As COP26 approaches this month, the world’s attention turns to policy makers for radical declarations, innovative interventions and robust pledges to help tackle the global climate crisis. It is hugely positive for the UK to be hosting 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, however, for COP26 to be recognised as an international success, the UK needs to lead the way in commitment to policy change and investment in research and practice to inspire other nations to also commit to change. We will have to wait and see whether the necessary ambition and commitments are realised at the meeting.
The University of Birmingham is leading research to help mitigate and adapt to the risks and impacts associated with climate change. We are working with policy makers to transform health, the environment and society – supporting people and the planet, and we are working together to explore the impact of, and mitigations for, climate change through many different disciplines.
Recently, we invited colleagues to submit articles on tackling the climate crisis. So, what do our researchers see as the main climate challenges we face today?
How will trees adapt to the increased levels of carbon expected the in the future? Will they absorb it? Will higher concentrations of carbon dioxide change tree susceptibility and resilience to pests and disease – are the ‘air purifiers’ of our planet that we are investing so much faith in going to help? Members of the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research are exploring these questions, helping to inform future forest policy nationally and internationally. We are also investigating novel mechanisms to monitor climate change. For example, the use of freshwater biofilms as early warning systems for the combined impacts of climate change and particle pollution.
Energy transition is a key driver of climate change, and a hugely important area of research at Birmingham. The team at the Birmingham Energy Institute are creating technology and guiding policy which will shape the energy solutions of tomorrow. We know that fossil fuel subsidies are major obstacles to tackling climate change. Colleagues in the Birmingham Law School have suggested recognition and a clear plan of action to reform fossil fuel subsidies is essential for the UK to have any moral authority to urge its guests to take action against their fossil fuel subsidies at the COP26. Our research is also tackling how to reduce global temperatures through decarbonisation of heat.
In terms of the built environment, we are exploring the profound governance challenges with the conjunction of the deepening housing crisis, climate change and the crisis of Covid-19 and the associated lockdowns. Colleagues from different disciplines have come together to discuss how decarbonising cities requires the alignment of alterations in transport, employment, spatial planning, and architecture to encourage change in social norms and related behaviour. In addition, research in the Business School explores the amenity value of climate, and how households in different locations may have very different views of climate change.
Clean transport is an important part of our climate change research. The HydroFLEX project is a UK first, demonstrating how hydrogen could be deployed across the rail network to offer a cleaner alternative to current diesel trains. Furthermore, our researchers are looking at new ways to embed climate change adaptation as business as usual within the railway sector. The University of Birmingham is forging international, interdisciplinary partnerships to help meet the global challenge of air pollution, in order to control emissions and reduce public-health impacts. Our research explores how clean air can bring local synergies to the global climate challenge.
Our colleagues in the Business School are tackling how behavioural science and behavioural economics offer additional insights into how we can make carbon pricing more effective on the path to carbon neutrality. From a legal perspective, we are exploring climate change governance and environmental justice, and put forward an argument that climate change constitutes a human rights violation of epic proportions.
How are we going to change our behaviour, can arts and humanities win over hearts and broaden minds in the struggle to halt climate change and reverse the destruction of the natural world?
The climate crisis is global, affecting all people and the entire planet, and the mitigations required to address the crisis cannot be achieved through scientific development alone. As with all global challenges, truly multidisciplinary, collaborative efforts are required to make a difference. And only by universities working together with businesses, policy makers and society will real-life, effective and sustainable solutions be realised.
Read the full Addressing the Climate Challenge Report online.