Global Climate Conference - Day 4: Net Zero and Global Research

20th November 2020

Today was the penultimate day of the extraordinary five-day conference ‘Global Climate 2020’, and there was no sign of let up, with four plenary sessions and the live launch of Mock COP26.
The morning started with the sustainability topic on everyone’s lips this year; the race to Net Zero. Chaired by Professor James Longhurst, Assistant Vice Chancellor at UWE Bristol and EAUC board member, the session had a really global feel. Sam Barratt, Chief of Youth, Education and Advocacy at UN Environment in Nairobi started by outlining some of the brilliant initiatives UN Environment have created to support institutions reach Net Zero. Sam emphasised that the next 12 months are crucial on the Net Zero pathway, and we must make the most of the opportunity for a green recovery. 
Professor Izael da Silva, Deputy Vice Chancellor at Strathmore University in Kenya then presented on the amazing work his university is doing on renewable energy. Izael said it was important to walk the talk, and gave an overview of how Strathmore University has become the first university in Africa to be zero carbon through a large-scale solar power initiative. From their success with renewable energy, the university has expanded its sustainability efforts, incorporating it into the curriculum and working with Government to make sure sustainability is incorporated into national education policy in Kenya.
Gonzalo Muñoz and Nigel Topping, both High Level Climate Action Champions for the COP26, went on to talk about actions that universities could do to be more sustainable and facilitate a smoother path to Net Zero. They spoke about making sure climate change is in the curriculum, leveraging knowledge and expertise on the transition to Net Zero, engaging communities on the climate crisis, and committing their own operations to Net Zero. Both echoed the need for us all to accelerate our move towards Net Zero, and that rather than focus on 2050, we should be focusing on the difference we can make today, encouraging institutions to sign the Global Climate Letter. 
After a short break, the second plenary of the day saw Christopher Hale, Director of Policy at Universities UK chair a session about the Climate Commission for UK Higher and Further Education. Christopher spoke of the unique partnership that that Climate Commission consists of, and gave an overview of the Climate Commission’s achievements over the last year. 
Alison Robinson, Deputy Executive Chair at Natural Environment Research Council spoke about the education sector rising to the challenge of Net Zero, and the need to put sustainability on the agenda when it comes to research. Alison also spoke about how reaching Net Zero was a shared challenge and we all need to do our bit. Steven Kandola, Policy Lead on the Skills Strategy at the Department of Education listed some of the activities the Government was working on to support the sector on this journey, such as the Green Jobs Taskforce and said the Government was keen to do more to support the sector. 
Manveer Gil, a student Climate Commissioner provided a welcome student view on much of the conversation, and raised valid points around considering sustainability across the whole of the research sector, rather than just climate action related research. Manveer also called for more support for students that are lobbying their institution to be better on the sustainability agenda to reach Net Zero. 
Following this plenary, we headed straight into the launch of Mock COP26, a brilliant student initiative running between 19th November and 1st December 2020 in which youth climate leaders are hosting a virtual Mock COP event to replace the delayed COP26. The event is being hosted by Students Organising for Sustainability UK, with student staff members and volunteers taking the lead in organising, and EAUC is very supportive of this event. There was a warm welcome from the UN Youth Envoy, who stated that while COP26 had been delayed, the climate crisis hadn’t, and we must work together now to address this. Speakers talked about the opportunity to influence recovery plans from the pandemic to ensure a green recovery and called on Governments to listen more to the youth voice, as they are not just the future leaders, but the present leaders on this global challenge. Delegates heard from a multitude of young people, including an incredibly passionate 9-year old, Licypriya Kangujam from India, that said age doesn’t matter when it comes to activism – we all need to wake up to the dangers of the climate crisis.
Alok Sharma, President of COP26, and BEIS minister, applauded the dedication of the young people that had organised Mock COP26, and agreed they were leading the charge. He urged everyone to listen to a more diverse range of voices when it comes to discussion and decisions on the climate crisis. Alok called on young people to keep up the momentum and advocacy for climate action in their home countries, as it makes it easier to push for more ambitious commitments at a policy level. 
The third plenary of the day focused on the future of global research and had expert panellists to enable good discussion on this key topic. Dr Kate Hamer, Deputy Director International at UKRI chaired the session, starting with an overview of UKRI and the role of research and funders. In terms of the future of global research itself, Kate outlined how UKRI will fund missions orientated research, support responsible investment, catalyse collaboration, and ensure there is equitable partnerships, among other areas of focus. Kate said it was also important as an organisation to set a good example, and discussed UKRI’s sustainability strategy which shows how they will reach Net Zero by 2040.
Dr Gansen Pillay, Deputy Chief Executive of South Africa's National Research Foundation then looked at how Covid-19 has allowed us to reflect on what we thought was normal, which in turn has allowed us to look at the future in a different way. Gansen suggested that the future is not what it used to be and researchers must reinvent the future through tools like systems analysis.  Furthermore, he added research must have a positive impact on society and researchers must collaborate empathetically. Delegates are invited to read more about this in a paper published yesterday, co-authored by Dr Gansen Pillay, titled ‘The changing role of funders in responsible research assessment: progress, obstacles and the way ahead’.
Professor Katherine Richardson, Professor of Biological Oceanography at University of Copenhagen started her presentation by stating she was likely to be controversial. Katherine stated that we need to change the way we do research, as the research being conducted today cannot deliver the needs of tomorrow. Katherine went on to say that research to support societal development has been too focused on ‘sector’ rather than ‘systems’ – and suggests using the SDG framework as a way to make this transition. While the content of the SDGs is not new, the interactions and intersectionality between the goals is new. Katherine talked about ‘wicked’ problems, and the need to move away from research that looks at areas with high factual certainty and high socio-political agreement, and towards contested knowledge gaps in which scientific and societal actors jointly define problems and co-produce knowledge and solutions guided by equality. Wicked problems might include inclusive energy, decarbonisation, sustainable food, equitable trade and investment flows, etc. Ultimately, Katherine called on researchers to maximise synergies, as iinterpreting single problems usually creates more problems and counteracts the solving of challenges. The SDGs should be used as a joint compass for guiding research. Katherine mentioned a research paper in case delegates would like further information; 'Expansion of sustainability science needed for the SDGs'. 
Dr. Marcos Regis da Silva, Executive Director at Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research was the final speaker on the session and he echoed the need for more synergy in research. Marcos called for more global cooperation to solve global challenges, and discussed the interface between science and policy and how we translate one into the other. 
After this plenary wrapped up, follow an interesting Q&A, there were several workshops for delegates to choose between. These ranged from reimagining the FHE sector without air travel to an interactive session on sustainability leadership. 
The day was capped off by a leadership roundtable sponsored by Ditto Sustainability on ‘Achieving Net Zero and a Sustainable Pandemic Recovery’. Chaired by Rob Bresler, Technical Director at Ditto Sustainability the roundtable saw attendees discuss crucial questions around who is driving net-zero in institutions, how we ensure a sustainable recovery from the pandemic, how changes implemented are impactful and have influence, and how do we gain consistency and transparency of Scope 3 reporting. 

Delegate are reminded that they will have access to the recordings of plenaries for 30 days on the conference platform, so do make the most of these! We look forward to the final day of the conference - don't miss it!
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