Inside Track | Research-led action on climate

With the launch of the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures, Director Piers Forster and Head Shona Smith discuss its vision as one of the University’s four new Futures Institutes.

Research-led action on climate. June 2023

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 the University is 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 who wanted to work more directly with climate researchers. We wanted to bring different disciplines to bear and focus on climate solutions. The Priestley Centre now convenes and supports a community of more than 400 researchers from all career stages, representing 31 schools across all faculties.  

The Priestley Centre has supported the University community to grow climate-related research income and strengthen its capacity for interdisciplinary climate research and impact. We have had notable successes in influencing national and international climate policies - activities that have enhanced the University’s reputation. 

In parallel, the scale and urgency of climate challenges have grown and so, therefore, have our opportunities for research-led action on climate. By launching as the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures, the University 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 and the potential here at Leeds.  

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 was co-created with representatives of all seven faculties. It 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.

Schematic representing the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures vision of integrated research, innovation, policy and education underpinned by collaborations.

The Priestley Centre will play a role in breaking down boundaries, acting as a delivery partner and driving new, purposeful initiatives and activities focused on making an impact on climate. The connection and integration across our strategic pillars of research, innovation, policy and education will be key to effective delivery.  

It is critical that we 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 need to 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, faculty, 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 a Futures Institute, the Priestley Centre is building from a solid foundation and existing reputation which are 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:   

  • Recruiting three deputy directors to focus on innovation, policy and education
  • 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 our city as a test-bed
  • Building capacity to deliver innovation from climate research through training and annual cohorts of innovation fellows
  • Supporting delivery of the Climate Plan using the latest evidence and research expertise
  • Market research to inform new offerings for postgraduate education and continued professional development
  • Developing our infrastructure and resources to deliver contract research, services and consultancy 
  • Initiating strategic partnerships

A culture of collaboration 

The Priestley Centre for Climate Futures will be underpinned by a culture of community and equality. To do this we need to build an engaged community of staff and students working across disciplines, faculties, services, roles and career stages to take action on climate. We plan to bring our community together more often to celebrate our collective achievements, and to broker knowledge exchange and collaboration. People are our greatest asset and collaboration sits at the core of our mission. 

We also plan to develop new approaches and pioneer new ways of working including challenge groups of academics, professional service staff, students and stakeholders where everyone’s skills and expertise are valued equally. There will be opportunities to contribute to our initiatives and we will be looking for input from the University community on where our priorities should lie.  

We are excited about this transition and the ambitious future that we’re working towards.  

Please join us on Wednesday 12 July to hear more about the Priestley Centre for Climate Futures, and for an opportunity to ask questions and contribute your thoughts. Pop into the stage@leeds foyer between 15:30 and 17:00.  

Priestley Centre membership is open to all University staff and postgraduate researchers whose interests align with the vision of the Centre. Find out more on our website.  

You can also find answers to some general questions about the Futures Institutes on For Staff.  

Posted in: