GSI Seminar Series: Dr Kirsty Lewis – Science for Adaption and Resilience Action: A development perspective

Taken from Daneen Cowling’s (GSI Seminar Co-Ordinator’s) Blog 

Our seminar on 26th May hosted Dr Kirsty Lewis, who gave a talk on her experience and research and policy priorities of a Science for Adaption and Resilience action with a development perspective. Dr Lewis talked through the needs of evolving climate change research in relation to resilient development, and how central adaption and mitigation will be to not only being climate change resilient but also achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). In Her talk, Dr Lewis laid out how these priorities for research can be important for policy and action, as well as fostering an interdisciplinary approach.


Dr Kirsty Lewis is a Climate Science Advisor and is part of the Research and Evidence Division of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development. Dr Lewis is also Climate Security Science Manager at the Met Office, and will soon be joining the GSI. Dr Lewis is specialised in Climate Security and is informing several UK govt and international development and climate resilience projects.


Dr Lewis began by introducing the current priorities of academic research and government aid. Dr lewis explained how aid budgets are assessed against climate risk assurance to understand how well money was utilised to work for climate adaption and resilience. Dr Lewis exemplified this with current UK spending priorities, and how there is a growing shift in discourse to a realisation of the need for adaption and mitigation.

Dr Lewis then explained these priorities in relation to research and how they translate to current climate change research priorities. It is clear that adaption and mitigation are required to build the more realistic and complete picture of the future, and to not exclude and only assess the physical impacts. Further, tackling climate change this way will be crucial to even address the SDG’s – as it’s influence sweeps across economical, social and cultural systems of society. Hence, it can not be regarded as an isolated driver of change. It is therefore apparent we have reached yet another critical point – policy and action must include mitigation and adaption, or we threaten reversing all SDG achievements.


Dr Lewis then went on to explain examples of successful Science into Action. Science producing direct action in response to emergency not only provides fast data mobilisation and operationalisation, it can also optimise systems for future climate change. So what does all this mean for research? Dr Lewis arrived at a Climate Risk Framing, and the importance of:

  • Exposure
  • Vulnerability
  • Sensitivity
  • Coping capacity (Systems that deepen rather than emphasise sensitivity)

Climate risk can be summarised by: Hazard x Exposure x Vulnerability

However, Hazard is the common focus for climate research (e.g. the different CO2 scenarios). Exposure and Vulnerability inform the Adaption action – which for development should be in the context of the Hazard. This, Dr Lewis argues, should motivate a different priority of why we do climate research, to understand how much we can constrain an operating space for decision making. Dr Lewis does note that a current limitation to achieving this is the type of data available – much of the hazard data is quantitative, while the socioeconomic change that informs exposure and vulnerability is harder to constrain. This demonstrates the need for more interdisciplinary science.


Dr Lewis concluded with introducing some projects and alliances that are working to create research frameworks that have a focus on climate adaption and resilience. Dr Lewis summarises with three main priorities for climate adaption and resilience science action:

  1. Risk informed early action
  2. Developing in a changing climate
  3. Understand climate risk

For information on these projects, the questions posed to Dr Kirsty Lewis and the seminar in full, the recording is available here.

Please keep up to date with GSI events via the websiteTwitterLinkedIn, or join the mailing list by contacting infoGSI@exeter.ac.uk.

GSI Seminar Series: Laurie Laybourn-Langton: Entering the storm; the policy and political challenges of the next stage of environmental crisis

Taken from GSI Seminar coordinator Daneen Cowling’s blog post 

For our seminar 19th May, the GSI hosted Laurie Laybourn-Langton, who gave a talk Entering the storm: the policy and political challenges of the next stage of environmental crisis. Laurie spoke about overall strategy and where we stand in  restoring the natural world and dealing with the adverse consequences of climate change change. Laurie examined the current strategies in in place in relation to mitigation, adaptation, and how we mediate with the suffering. Laurie puts forward his argument that current policies do not constitute the required emergency response and aren’t live to the impacts that will grow with time, hence more explicit work is needed to ensure policies are robust to these consequences.


Laurie is an Associate Fellow, Responding to Environmental Breakdown at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a trustee of the New Economics Foundation, and currently a Visiting Fellow at the GSI. Laurie has worked on political economy and how shifts occur in economic ideas and policies, the role and power of digital platforms, and mobility transitions. Laurie also has an expertise in environmental breakdown, which he is applying as co-authoring a book on how to build a politics capable of responding to environmental breakdown.


Laurie gave his talk through a series of personal experiences, including provocative imagery to communicate the urgency and emotive elements of the crisis. Laurie introduced with the context that through human activities destabilising so many systems, we are now ‘well into the storm’. This also conseqwuence of politics and policy not recognising the pace and depth of the environmental emergency. Through his and colleagues experiences, Laurie noted how there has been a shift in how those that advocate climate change action have shifted from a cautious front of not to be too negative to put off people, to a new, re-energerised movment of recent climate protests. This has had the impact of helping the way discussions within political circles can be had, with the new attention, priority and energy being given.

Laurie then highlighted the transitions of the framings and narratives around the climate change emergency. From around 2018 there was a shift in framing to apply a binary target of ’12 years to save the Earth’ to not exceed with the 1.5 temperature rise, or else risk catastrophic global disaster. But, use of this framing could obscure the truth about being in this climate emergency storm.

Laurie questioned this language in the context of whether we have a credible strategy for repairing and restabilising? Emphasis on the framings of the targets and the threat of surpassing a 1.5 degree warming, misses the key point about the mitigation strategies then needed. Laurie also questions whether we have such a strategy in place to meet much of the Net Zero pledges. Key to reaching goals for Net zero, there is a reliance on technologies. But there is no global strategy in place to support this, and questions still remain whether we can accept the risks and inevitable mortalities to come from our close future. Laurie then demonstrated the current timeline put forward for Net Zero by 2050, highlighting how the status quo of policies are characterised as swapping dirty technologies for clean technologies – without change in behaviours. But this carries with it 3 major problems:

  • Consumption: Do we have enough of the overall environmental budget to swap all current dirty tech for clean, while also maintaining growth
  • Power: Can we follow this Net Zero trend with the current attitude toward debt and deficit? Specifically in the global South, where debt is largely limiting mitigation they can introduce. Hence, is the current power balance enoough?
  • Fairness: Can we achieve levels of cooperation needed in a high in-equality world?

It is then clear, we cannot do what is needed for the tasks at hand, with the current social, political and economical structures.


Laurie then posed the question of how we will continue to fight for these transformative changes, in a world that is to become more de-stabilised? Laurie began by unpicking a quote and critiquing the use of the phrase ‘too late’. Laurie then flagged how the median age of politicians in the UK, is round 50. Younger generations such as millennials and gen-z, will have to live through these ‘too late’ futures, carry the struggles and to not only introduce and win systemic change, but also to implement and maintain it. This creates a vast multi-generational project to re-stabilise and restore the natural world. The binary view of the future does not accurately represent the complexities of feedbacks and impacts, and so no future can be certain or known. This is also because threats and impacts go beyond the local – risk cannot be compartmentalised, impacts ripple outwards and interacts with the social, political and economic contexts. In many systems which are already highly vulnerable, are we operating in a resilient world? This sometimes gets presented as edging us towards a cliff-edge of societal collapse from environmental disaster – but looking at varying degrees of de-stabilisation already happening around the world, it is a far more complex situation than a Hollywood film portrayal. Instead of a cliff -edge, it could be better imaging we are moving off the smooth road we have travelled for many years, onto a bumpier topography.


Laurie concluded with explaining the need to develop more robust political systems, leadership practice and advocacy. Laurie also introduced his new project to help address the problems highlighted in his talk. For information on this project, the questions posed to Laurie and his seminar in full, the recording is available here.

Please keep up to date with GSI events via the websiteTwitterLinkedIn, or join the mailing list by contacting infoGSI@exeter.ac.uk.

GSI Member News: Mat Collins, New Field Chief Editor of the Frontiers in Climate Journal

Professor Mat Collins has been appointed Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Climate . The journal is organized into specialty sections in Climate and Economics; Climate Law and Policy; Climate Risk Management; Climate Services; Climate, Ecology and People; Negative Emissions Technologies and Predictions and Projections. The main way the journal accepts submissions is through curated Research Topics that collect articles under a common theme. Current diverse topics range from Machine Learning for Climate Predictions and Projections to Carbon Pricing and Trading. The journal is completely Open Access and the University has entered into an institutional agreement with Frontiers that we can publish free of charge. If you are interested in proposing a Research Topic, please contact Mat.

Contact details 

The South West Climate Action Network (SWeCAN)

The University of Exeter’s Innovation, Impact and Business (IIB) team have recruited a new Impact and Development Partnership Officer (IDPO) to expand SWeCAN, the South West Environment and Climate Action Network.

Organisations and individuals across Cornwall, Devon and the wider region are invited to indicate their interest in joining the system-wide network, and share ideas for how it can support innovative activity inside and outside the university. Anyone can be involved, from local authorities, charities and individuals to international business in the region or local SMEs.

The network will bring together research and tools to support decarbonisation and environmental gain with partners from businesses and communities to policy-makers and institutions. It will serve as a repository for existing and future developments and services, including the recently launched Impact tool to measure and compare local carbon footprints.

“We are hugely excited about the potential of SWeCAN to identify and respond to gaps in the existing inter-disciplinary and cross-sectoral work already taking place across the South West,”

 

“We have world-renowned research taking place on our doorstep, and SWeCAN will bring the capacity and perspective to translate this into practical actions that are accessible to businesses, local government, community groups and more. As well as responding to the current interconnected challenges being faced in our region, and in the wider world, we have an unprecedented opportunity to think ahead and co-create new systems to shape what happens next.”

 (Peter Lefort, the new IDPO responsible for developing the network)

The University of Exeter is perfectly placed to develop a network to support organisations across the South West, being amongst the first Universities in the UK to declare a Climate and Environment Emergency in 2019. There are hundreds of academics working in climate science and related disciplines, including the top five most influential climate scientists in the UK according to the Reuters Hot List. In November 2020, their Climate Emergency Working Group has won the sustainability category of the Guardian University Awards.

Information on upcoming events, membership details and other ways to get involved will be launched on a new website in the coming months. In the meantime, anyone who is interested to find out more and discuss how SWeCAN could support their work can contact Peter at .

‘Some Meat Eaters Disgusted by Meat’

New connection found between meat intake and meat disgust that could be useful for future interventions to reduce meat intake 

Research coming out of the University of Exeter has found that feelings of disgust towards meat, something previously only thought to exist in vegetarians, might play a key part in how much meat omnivores and flexitarians eat. The impact of livestock farming on our climate and global ecosystems presents an urgent challenge to reduce the consumption of meat. More and more research is now aimed at finding factors that help people reduce their meat intake.  

In a new study published in the journal ‘Appetite’:Meat disgust is negatively associated with meat intake – Evidence from a cross-sectional and longitudinal study’ Elisa Becker and Prof Natalia Lawrence surveyed over 700 people and measured their meat intake levels, and different predictors thereof – including two measures of meat disgust. Surprisingly, meat intake levels were predicted to an extent by feelings of meat disgust, even in omnivores and flexitarians: 

“These meat eating groups were not previously thought to experience any meat disgust at all”

Elisa Becker, of the University of Exeter told BBC Radio Devon: 

“We found that 3% of omnivores and 15% of flexitarians experience what we would class as robust levels of meat disgust.”

This novel finding could be a game changer for future meat consumption interventions. Based on the findings, the researchers say harnessing the “yuk factor” may be more effective than relying on willpower for anyone who wants to eat less meat. Elisa Becker, of the University of Exeter said: 

“We were surprised to find that so many people are grossed out by meat – even people who eat meat all the time,”  

Prof Natalia Lawrence who is part of the Global Systems Institutes has previously developed interventions that aim to increase people’s control over impulsive food choices, including meat. Together with Elisa Becker, she is now looking to combine these interventions with an element of disgust. She said: 

not everyone wants to reduce their meat consumption — but for those who do, we are working on computer tasks that might help them harness the power of disgust in a fun way.” 

Find out more  

Photo source: Pixabay · Photography (pexels.com) 

A Global Force in Climate Research

In April 2021 Reuters identified and ranked 1,000 climate scientists according to the influential power of their research. Six Global Systems Institute, University of Exeter members made the top 100. The following introduces them through a current research publication.

Professor Pierre Friedlingstein Chair of the Mathematical Modelling of the Climate System

Publication: Fossil CO2 emissions in the post-COVID-19 era- Nature Climate Change 

Five years after the adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement, growth in global CO2 emissions has begun to falter. The pervasive disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic have radically altered the trajectory of global CO2 emissions. Contradictory effects of the post-COVID-19 investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure and the recent strengthening of climate targets must be addressed with new policy choices to sustain a decline in global emissions in the post-COVID-19 era.

Professor Stephen Sitch – Chair in Climate Change

Publication: Carbon loss from forest degradation exceeds that from deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon-Nature Climate  Change

Spatial–temporal dynamics of aboveground biomass (AGB) and forest area affect the carbon cycle, climate and biodiversity in the Brazilian Amazon. Here we investigate interannual changes in AGB and forest area by analysing satellite-based annual AGB and forest area datasets. We found that the gross forest area loss was larger in 2019 than in 2015, possibly due to recent loosening of forest protection policies. However, the net AGB loss was three times smaller in 2019 than in 2015. During 2010–2019, the Brazilian Amazon had a cumulative gross loss of 4.45 Pg C against a gross gain of 3.78 Pg C, resulting in a net AGB loss of 0.67 Pg C. Forest degradation (73%) contributed three times more to the gross AGB loss than deforestation (27%), given that the areal extent of degradation exceeds that of deforestation. This indicates that forest degradation has become the largest process driving carbon loss and should become a higher policy priority.

 “Yet our study shows how emissions from associated forest degradation processes can be even larger.

“Degradation is a pervasive threat to future forest integrity and requires urgent research attention.”

 

Professor Richard Betts Head of Climate Impact Research in the Met Office and Chair in Climate Impacts

Publication: Atmospheric carbon dioxide at record high levels despite reduced emissions in 2020- Met Office

Carbon dioxide has continued to build up in the atmosphere and is now 50% higher than before the industrial revolution. The latest measurements released by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego  show that the atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii, are now at record levels. The average for March 2021 was 417.14 parts per million (ppm), which is 50% higher than the average for 1750-1800. Independent measurements by NOAA also show record CO2 levels. The Met Office predicts monthly CO2 concentrations in 2021 to peak at 419.5 ± 0.6 ppm in May (Figure 1). This is despite a temporary reduction in global emissions last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Neil Adger  Professor of Human Geography.

Publication: Political dynamics and governance of World Heritage ecosystems – Nature Sustainability

Political dynamics across scales are often overlooked in the design, implementation and evaluation of environmental governance. We provide new evidence to explain how interactions between international organizations and national governments shape environmental governance and outcomes for 238 World Heritage ecosystems, on the basis of a new intervention–response–outcome typology. We analyse interactions between the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and 102 national governments responsible for implementing ecosystem protection under the World Heritage Convention between 1972 and 2019. We combine data on the reporting, deliberation and certification of individual ecosystem-level threats, with data on national governance quality, economic complexity and key stakeholder perspectives. We find that the extent of threatened ecosystems is seriously underestimated and that efforts to formally certify threatened ecosystems are often resisted by national governments. A range of responses to international intervention, including both productive and counterproductive responses, generates material impacts at the ecosystem level. Counterproductive responses occur in nations dependent on limited high-value natural resource industries, irrespective of overall level of economic development. We identify new political approaches to improve environmental governance, including how to overcome the problem of regulatory capture. Our findings inform how we can better anticipate and account for political dynamics in environmental governance.

Professor Peter Cox – Professor – Climate System Dynamics

Publication: A spatial emergent constraint on the sensitivity of soil carbon turnover to global warming – Nature Communications

Carbon cycle feedbacks represent large uncertainties in climate change projections, and the response of soil carbon to climate change contributes the greatest uncertainty to this. Future changes in soil carbon depend on changes in litter and root inputs from plants and especially on reductions in the turnover time of soil carbon (τs) with warming. An approximation to the latter term for the top one metre of soil (ΔCs,τ) can be diagnosed from projections made with the CMIP6 and CMIP5 Earth System Models (ESMs), and is found to span a large range even at 2 °C of global warming (−196 ± 117 PgC). Here, we present a constraint on ΔCs,τ, which makes use of current heterotrophic respiration and the spatial variability of τs inferred from observations. This spatial emergent constraint allows us to halve the uncertainty in ΔCs,τ at 2 °C to −232 ± 52 PgC.

“We have reduced the uncertainty in this climate change response, which is vital to calculating an accurate global carbon budget and successfully meeting Paris Agreement targets.”


Professor Tim Lenton  – GSI Director, Chair in Climate Change and Earth Systems Science  

All options, not silver bullets, needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C: a scenario appraisal – IOPscience

Climate science provides strong evidence of the necessity of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. The IPCC 1.5°C special report (SR1.5) presents 414 emissions scenarios modelled for the report, of which around 50 are classified as ‘1.5°C scenarios’, with no or low temperature overshoot. These emission scenarios differ in their reliance on individual mitigation levers, including reduction of global energy demand, decarbonisation of energy production, development of land-management systems, and the pace and scale of deploying carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies. The reliance of 1.5°C scenarios on these levers needs to be critically assessed in light of the potentials of the relevant technologies and roll-out plans. We use a set of five parameters to bundle and characterise the mitigation levers employed in the SR1.5 1.5°C scenarios. For each of these levers, we draw on the literature to define ‘medium’ and ‘high’ upper bounds that delineate between their ‘reasonable’, ‘challenging’ and ‘speculative’ use by mid century. We do not find any 1.5°C scenarios that stay within all medium upper bounds on the five mitigation levers. Scenarios most frequently ‘over use’ carbon dioxide removal with geological storage as a mitigation lever, whilst reductions of energy demand and carbon intensity of energy production are ‘over used’ less frequently. If we allow mitigation levers to be employed up to our high upper bounds, we are left with 22 of the SR1.5 1.5°C scenarios with no or low overshoot. The scenarios that fulfill these criteria are characterised by greater coverage of the available mitigation levers than those scenarios that exceed at least one of the high upper bounds. When excluding the two scenarios that exceed the SR1.5 carbon budget for limiting global warming to 1.5°C, this subset of 1.5°C scenarios shows a range of 15-22 Gt CO2 (16-22 Gt CO2 interquartile range) for emissions in 2030. For the year of reaching net zero CO2 emissions the range is 2039-2061 (2049-2057 interquartile range).

“This calls for an immediate acceleration of worldwide action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all available means,”

 

GSI Seminar Series Workshop Special – Tim Lenton: Positive Tipping

Taken from Daneen Cowling’s Blog 

On 5th May we kicked off our summer seminar series. This seminar was a special hosted by our GSI Director Professor Tim Lenton. Tim hosted a workshop on Positive Tipping Points; sources of hope within our societal and economic structures, leading on from a brief introduction he gave outlining the progress and research on these tipping points and their potential. Tim’s talk triggered it’s own tipping point of engaged discussions and enthusiasm for the research and projects. These discussions continued in short break-out room sessions which was a great opportunity to share the diversity in ideas and experiences of the topics raised. The event ignited an enthusiasm for Positive Tipping Points, which we hope has wet the apatite for more sessions on these themes.


Professor Tim Lenton has been a leader in researching the Earth System and the feedbacks and tipping points that have influence on climate changes, past and present. Now as Director of the GSI at the University of Exeter, Tim is channeling new visions to invest research energy to systems-thinking solutions. To find out more about Tims leading direction of the GSI, see this blog post.


Tim introduced Positive Tipping Points with a concise but incredibly informative 30 minute talk, covering an array of hot topics of climate change solution transformations. The talk started with an examination of familiar Earth System Tipping Points that have been identified through deep time, and predicted to occur in the future. But, as important as this research is – what good is coming from prioritisation of understanding of the problems without giving equal/more attention to the solutions.

Tim argued that there is a desperate need to now understand how social tipping points can be triggered. It is clear that to get to Net-Zero and out an of ecological emergency, the changes required need to happen as rapid transformations. So to meet this rate and magnitude, tipping points are needed.

Similar to natural tipping points, this would allow our current system state to tip into a new stable state. This will come once we cross thresholds of elements in the system, that will override the resistance of opposing forces and negative feedbacks that work to maintain the current system state. To demonstrate this, Tim showed an animation created by Chris Boulton to show the classic ball tipping out of a dip (business as usual), over a hill into a new dip (stable state). We therefore need to identify what are the self-propelling feedbacks, how strong they are, and how we can make them stronger.


But are positive feedbacks just a theory? Tim proved they are very much real and already have had impact, with several historical examples of social and technological tipping changes. One example, an image comparison of 5th Avenue, New York City, showing a single car immersed in horse-drawn carriages, to 13 years later, a single horse-draw carriage amongst a road full or cars. Image below.

Image source: http://www.icis.com. Picture comparisons of Easter Day parade in NYC and the transition to motor vehicles.

Other examples were also highlighted: Technology Adaption revealing trends from 1860-2019 showing a signature ‘S’ curve, a result of Economies of Scale (the more things being made = the cheaper they are to make), a reinforcing feedback (see Comin and Hobin, 2014). Social Contagion being an intrinsic reinforcing feedback in society, by imitation of each other to spread through society. The threshold of society to adopt new norms is said to be ~20%, this has been evidenced with the example of introduction and neighborhood adoption of roof solar panels.

Also shown was Tims recent work looking at trends, early warnings and tipping points in the car industry – specifically with Electronic Vehicles (EVs). Norway have exemplified a tipping point, now the difference in price of petrol has resulting in EV’s breaching a new share in the market, now at ~50%. Economies of scale have also played a part, with battery prices decreasing over time with the increase in sales, with a trend that suggests a EV’s will be the same price to manufacture than fuel combustion cars in 3 years, globally! Price of batteries has been a key reinforcing feedback to bring about this positive tipping point.


Who needs to come together to help things spread globally? Tim discussed this in the context of his work with Simon Sharpe (2021), and the importance of upward scaling tipping cascades – how reaching one tipping point can create opportunities for further tipping points. Tim used the example of the UK coal industry to highlight some of the triggers and tipping points that create transformative change. A combination of increased renewable power capacity, price of carbon production and policies putting pressure of coal use helped reduce the UK usage. From these changes came investor expectation changes, which then alters distribution of resource leading to irreversible events, such as the demolition of Didcot coal station. The rest of the world are increasingly becoming reliant on renewable sources of power, through interactions of economical, industry, social and political tipping points.


Tim then introduced the work with SystemIQ, to identify and understand positive tipping points in the Food and Land Systems. Again, reinforcing feedbacks are key to push towards a tipping point. Such reinforcing feedbacks can range from:

  • Economies of scale
  • Learning by Doing
  • Social Contagion
  • Positive Experience
  • Information Flow

A transition to positive tipping can exist as: Performance –> Price Convenience –> Cultural Norm –> Tipping Point. Transitions and tipping points can also be explored at smaller spatial scales – with research in collaboration with Pivot Project and City Future to use Exeter as a system to identify tipping points for sustainable futures, with work on the Exeter Living Lab.


Do we have power to predict and influence these tipping points? Using Early Warning Signals such as Ar-1 and Variance in a system could help us understand when we might be approaching a Positive Tipping Point, and what we need to focus on to nudge the system closer to threshold. Hence, change is to be deliberate and nudge the various elements of a system to reinforce feedbacks and create in momentum in the right direction.

Tim highlighted, this may help empower the public to feel part of the hope and power to change the course of climate change, just through actions they make within the complex system they exist in. Awareness that we do live in a complex system that is not and cannot be managed, but instead is a product of a full agency of feedbacks. This will involve a shift from the compartmentalized way of solution thinking and to trust in the things we cannot control. With this, we can move away from incremental change, but to the transformative change that is needed for the scale of problem.


Discussions around all these topics lead to some interesting conversations in the chat and short group sessions. The time to act was yesterday, but learning what is the best action, how we trigger it and when to apply pressure, will allow deliberative positive tipping. Local to global, social to political – all nudges and feedbacks that interact and cascade will allow a faster rate of transition.

To hear Tim’s talk in full, you watch it via YouTube here. Please note, discussions from breakout rooms is not included in the recording.


Given the success of the seminar and workshop, the GSI hopes to continue the conversations and momentum with more events and collaborations. Please keep up to date with GSI events via the websiteTwitterLinkedIn, or join the mailing list by contacting infoGSI@exeter.ac.uk

Earth Day Blog

History of Earth Day 

The first Earth Day was observed on April 22nd 1970 in the USA, providing a voice for emerging concerns around environmental degradation. Senator Gaylord Nelson, inspired by the energy of student anti-war protesters, and the emerging public consciousness around air and water pollution, began to form an idea for a day of activism and education across the USA. With the aid of Denis Hayes, a then young activist, they mobilised the student community, community organisations and faith groups to organise ‘Teach-In’ events and rallies. Earth Day inspired 20 million Americans to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate, making their voice heard around the deterioration of the environment.

In 1990 Denis Hayes was approached again to organise the first international Earth Day. Earth Day 1990 mobilised 200 million people in 141 countries and helped to pave the way for the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit. Today Earth Day is recognised by millions of people, governments and organisations globally. As awareness of the climate crisis, and disillusionment with the low-level climate commitments made my governments grows, people are beginning to rise and demand change and greater action to protect our planet. As with the 1970s, young people, students, activists and others are taking to the streets and utilising their digital presence to demand change. Let Earth Day 2021 become a day of focus, bringing people together, empowering, supporting, listening and learning from each other. #EarthDay2021

(Source of content: The History of Earth Day | Earth Day, Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels)

GSI Earth Day Focus: Tipping Positive Change

Recently the University of Exeter launched a set of four short films under the heading ‘Our Tipping Points are bringing change to the climate crisis.’ These films showcase the work of Professor Tim Lenton (Director of the GSI), Professor Zhongdong Wang (Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean for College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences), Professor Richard Cochrane, Professor Frank van Veen, Professor Toby Pennington, Professor Angela Gallego-Sala, Dr Tom Powell, Dr Jean-Francois Mercure and Dr Mi Tian. The following provides short insight to the information presented in this project. To view the full resource, follow this link:

Our Positive Tipping Points are bringing change to the climate crisis 

What are Positive Tipping Points?

In a time of climate and ecological emergency a lot has been made of ‘tipping points’, moments when a small change can trigger a large and often irreversible response. For example, the loss of the Amazon rainforest or West Antarctic ice sheet. ‘Positive tipping points’ identify sources of hope where humans can come together to identify and trigger transformative change towards sustainability.

“If we’re going to avoid the worst risks from climate Tipping Points, we need to identify and trigger positive social tipping points

(Professor Tim Lenton)

Potential Positive Tipping points

Power Generation

Within the UK the introduction of a carbon tax, EU emission scheme and increased power generation from renewables have combined to create a Positive Tipping Point. Within the last five years coal power has become unprofitable and dropped to almost zero. At the University of Exeter there is a lot of work going on in this area which the GSI can bring together through a multi-disciplinary approach. Reducing the cost of offshore wind and solar and improving energy storage to produce clean and affordable energy options will work towards further Positive Tipping Points. A major challenge the University of Exeter is currently working on is upgrading power networks to support renewables through decentralisation, decarbonisation, and digitalisation to achieve net-zero carbon emission by 2050.

“We need to control the network in such a way that we can take more and more renewable energy, and when generation is higher than demand we can store that energy or convert to support low-carbon transport.

(Professor Zhongdong Wang)

Switching to Electric Vehicles

Electric Vehicles are better for the environment than petrol or diesel but are more expensive (except in Norway where their progressive tax system has made them cheaper than comparable models). The more people buying electric vehicles the cheaper they will become, and more investment can be made into improving battery storage, the key contributor to the cost of such vehicles. This would lead to a Positive Tipping Point and reinforce positive feedback for clean energy production through the investment in improvements to battery storage of renewable energy, leading to an increase in renewable power generation, positively impacting the electrification of transport systems.

“Assuming the cost of EVs continues to fall, we expect the Positive Tipping Point quite soon – in the 2020s.

(Dr Jean-Francois Mercure)

Regenerate Ecosystems

Ecosystems are being degraded or destroyed globally with negative consequences for people, biodiversity and the climate. Positive Tipping Points in human society could transform our relationship with the natural system and sustain life on earth. University of Exeter Researchers are currently working on collaborative projects globally investigating the causes of ecosystem destruction and searching for solutions to make the future more sustainable. These include projects focused on the wildfires in Indonesia’s peatland, The International Small Group and Tree Planting Program in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and India, and the Inga Systems Tree-based tropical agriculture solutions focused on the ecosystems of Latin America. These projects all involve restoration work and rely on local people, organisations and governments for their success, recognising the influence humans have over the ecology of the land surface.

“We believe that the message of Positive Tipping Points can bring concrete hope that we can accelerate decarbonisation and stop the climate and ecological crisis.”

(Prof Tim Lenton)

Earth Day Resourses 

Respecting the ethos of the first Earth Day’s focus on ‘teach in’ the GSI Community has provided some interesting and exciting resources for you to access:

  • The Earth as a Healing Site – Podcast ‘Medicines of Uncertainty’ (slow radio of wellbeing)

Sarah Scaife is a PhD candidate in Performance Practice. In Sarah’s research the earth is often seen as a site of healing. In her recent podcast series ‘Medicines of Uncertainty (slow radio for wellbeing)’ she leads you on a conversation in the space between her, you and the so-called natural world. The programmes are created and recorded in South Devon, combining her own field recordings with samples from BBC Soundscapes for Wellbeing. 
Medic
ines of Uncertainty (slow radio for wellbeing)

  • IngaSystems: Tree-based tropical agriculture solutions

IngaSystems brings together three projects focused on agroforestry and silvopastoral systems in Latin America led from the University of Exeter. Scientists from Exeter, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and University of Edinburgh have teamed up with the Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV) to create a social approach to sustainable tropical agriculture. The projects support and encourage local communities to adopt sustainable farming methods that provide food security and income whilst simultaneously improving tree cover and soil conditions in one of the most degraded areas of Amazonia.

Project aims to apply state-of-the-art genetic approaches to identify the closest relatives of Inga edulis and other species already used in AF. These related species are the most likely to have characteristics suitable for AF. In consultation with stakeholders and smallholders, we have established growth trials of some of these species to ensure subsequent uptake and use.

This project focuses on solving the issue of Inga seed availability, which cannot be stored, by planting community seed orchards as a basis of scaling up Agroforestry (AF) and Silvopastoral (SPS) systems across Mato Grosso State, Brazil.  In addition, it will develop 20 family-farm, Inga-based SPS systems as demonstration projects, encouraging 250 families to adopt them as a means
of improving livestock feed productivity and to capitalise on rises in milk productivity. Working with our partner institution Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV), our ‘grass roots’ approach (involving smallholders in tree species selection and monitoring) can be scaled up regionally.

The research aims to better understand the current roles, strengths, and barriers to developing women’s social and economic autonomy and to increase the socio-economic impact of the agroforestry income-generating initiatives. It will investigate whether and how building on the strengths and overcoming the barriers / constraints can foster greater empowerment of women, and by association their families through developing sustainable incomes. It will also investigate to what extent these activities are enabling them to gain a stronger negotiating position and more influence in intra-household decision-making and income distribution.

  • Webinar: International Union for the Scientific Study of Population: Population, Food and the Environment: 09th April 2021 

A Summary of the Webinar by Dr Stewart Britten (External GSI community member) 

Predictions on whether the Earth will be able to feed a greatly expanded population have swung over time. The demographer John Bongaarts of the Population Council speaks of a period of pessimism, followed by one of optimism, which has more recently turned again to pessimism. The initial period of pessimism was no doubt influenced by the famine in China from 1959 to 1961, the biggest famine in history, and reached its climax after the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb in 1968. From about 1980, however, with the provision of family planning, the rate of growth of world population declined, and with it there was also a decline in poverty and malnutrition in much of the developing world, especially China and India. Concern about population then fell off the global agenda. (The webinar did not mention the United Nations Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, which kicked family planning into the long grass and so contributed to population falling off the global agenda.) The mood of optimism was, however, not to last. There was a return to pessimism from about 2000 to do with a number of factors. Global heating had turned out to be close to the most pessimistic predictions of the climatologists and rivers were running dry. Funding for family planning was reduced. With AIDS under better control, the population of Africa is projected to rise from one to four billion.

But debate is not just about facts. Optimists hold with some confidence to the view that until the end of this century there will be enough for all. They consider that some destruction of nature is acceptable and some increase of inequality is inevitable, though benefits will, they expect, trickle down. The pessimists pay more attention to the question of who benefits and who loses. Environmental degradation most affects the poorest and they forecast that many will starve. The optimists say we don’t need to calculate for rare events, the so called “black swans”, while the pessimists see interactions of, for example, climate change, disease and violent conflict, increasing the likelihood of catastrophic events. Predictions are largely a matter of what the forecasters choose to focus on and what they exclude. Some say, for example, that traditional economists exclude many factors as externalities, take natural resources for granted and fail to take account of the earth being finite.

Joint webinar in association with PAA. Population, Food and the Environment | International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (iussp.org)

  • Holistic Restoration – Introductory video and workbook 

Holistic Restoration offers a practical way to merge wildlife conservation and rewilding with the production of food, timber, fuel and fibre in a way that heals us and restores our world. Miriam McDonald and Rob Owen have provided a short introductory video and workbook to explain more:

Holistic Restoration – Home

  • Articles: Modern threats to environmental sustainability in the Arctic: Kyriaki Noussia

‘On Modern Threats to Environmental Sustainability in the Arctic: The Climate Change Factor‘

Dr Kyriaki Noussia On Modern Threats to Environmental Sustainability in the Arctic – The Centre for Science, Culture and the Law (ex.ac.uk)

The Cybersecurity Factor and the Provisions of Insurance Against Environmental and Cyber Risks in Oil.’

Dr Kyriaki Noussia On Modern Threats to Environmental Sustainability in the Arctic – The Centre for Science, Culture and the Law (ex.ac.uk)

  • Book: Of Earth for Earth: The meaning of a Mine: Kathryn Moore, Dana Finch, Bridget Storrie

This book provides a dialogue between artists, community representatives, industrialist and educators. It aims to inspire debates on human interactions with the Earth, while our consumption of resources grows and while the environments on which we depend face an uncertain future https://www.waterstones.com/book/of-earth-for-earth/kathryn-moore/dana-finch/9781527276628

  • Article: Atmospheric carbon dioxide at record high levels despite reduced emissions in 2020: Richard Betts

Atmospheric carbon dioxide at record high levels despite reduced emissions in 2020 – Met Office

  • Article: The natural capital framework for sustainably efficient and equitable decision making: Ian Bateman and Georgina Mace

The natural capital framework for sustainably efficient and equitable decision making | Nature Sustainability

  • Article: ‘Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap’: The Conversation: James DykeRobert WatsonWolfgang Knorr

Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap (theconversation.com)

 

 

GSI Policy Network and EEIST Project Lecture – Simon Sharpe: Deciding how to decide, to accelerate low carbon transitions

Taken from Daneen Cowling’s Blog 

March 4th GSI hosted a special joint seminar between the GSI Policy Network and the Economics and Energy Innovation and Systems Transition Group. Simon Sharpe gave an insightful and important talk on context and consequence of how governments make decision around policy, and how this shapes our effectiveness of addressing climate change. Given the speed required to act and the challenges that surround the need to globally decarbonise, a different approach of decision making is required. Simon Sharpe discusses the changes required.


Simon Sharpe is Deputy Director at the UK Government’s Cabinet Office COP26 Unit, where he leads on international campaigns to accelerate low carbon transition. He has had an extensive career collaborating internationally leading on climate change strategy and how governments can assess climate risk. Simon is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at UCL, a Policy Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy at Cambridge University, member of the UCL Policy Commission on the Communication of Climate Science, and on the advisory board of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity.


Simon introduced how decisions are shaped in government, laying out that a changing global economy that needs to change 5x faster to satisfy the Paris agreement, relies on the policy decisions. This amounts to 3 questions for decisions making:

  • Whether to act at all?
  • How much effort to make
  • Where to direct effort

These questions have been asked for most policy decisions, but responding to the requirements of climate change action is creating new assumptions and principles around these questions with new evidence contrasting to what was previously practiced.


Whether to act at all

Whether to act was previously asked in terms of whether the economy is changing and/or whether it can be optimised. Simon explained how the industrial strategy was to not act, with the assumption that unless there is market failure the economy is at an optimal state. Evidence opposes this, showing that constraints can actually accelerate innovation. For example; energy efficiency standards pushed prices down from the innovations that addressed new requirements. Simon highlighted that this not only shows the economy is therefore not in a optimum state, but also that tougher standards can achieve higher investment into innovation.

We can also see that economies change through their allocation (how quantities and prices defined) and formation (how economy emerges and grows). Through human history has witnessed an economy transition from stones to spaceships, as well as a secular increase in goods and services diversity. Simon then presented the idea that economy could be viewed as an evolving ecosystem. With a dynamic evolutionary view, constraints can shift resources from ecploitation to exploration – instead of creation distortion and inefficiency as argued in the static view. This creates the following:

New Assumptions

  • Economy has no optimal state
  • Always changing
  • Policy can influence the rate and direction of its evolution

New Principles

  • Act to prepare for change that is likely
  • Act to bring about change that is desirable
  • Act to avoid change that is undesirable

How much effort to make

Simon then explained how traditionally the decision of how much effort to make was devised, on the basis of a ‘machine’ economy that was predictable and made up of parts with one purpose. This was set on the principles to maximise the ratio of cost and benefit, and assess as single dimensions. With assumptions that future costs and benefits were predictable and quantifiable, and that value can be objectively converted. The realities of climate change contrast these ideas, especially as climate change impacts and solutions and technological advancements are uncertain. Further, value is contingent on the user, use and context. As a result, Simon puts forwards new assumptions and principles that adhere to this policy decision:

New Assumptions

  • Important future costs and benefits are uncertain
  • Value is contingent not intrinsic

New Principles

  • Assess risks and opportunities as well as costs and benefits
  • Assess outcomes in multiple dimensions

Where to direct the effort

Simon then discussed the final decision making question. Traditional principles and assumptions assessed options individually with minimal focus in effort application, as environments and relationships were unchanged by policy and economy was in equilibrium. In reality, the economy is a complex system of different component parts that are influenced by interactions and feedbacks. ‘Systems thinking’ helps understand this in a better way, to identify leverage and tipping points. Hence, a targeted carbon price approach is needed to reach tipping points in different industries. This creates new sets of principles and assumptions:

New Assumptions

  • Behaviour systems emerge from interactions between components
  • The economy is in disequilibrium

New Principles

  • Assess policies in combination
  • Assess effect of policy on process of change
  • Act on points of greatest leverage

A subset of where to direct effort is concerned with what technological advancement to choose – which traditionally was done in a way to apply effort to be ‘technology-neutral’, and that the market will discover best available technologies and so policies can be neutral. Once again Simon exposed a different reality, that the economy is path dependent and emerges from it’s technologies, which as a result means no action is neutral. All actions have capacity to influence future pathways and possibilit8ies of the economy, therefore it’s important to choose deliberately, and not unconsciously.


Simon has made clear that the way we approach and undertake decisions concerning the economy require new thought and consideration, especially in the context of climate change. Old assumptions do not stand up to the realities we are having to address. Decision makers must understand the nature of the problems, which may not fit their previous practices. Urgency to do this right is clear, becoming more clear with how impactful policy change can be. There seems to still be hope yet!

To watch the seminar given by Simon as well as the Q&A session followed, you can view it here.

More information about Deciding how to Decide can be found in the working paper.

Keep up to date with the EEIST Project on their website.

GSI Seminar Series – Dr Femke Nijsse and Dr Kirsten Lees: ECR Special

Taken from GSI Seminar coordinator Daneen Cowling’s Blog 

For the final seminar of the term we hosted an Early Career Researcher special event. We were excited to host a pair of impressive researchers within the GSI; Dr Femke Nijsse and Dr Kirsten Lees.


Dr Femke Nijsse: Emergent constraints on climate sensitivity from historical warming and models

Dr Nijsse gave a talk on her the work of her PhD exploring the climate model uncertainties on both transient timescales and long-term projections. Dr Nijsse introduced the difficulty around predicting climate change: bottom-up methods which use climate models and are limited by feedback and aerosol uncertainty. While top-down methods which use accurate historical temperature rise and radiative forcing and ocean heat uptake. Emergent contraints modelling permits the use of both of these methods which can provide climate sensitivity.

Dr Nijsse explored ways to address uncertainty – specifically with aerosols, whereby for periods of lesser aerosol influence can be used. How well models are able to constrain estimates, can be explained by grouping their sensitivity. To then apply an Emergent Constraints Model, Dr Nijsse laid out the following methods:

  1. Use historical warming since 1975 (for relative aerosol stability)
  2. Compute model ECS and TCR
  3. Model historical warming
  4. Determine function form of emergent constraint

Dr Nijsse also exposed how the ratio relationship between ECS and TCR can increase with climate sensitivity, as some models with a moderate TCR values can exhibit a higher range of ECS values. From her research, Dr Nijsse concluded it would be unlikely for an ECS > 4.5 K and TCR > 2.5 K. ECS may also be restricted using ocean heat uptake.

To end her seminar, Dr Nijsse also introduced her current work on her postdoc with the Economics of Energy Innovation and System Transition Project. The project is an international effort to enhance energy-environment-economy models, and integrate non-equilibrium ideas into equilibrium models. Dr Nijsse is modelling the challenges of renewable energy – from variability in wind and sun production to diffusion and learning of cost and storage.


Dr Kirsten Lees: Peatland Resilience

Dr Lees talk was on her Peatland Resilience research. Introduced with what Peatlands are and the suite of ecosystem services they offer – ranging from Carbon storage, flood management and biodiversity. Dr Lees then explained how to assess the resilience of these systems, using indicators from remotely sensed data. To measure resilience, the following steps can be applied to a site:

  1. Choose a resilience metric
  2. Detect a disturbance event
  3. Measure recovery time

Dr Lees has applied these steps to water levels and vegetation burn recovery to understand peatland resilience. From her analysis, Dr Lees suggests a complex interaction of factors influencing peatland resilience. Restoration and wildfire are factors with the most potential to alter peatland resilience, and so will be important to observe in the future.


This seminar was a great opportunity to hear about the impressive work being done by researchers at the start of their career, as well as a fresh insight into the diverse research of the GSI.

To watch these two talks and the questions from the audience, click this link.

If you would like to give a talk at a future seminar, please contact event organisers Daneen Cowling (dc456@exeter.ac.uk) and Guy Lomax (g.lomax@exeter.ac.uk)