Several university research projects are featuring at COP26, with one ecological partnership being described as ‘exemplary’ and appearing in a virtual reality exhibition, running concurrently with the conference.
The Natural Capital Laboratory (NCL) is a high-tech rewilding project, restoring native forest and peatlands and reintroducing locally extinct species to 100 acres of land in the Scottish Highlands.
NCL unites scientists, conservationists and environmental experts to monitor environmental change and measure the value created by a real-world nature-based solution.
The team uses remote sensing, drones, augmented reality and eDNA, DNA collected from environmental samples such as air, soil or water to monitor environmental change.
The project is one of 17 exemplary and sustainable projects featuring in Build Better Now, a virtual reality (VR) online exhibition demonstrating the opportunities for tackling climate emergency and limiting the environmental impact of buildings and cities.
Build Better Now will act as a global call for climate action and is supported by a coalition of over 100 partner organisations from the built environment industry.
NCL is not the only University of Cumbria project addressing issues of climate change to feature in the exhibition pavilions at COP26.
Peatland restoration pioneer and university Professor of Practice Dr Jane Barker has accepted an invitation from the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Andrew Millar to give a talk about the ‘Culture of Horticultural Peat’ on 12 November, the final day of COP26.
Peatlands are the world’s largest carbon store. Their degradation and loss are significant contributors of greenhouse gases.
Dr Barker is founder of Barker & Bland Ltd, a specialist peatland restoration company and pioneering peat-free compost manufacturer in the Lake District using carbon capture crops and wool. She is collaborating on several research and creative restoration projects with academics and PhD students at the University of Cumbria.
Future of Treescapes, a three-year £10.5 million UK programme exploring how trees can help the UK reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions, features at the conference.
Academics from the University of Cumbria’s Institute of Science, Natural Resources and Outdoor Studies are involved in two of the six funded university partnership projects*.
‘Voices of the Future’ aims to link young people’s hopes to ground-breaking science on how trees adapt to and limit climate change.
The team at the University of Cumbria provides the scientific underpinning to the project, applying innovative imaging to enable calculation of carbon capture and storage within urban treescapes, using this to make children and young people visually aware of their evolving carbon footprints.
A video about the project is being shown at COP26 by UK Research and Innovations, who funded the £10 million Treescapes programme.
The Creative Adaptive Solutions for Treescapes of Rivers (CASTOR) is focused on restoring woodland adjacent to 240,000 km of rivers and streams in England whilst also meeting the UK government's target of increasing tree cover by 17% by 2050, while contributing to increased carbon storage, flood prevention and other environmental benefits.
Many of the projects originate from the university’s Institute of Science and Environment and its Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas. They provide a varied portfolio of courses, research and knowledge exchange that inspire and enable individuals and organisations to make informed decisions and take effective action to protect, support and enhance the environment.
Helen Manns, Director of Institute of Science and Environment that also houses the National School of Forestry said:
“Taking action now to address the effects of climate change is vital and urgent. We can all play a part by taking personal action and by supporting change in organisations and communities we associate with. The sheer number of projects exhibited at COP26 indicates the relevance of our research, which is often at the forefront of climate science.
“As well as the projects featured at COP26, we are supporting regional businesses to innovate and reduce their carbon impacts through the Eco-I North West project, while the significant role that nature plays in supporting a low carbon future is a key theme of many of our degree programmes, such as forestry, conservation and geography.
“In addition, we have signed the COP26 Educators’ Commitment to Climate Action pledge that commits the university to embed climate and ecological learning in its curriculum.”
The university will map the UN’s sustainability goals to the curriculum taught in its Institute of Science and Environment in a pilot scheme initially, with the view of rolling out across the rest of university in the future.
Sustainability and carbon reduction is a key focus of the University of Cumbria’s ten-year strategy, which aims to address the climatic implications and opportunities of its research, curriculum, and operations.
It has updated its carbon management plan with revised targets and roadmap to inform the ultimate goal of net zero emissions, having significantly cut direct and indirect carbon emissions over the last ten years.