's not just about carbon emissions.
“Everything on the Glasgow Climate Pact is about long-term agreements,” Asher adds. “But we also need short-term agreements. This is the critical decade for climate change. The direction of carbon emissions must be sorted out by 2030 – and that's where UEA will continue to focus, including co-chairing the newly begun Norwich Climate Commission that will support citizens and decision-makers.”