Research and innovation are the key to tackling climate change

This week’s Climate Exp0 underlines universities’ potential to make net zero achievable, say Emily Shuckburgh, Roberto Buizza and Alyssa Gilbert

May 19, 2021
Thunderstorm gathering over city
Source: iStock

Universities have a shared commitment to setting an ambitious agenda for this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), hosted jointly by the UK and Italy in Glasgow in November. As scientists, we understand that research and expertise will be vital to make that agenda a reality.

That is why we are so pleased to be co-chairing Climate Exp0 this week. The conference, which is open to policy audiences, researchers, students and members of the public, is a chance for the more than 500 participating international researchers – including from more than 80 UK and Italian universities – to share their latest research on climate change.

This is a vital part of the UK government’s efforts to make COP26 the most effective COP conference to date by defining how we can reach the zero-emission target through continued commitment to global cooperation and collaboration.

A carbon-free future will be achieved through a multitude of scientific and policy innovations and collaborations across government, industry and universities, and we should be heartened by the sheer breadth of the work being presented at Climate Exp0. Each day of the conference is focusing on a critical pillar of COP26, from delivering nature-based solutions to delivering more renewable energy and creating new technologies for clean transport and infrastructure networks.

However, COP26’s objective goes beyond reaching net zero. We also intend to set out a plan to protect our environment and our communities from the impacts of the global warming that is already happening, and to establish a more just and sustainable society. This includes a credible plan for managing the unpredictable and often damaging weather patterns resulting from climate change.

As Climate Exp0 demonstrates, biodiversity and adaptation is a critical area of research. By working with communities, we can better protect our planet while also improving air quality and protecting wildlife. This commitment is domestic and international, with researchers from the UK and Italy building on their worldwide interactions to find the best solutions.

We must also understand the financial implications of getting to net zero. This is why Climate Exp0 has dedicated an entire day to finance and regulation. The Paris Agreement highlighted the importance of “making financial flows aligned to the climate targets”, and COP26 will translate this into immediate and effective actions. As this week’s conference demonstrates, we must work with businesses, financial institutions and consumers to create a financial system that pushes us towards net zero, rather than away from it.

Last, we’d like to recognise the involvement and contribution of young people in helping tackle climate change. These young people are working, studying and researching to make net zero a reality. With more than 2,000 students signed up to support Climate Exp0, we once again see their dedication to building a better tomorrow.

As we continue to roll out the Covid-19 vaccines, we should recognise the vital role of research and development – including, crucially, at universities – in getting us to this point. Universities have once again demonstrated their ability to be global leaders. Climate Exp0 is demonstrating how effectively their expertise and research are now being marshalled in the even bigger, even more vital battle against climate change.

Emily Shuckburgh is director of Cambridge Zero and reader in environmental data science at the University of Cambridge. Roberto Buizza is co-chair of Climate Exp0 and a professor at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa. Alyssa Gilbert is chair of the COP26 universities network and director of policy and translation at Imperial College London’s Grantham Institute for Climate Change. They are all co-chairs of Climate Exp0.

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