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Climate innovation is critical to a just and resilient net-zero transition


In this blog, Priestley Centre Research and Innovation Development Manager, Shona Smith, reflects on commitments announced on Science and Innovation Day at COP26 and the role of Priestley Centre research and expertise.

Today is Science and Innovation Day at COP26, bringing a swathe of announcements about new initiatives to support the implementation of the goals and commitments announced during the first week of the conference. These new initiatives include:

  • A strong push for innovation (Mission Innovation)
  • A focus on adaptation and resilience (Adaptation Research Alliance and the UK / Canada Climate Adaptation and Resilience research programme)
  • Progress tracking by independent experts (Global Checkpoint Process)
  • Improvements in assessment and communication of climate risk
  • Decarbonisation of steel and concrete (Industrial Deep Decarbonisation Initiative)
  • Commitment to building resilient, low carbon and sustainable health systems

Much of the recent successful communication from the climate research community  has emerged from international and interdisciplinary collaboration through, for example, the epic efforts of IPCC authors and critical networks, such as the COP26 Universities Network. These initiatives bring communities together to synthesise evidence and deliver coherent actionable messages to policymakers and other key stakeholders.

University of Leeds staff and students have contributed to the discourse surrounding a variety of issues on the negotiating table at COP26 through events, panels and exhibitions in both the Blue and Green Zone and beyond. From the role and expectations of young people, to just transitions in agriculture, transport decarbonsitation to universal energy access, peatland preservation to Antarctic ice loss, gender and diversity in climate resilience and much, much more! We are also proud to host two of the UK’s five COP26 fellows, Harriet Thew and Stephen Whitfield who have been working to support the negotiations through the provision, synthesis, and translation of expert research on young people and the net-zero transition and agriculture and climate change.

As we begin to think beyond the commitments made at COP26 and into the realities of delivery, it is clear that science and innovation have a critical role to play in enabling every country to access the tools it needs to immediately reduce emissions in line with Paris Agreement temperature targets, and to adapt to the effects of climate change that we are already seeing across the world, as underlined today by Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Here at the Priestley Centre we will be pivoting our focus to ensure that University of Leeds climate research delivers the innovations needed to drive climate action across scales. We are of course no stranger to driving innovation from research, and we are already delivering solutions in many of the priority areas highlighted in today’s announcement.

Adaptation and Resilience: The Priestley Centre hosts the UKRI UK Climate Resilience Strategic Priorities Fund Champion team. We have a long history of collaborative research with African institutions to improve weather forecasting and preparedness for high impact weather events through programmes such as GCRF African SWIFT and Future Climate for Africa HYCRISTAL.

Industrial decarbonisation: University of Leeds spin out company C-Capture has patented a unique, solvent-based technology for post-combustion CO2 capture developed in the Department of Chemistry. A team of civil engineers are developing and studying low-carbon cements. As part of the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions, Leeds experts are developing integrated strategies to decarbonise the steel industry.

Resilient and low carbon health systems: Priestley Centre Director, Piers Forster, was part of an expert panel advising the NHS on their pathway to net-zero. Priestley Chair, Lea Berrang Ford, has led work funded by the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office used machine learning to map the global published evidence on climate change, weather and health from 2013 to 2020.

At this critical point in fighting the climate crisis, we are committed to focusing our efforts on growing a portfolio of evidence-based climate innovation that ensures governments, industry, citizens and our own institutions have the tools they need to deliver on their climate commitments and the global action we need to achieve a just and resilient net-zero future.