What do researchers want from COP26?

UK Research and Innovation
Our Changing Climate
10 min readNov 1, 2021

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For more than fifty years, researchers and innovators have been working in all corners of the globe, to find solutions for mitigating against, and adapting to, climate change. Their breakthroughs have been significant in shaping policy. We spoke to some of the researchers whose work we fund and asked them to name one thing they wanted to come out of COP. This is what they told us.

Luke Jerram’s Gaia hangs over the action hub at COP26 in Glasgow. Photo Adam Harvey/UK Government

Professor Andrea Doeschl-Wilson, Research Group Leader at the Roslin Institute in Scotland: “My hope for COP26 is that it provides a list of tangible solutions that are led by scientific evidence rather than by emotions, greed, or self- interest, and that we can all work towards them.”

Dr Rebecca Ford, Senior Lecturer, University of Strathclyde and Research Director of the UK’s Energy Revolution Research Consortium: “I’d like to see governments moving beyond looking just at cost or just at carbon and I want to see more integration across the range of priorities that are important to so many people because real change will only happen once we start to break down these silos in policymaking”.

Professor John McGeehan, Professor of Structural Biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth: “COP26 has got the potential to bring together every country in the world to push forward solutions for climate. We desperately need to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce the greenhouse gases that are going out into the environment and really tackle climate change head on. We don’t have much time to do this, and I am hoping, and pinning all my hopes, on the fact that COP26 can really push this forward. “

Dr Ian Mudway, MRC Centre for Environment and Health, Imperial College, London: “I would like to see both national and global commitment that is proportionate to the scale of the problem that the planet faces. I would like to see policy commitments that aren’t refracted through the prism of political feasibility or economic risk aversion, so that the actions that are put in place, reflect the urgency of the situation that we face today. Because quite frankly the stakes are now far too high and now is not the time to kick the can further down the road.”

Mr Navraj Singh Ghaleigh, Lawyer and Lecturer, University of Edinburgh: “I think this will be a funny COP, with the political agenda stronger than the official one. There will be a lot of political commitments, a lot of private sector commitments; I think what would be really helpful is if we could get a stronger societal sense of the true nature of the necessary transition, so governments, individuals, communities, businesses, NGOs and so on, get a more concrete sense of what the reality of Net Zero transition entails. It will be a massive shake up and I think facing up to that, to the costs and benefits of that, early on, will be crucial to helping us get to that solution.”

Wishes for the future at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Photograph: Karwai Tang/ UK Government

Professor Kate Pahl, Principal Investigator for the Voices of the Future Project: “Our hope for the COP26 meeting is that the delegates will recognise and listen to the voices of young people and to build them into actions that arise from the meeting. Children and young people of today will be tasked as adults with delivering the ambitions of COP26 and they need to be valued and empowered to become the labour that meets this greatest of challenges.”

Dr Hugh Mortimer, Earth Observation Scientist, STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory: “It needs a global effort from policy makers using science to inform these hard decisions and I am hoping that this year’s COP26 will be the time that this happens, when we come together as one, to make the changes that are needed.”

Dr Genoveva Burca, Neutron Imaging and Diffraction Scientist working for STFC’s ISIS Neutron and Muon Source: “I think that COP26, a critical summit for the future of our planet, could be a turning point and provide a real opportunity for finding new ways of speeding up the transition from conventional energy to clean, green, renewable energy to help us to reach Net Zero by 2050 and better protect the environment.”

Dr Emma Fieldhouse, Director, Future We Want: “I’d love to see global leadership from our world leaders for the first time. This is the missing piece of the puzzle. It’s absolutely essential for us to get on the right tracks with regards to lowering emissions and the worlds’ carbon footprint. I’d like to see seed fund initiatives that can grow and make a difference, to give youth more agency by giving them the knowledge to change the system and produce three-year plans that contribute to 2030 targets.”

Professor Adam Kleczkowski, Professor of Mathematics, University of Strathclyde: “I hope that the COP26 conference in Glasgow will make people more aware to see how climate change affects our woodlands. We need to do much more than now to keep them from disappearing.”

Dam Kahn, PhD student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: “No-one is safe from the health impacts of climate change, but the health impacts of using biomass fuel for cooking, disproportionately affects households in rural communities in Africa. COP26 is a fitting platform to discuss alternative sources of fuel, which is fit for use in households in rural Africa.”

Dr Gabriel Pérez, Research Fellow at STFC’s ISIS and neutron muon source: “Why not set really, really ambitious goals for the future in terms of carbon emissions reductions as well as more progress towards green energy.”

Anthony Burns, Chief Operating Officer at Advanced Clothing Solutions: “The one thing I hope comes from COP26 is the elimination of VAT from sustainable clothing”.

Professor John Barrett, Professor of Energy and Climate Policy at the University of Leeds: “My hope and wishes for COP26 are that we actually put in place, the policies and mechanisms needed to ensure that emissions stay within 1.5 degrees, and I truly believe that that’s possible, while allowing countries who currently have less to develop and allowing also, countries which are already quite wealthy to have a high quality of life.”

Professor Lyla Mehta, Institute of Developing Studies: “My hope for COP26 is that rich countries recognise their responsibilities to the planet and rest of the world. Climate change is not just about solving a technical problem, it’s fundamentally about justice. So richer countries like the UK need to radically decarbonise and reduce emissions, show some leadership and solidarity and be prepared to make amends for loss and damage, especially in low income countries. It’s important that corporate players that are known for environmental destruction, pollution and dispossession of local people are not allowed to get away with greenwashing. And most importantly, it’s vital to listen more to people on the frontline and support them in locally appropriate ways to adapt to the changes brought about by climate disruption.

Professor Richard Haigh, Global Resilience Centre, University of Huddersfield: I very much hope that COP26 will show the importance of working together to address these challenges on the climate crisis and will accelerate action towards more effective collaboration between scientists at universities like mine, along with governments, businesses and civil societies.

Professor Parik Goswami, Head of Department for Fashion and Textiles and Director of the Technical Textiles Research Centre: “All we want as researchers is not only the big numbers, or big targets, but we want to know the boundary conditions and a road map which includes what kind of funding we are getting, what kind of collaborations we can form, and we want to get on with it. We are, as researchers, passionate about it. We want to achieve it, we just want the policy-makers to back us with that — showing us a clear road map so that we can go and achieve our environmental targets”.

Professor Clive Potter, Imperial College, London, Environmental Public Policy and Management Research: “I have an interest in how woodland expansion, forest expansion, can help us soak up carbon and contribute to climate mitigation, how we can improve tree cover in urban environments and what needs to be done really to protect our forests, our future forests, from pests and diseases, which may of course be driven by climate change.”

Dr Desy Pirmasari, Research Fellow, GENERATE project, University of Leeds: “I hope COP26 is no longer just about sweet diplomacy-talk. At least do one thing for real. Like a commitment to slow commodities-driven deforestation, to save rainforests like in Borneo. To save people in my hometown for example, and other parts of the world. We can no longer expand palm oil plantation, coalmining and just support all these commodities for economic benefit, but at the same time, we sacrifice our rainforests and our future.”

Dr Lucy Martin, Deputy Director, EPSRC: “It is fantastic that we are starting to see commitments around the world to improve our sustainability and to decarbonise our economy as we approach COP26. However, what we now need is to go a step further and take meaningful action including investing at scale and undertaking the research and innovation that will be critical to make Net Zero a reality.”

Dr Duncan Watson-Parris, Climate Scientist, Senior Researcher Climate Processes Group, Oxford University: “I really hope that the world’s governments can use COP26 to agree to ambitious emissions targets, to match the stated ambition in the Paris Agreement and keep global warming to well below two degrees.”

Dr Jeremy Walton, Software Engineer, Met Office: “At COP26 I hope that there will be an understanding of what the science results mean for everyone, and that action will be taken to solve the problem of climate change, in the world which our children, and grandchildren are inheriting from us.

Dr Lee De Mora, Marine Ecosystem Modeller at Plymouth Marine Laboratory: “What I really want to see from COP26 is an international commitment to protect the ocean. At the moment only two percent of the ocean is protected from fishing and mining but at COP26 we could choose to protect 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. The thirty by thirty initiative would not only protect marine life, habitats, fish stocks and biodiversity from fishing and mining but also healthy eco systems are a lot better at sequestering carbon. This would allow a buffer to protect the ocean from the wider threat of climate change.”

Dr Pam Wiener, Roslin Institute: “My hope for COP26 is that there will be a focus on conservation and promotion of genetic diversity across biological systems, including livestock.”

Rodney Harrison, Professor of Heritage Studies, University College London: “Like most people, the key thing I hope to come out of COP26 is a firm agreement and an international programme which will limit global heating to 1.5 degrees. Through the exhibition and associated events though, we aim to highlight the values of participatory arts, humanities and social science-based research in developing creative solutions to the climate crisis and adapting to climate change to contribute to the same.”

Wayne Binitie, PhD student, Royal College of Art: “Our Polar Zero exhibition is part of a global conversation at COP26. We hope to promote a deeper awareness of our relationship to the glacial past, present and future.

“The question of polar history is so vast and so complex so occasionally the magnitude of the subject doesn’t allow the proximity or a sense of intimacy with the subject itself. The greatest challenge has been how do you communicate the complexity of the subject to a general audience.

Using arts, science, and engineering we have attempted to invite people to mediate a conversation which is both operating at the collective and individual level.”

Dilanthi Amaratunga, Professor of Disaster Risk Management, University of Huddersfield: “The ongoing Covid-19 outbreak is an unprecedented event in modern human history and is global, but its prevention and preparedness are local. We argue that mechanisms and strategies for disaster resilience can enhance preparedness for early and better recovery that prevents the emergence of new risks to epidemics such as Covid-19. One thing I hope that comes out of COP: new research and governance and a new model for disaster risk management to be encouraged. It has long been accepted that even in individual events, multiple pieces of cycle unfold simultaneously.”

Dr Tahrat Shahid, Food Systems and Gender Advisor, Global Challenges Research Fund: “It’s really important to talk about what’s appropriate for different communities with different kinds of roles amongst the people within those communities and what works for them in terms of the science and technology solutions that can be developed. They need to be participating in some of these processes as well. It’s an ongoing conversation and I’m really excited that we are going to keep this conversation going in Glasgow.”

Maia Elliot, Project Manager, UKRI’s Global Food Security programme: “I’m really excited about COP26 because there is growing recognition that business as usual in our food system is not compatible with meeting our climate targets. The question still remains, what should business unusual look like? There is a key role for research to play here, but to create a truly shared vision of what our future food system should look like, one that will inspire people to change their behaviour and for policy changes to be enacted, that’s going to require cross-stakeholder collaboration.”

To hear more from our researchers, visit our COP26 Meet the Researchers playlist:

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