Inside Track | Leeds on climate action and COP26

In this edition, our COP26 task force discusses Leeds’ involvement in the upcoming climate conference and why COP26 is so important for the future of the planet.

Leeds at COP26 visual

This weekend, the eyes of the world will turn to Glasgow and the United Nations COP26 climate conference. Since 1995, world governments have met annually to negotiate a response to global climate change. The 197 nations and territories, who are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), are represented at the Conference of the Parties (COP), which is responsible for reviewing the implementation of the convention.

As an official observer of the UNFCCC, the University is sending a delegation to attend COP26 in Glasgow, from Sunday 31 October to Friday 12 November. But why is this particular COP so important? And how are we playing a role?

Global warming

The world is now more than 1.1oC warmer on average than it was at the start of the industrial revolution. It is likely that such a warm climate has not been experienced globally since about 125,000 years ago, during the last interglacial period. There’s now a clear human fingerprint on extremes of temperature and rainfall being experienced around the world, as well as a growing human and economic cost from the damage these events cause.

Although some future warming is now inevitable, the magnitude of change will depend on the amount of greenhouse gases our global society chooses to emit. The Paris Agreement recognised that whilst we cannot avoid some future climate changes, we can limit the damage by keeping global heating to well below 2oC and, ideally, below 1.5oC. This would keep the impact on people, businesses and our natural capital to manageable levels. Without these limits, we can expect significant increases in many types of weather extremes with, for example, more frequent flooding, heatwaves and drought affecting both people’s health and wellbeing, on top of causing major disruptions to essential infrastructure and social systems.

Our role at COP26 in actioning climate change

As leaders prepare to meet for the 26th time, the window of opportunity to limit future warming to no more than 1.5oC is rapidly closing. COP26 provides the best opportunity for nations to pledge greater reductions to future greenhouse gas emissions. This particular COP is also the first to place a much greater emphasis on adaptation, which needs to progress much more rapidly if we’re to protect ourselves from those climate risks that have now become inevitable.

Where does Leeds fit in to this huge scientific, political and global challenge? The negotiations at COP26 involve world leaders, their ministers and negotiation teams in what is often a great example of evidence-based policy making. Universities across the world – as institutions of research, innovation and education – are working across a broad range of climate change issues to provide this evidence, and are helping nations to navigate the complexities of the challenge across a range of disciplines. Increasingly, the academic community is also focusing on the development and delivery of climate action, offering critical perspectives on proposed solutions and engaging a wider arena for political action.

Man fitting solar panel COP26 visual

We are committed in our support towards climate action

With a commitment to education; innovation; impact and interdisciplinary, partner-based climate research, the University has much to contribute towards making COP26 a success. For instance, we’ve offered advice to the UK Government during its presidency of COP26 on a range of topics, including climate science, climate solutions, and global climate leadership through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UK Climate Change Committee and the COP26 Universities Network briefings. Working at multiple scales through national and global collaborations, our experts are delivering research that addresses the many facets of the climate challenge: from community activism to financial mechanisms, and sectoral analysis (agriculture and food systems, transport, energy, water, buildings and health) to the ethics and politics of the climate crisis and climate solutions.

The University will send a delegation to Glasgow to attend the COP26 conference. We will be involved in events and activities across both the Blue Zone, which hosts the actual negotiations, and the Green Zone, which is open to the general public. We’re also part of a growing network of universities working together to act as a comprehensive, networked source of research and academic expertise for government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other stakeholders involved in these negotiations.

Our climate change promise

We don’t yet know how successful the conference will be. However, we recognise its importance and the responsibility of the University to contribute to dealing with the challenges of climate change in a just way. We also acknowledge the equal, if not greater, importance of contributing to the ‘legacy’ of COP26 during the coming decades in our local community, nationally and across the world. COP26 is one vital trigger for systematic and comprehensive change towards low-carbon societies. As an institution committed to tackling global challenges, the University is playing, and will play, an important role in assisting this world-wide transformation.

Professor Richard Beardsworth, Professor Jason Lowe and Dr Clare Martynski, on behalf of the University’s COP26 task force.

Further information

Read an update on the development of our Climate and Net Zero plans

Visit the COP26 Virtual Hub to follow all the key updates of COP26 and find out how you can get involved with the event.

Missed our Leeds at COP26 event? Find out how you can access the event’s recording.

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