Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Knowledge and Research Exchange
After an extraordinary seven-hour journey by train to Edinburgh (an extreme climate event causing fallen trees in the Peterborough area) and an onward commute to Glasgow, I joined some 40,000 people from all over the world and a whole host of protestors to experience COP26.
Boris Johnson’s speech to the assembled world leaders in the opening ceremony drew attention to Glasgow, where James Watt developed the first coal-fired steam engine in 1765, a technology acknowledged as the starting point for the industrial revolution and from when the origins of increasing carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere are traced. This fact brought into sharp focus our very direct responsibility in the UK to act decisively as we stand on the precipice of climate emergency and catastrophe that will surely unfold if we hesitate.
I was struck, for all the criticism of the event and doubt as to whether meaningful and delivered action will be realised from COP26, by the extraordinary range of people, countries, organisations, businesses, NGOs, academics, activists, country delegations and indigenous peoples, all gathered in a single place to witness and shape our future actions to prevent global heating rising.
During the conference, we shared the university's discoveries to inform the debate. As Europe’s leading aviation research university, in particular we highlighted our research in support of net zero aviation.
We also highlighted the response of our six Beacons of Excellence to climate change. Two beacons, Green Chemicals and Propulsion Futures, are having a direct impact in progress towards net zero: securing a skills-rich bioeconomy and the greening of aviation, while Future Food is highlighting the challenge of feeding a growing population in the face of climate change.
COP26 may go down in history as a missed opportunity, with the world’s leaders failing to deliver a roadmap to keep global warming to 1.5 °C by the end of this century. But the conference did bring to the forefront the need to commit our resources, intelligence and capabilities towards solving the climate emergency.
By anticipating the hurdles ahead, our researchers will be ready to offer solutions. Our new research strategy, to be published at the end of this year, will enhance our ability to deliver strategic responses to the climate crisis and other great challenges.
As an institution we embed sustainability in all that we do, and I am proud of the contribution of everyone across our campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia as we continue to make a difference in addressing the greatest challenge of our time.