University research plays ‘vital role’ in fighting climate change

A leading UK Government minister has highlighted the ‘vital role’ which University research plays in delivering global climate change goals.

Alok Sharma MP is President for COP26, the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference due to be held in Glasgow this November, where climate researchers, policy-makers and world leaders will come together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Speaking at the Climate Exp0 conference, he underlined the impact of the work undertaken by the COP26 Universities Network, of which the University of Leicester is part.

He said: “Over the years, it is academic evidence, research and rigour that have helped to make the case for climate action, to push the issue up the political agenda, and to shape the world’s response to it.

“And today, I am asking the global academic community to deploy that research and that rigour, through innovations and insights, to help us deliver on our aims for COP26.

“These campaigns are driving progress in five areas where action is absolutely vital: on adaption, on finance, nature-based solutions, clean energy and clean transport.”

Mr Sharma was addressing the conference, taking place six months ahead of COP26 in order to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the main forum.

Professor Susan Page, from the University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, shared leading research into using peatland environments to capture carbon as one form of nature-based solution.

Peatlands – a type of wetland, where vegetation is stopped from fully breaking down – cover around 3% of the global land surface, and are estimated to store around 650 billion tonnes of carbon, around 100 billion tonnes more than all world vegetation combined.

Professor Page explained: “Peatlands are amongst the world’s most efficient natural systems for carbon capture and storage. In a natural condition, they are capable of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in peat deposits over long, millennial timescales, providing a substantial nature-based solution to climate change.

“A large part of the world’s peatlands remain in a natural state, with only 15% affected by human disturbances. But they are such carbon-dense ecosystems that drained peatlands are responsible globally for around 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our research focuses both on studying natural peatland systems, but also on finding ways in which drained peatlands can be managed to avoid future greenhouse gas emissions as a nature-based pathway to climate change mitigation. This involves working not only with other peatland scientists, but also with land managers and policy makers”.

The University of Leicester plays a prominent role in peatland research, as policy-makers look to make better use of this highly efficient resource. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs this week published the England Peat Action Plan, which sets out the government’s long-term vision for the management, protection and restoration of peatland.

As part of this, Professor Page is a member of the newly-established Lowland Agricultural Peat Task Force for eastern England, where she is able to contribute scientific expertise based on on-going research being undertaken within the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment on greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural peatlands and opportunities for emissions mitigation.

Earlier this year the University was ranked in the top 2% of global institutions for its contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the form of research, outreach and operations designed to sustain our world.