Skip to main content

Research-led action on climate change


Director Piers Forster and Head of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures, Shona Smith discuss the vision of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures, one of the four flagship Futures Institutes at the University of Leeds. 

Climate change is already impacting societies and ecosystems around the world. There is an urgent and critical need to accurately quantify and communicate the increasing levels of risk we will face over the coming years. At the same time, the transformation required presents opportunities to build a more inclusive, culturally aware and robust society, to protect nature and grow stronger economies. It is more important than ever that education and research institutions are a trusted source of interdisciplinary evidence, challenge and learning. 

The Priestley International Centre for Climate was established seven years ago, growing out of discussions with colleagues across the University of Leeds who wanted to work more directly with climate researchers. We wanted to bring different disciplines to bear and focus on climate solutions and provide an accessible front door for stakeholders to access the University’s research and expertise.  

The University of Leeds is expanding the Centre’s remit beyond research to include and integrate innovation, knowledge exchange and collaboration on postgraduate education

Since 2016 the Priestley Centre has supported the University community and its partners to deliver a wide variety of climate-related research and innovation projects and deliver on-the-ground impact. Climate expertise from the University of Leeds has had an impact nationally and internationally: research from our academics underpinned the ground-breaking commitment by the UK government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050; and several of our experts contributed to the latest global climate assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

In parallel, the scale and urgency of climate challenges have grown and so, therefore, have our opportunities for research-led action on climate change. By launching as the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures, the University of Leeds is expanding the Centre’s remit beyond research to include and integrate innovation, knowledge exchange and collaboration on postgraduate education. This new mandate recognises the pace of action required to tackle the climate crisis, the potential here at Leeds, and the need to collaborate with partners to deliver the transition to a fair, resilient, and decarbonised world. 

Our co-created mission and vision 

The launch of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures will establish a truly action-oriented hub, grounded in our world-leading climate expertise. 

Our new high-level strategy sets out a mission for the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures to collaboratively design and deliver just and actionable climate solutions by integrating research, innovation, policy and education to imagine, influence and shape a better future for our communities, our region and the world. The Centre will deliver this mission through four integrated strategic pillars of research, innovation, policy and education, and focus on forging collaborations and partnerships regionally and globally. 

Collaboration cuts across all these strategic pillars

The Priestley Centre will play a role in breaking down boundaries, collaborating with industry, governments, and civil society to drive new, purposeful initiatives and activities focused on making an impact on climate change. The connection and integration across our strategic pillars of research, innovation, policy and education will be key to effective delivery. 

Critically, we will develop a culture for delivering innovation from climate research to speed up the processes through which the latest evidence leads to on-the-ground action. We will continue to push for evidence-based policy and deliver research-led teaching that prepares future generations to work and live in a changing climate and support the net zero transition. Collaboration cuts across all these strategic pillars. Working effectively across disciplinary, professional and institutional boundaries, and understanding stakeholder priorities, will be key to the Centre’s longevity and success. 

Our approach and upcoming priorities 

In embarking on a new chapter as one of the four Futures Institutes at the University of Leeds, the Priestley Centre is building from a solid foundation which is fundamentally underpinned by the University’s excellent research and world-leading expertise. 

Our expanded remit allows us to refine and grow activities already piloted by the Priestley Centre whilst refocusing our resources to enable on-the-ground implementation of climate action. Working with the University community and our partners, we will follow a ‘research, pilot, refine, and implement’ approach to the coming period, exploring and establishing initiatives that fall within our new remit. 

Our immediate priorities are focused on establishing our leadership team and developing foundational collaborations and initiatives. We will be recruiting three deputy directors to focus on innovation, policy and education. Once these directors are in place, we will focus on working with external partners to establish a series of climate living laboratories to research and trial sustainable, scalable mechanisms to deliver a resilient net zero transition using the University and the city of Leeds as a test-bed. We will continue to support the delivery of the University of Leeds Climate Plan and begin to explore new offerings for postgraduate education and continued professional development. 

We are excited about this transition and the ambitious future that we’re working towards – we hope you’ll join us on the journey. To stay up to date with our developments, join our mailing list or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.