COP26 climate change conference: University of Leeds environmental experts to play major part on summit stage

Leeds climate researchers working to tackle the environmental crisis and help the world achieve net zero carbon emissions are preparing to address 200 world leaders at the COP26 climate summit.

By Grace Hammond
Saturday, 30th October 2021, 4:45 pm

Known in full as the 26th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP is a yearly summit where leaders negotiate a response to global climate change.

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This event, the 26th COP, is widely considered the last best chance for leaders to negotiate the way forward in tackling the climate crisis.

Piers Forster is a professor of climate physics and the Priestley Centre director.

The conference, which this year takes place in Glasgow, presents an opportunity to steer our path away from a dangerous temperature rise towards the agreed target of limiting global heating to 1.5C, and with it, a shift to a fairer, cleaner, healthier world in which to live.

Research and innovation from the University of Leeds is contributing to important discussions and negotiations taking place in the run up to, and at, COP26. The conference is divided into two zones: Blue and Green.

The Blue Zone is open only to government officials and accredited organisations and individuals, including 13 Leeds researchers. The Green Zone is open to the public, where organisations can showcase their efforts to address the climate crisis. Here Leeds delegates will take part in a range of public-facing activities, and will lead a number of fringe events.

Several Leeds events will be live streamed online. Members of the public can register to attend via the University website.

Leeds’ COP26 delegation includes researchers working across a range of disciplines, with the shared goal of tackling climate change. Among the attendees is Piers Forster, Professor of Climate Physics and Priestley Centre Director, who will represent the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to brief high level negotiations.

He will also showcase the latest climate science through the Leeds-led CONSTRAIN EU research project, and will meet with other national climate council representatives on behalf of the UK Climate Change Committee to share and learn best practice.

This year the IPCC produced a report observing that changes in the Earth’s climate caused by human activity are being observed in every region and across the whole climate system.

Professor Forster, co-ordinating lead author of the report, said: “The bad news is that a low level of future warming can now be ruled out.

“But the good news is that if the world can substantially reduce emissions in the 2020s and get to net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050, temperature rise can still be limited to 1.5C.”

COP26 Research Fellow Harriet Thew will take part in discussions around climate education and youth empowerment in, as well as events on education and youth participation.

Postgraduate researcher Heather Selley will address Blue Zone delegates, speaking about her research into fast flowing glaciers in the Getz region of West Antarctica. Heather’s 2021 research has shown that 14 glaciers in the Getz region are thinning and flowing more quickly into the ocean, adding to rising sea levels.

Stephen Whitfield, Associate Professor of Climate Change and Food Security, and COP26 Research Fellow, will speak on developing climate resilient food systems, and Dom Spracklen, Professor of Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions, will address on the environmental impact of peatland fires.

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