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UK science policy in a changing Arctic: The Arctic Circle Assembly 2019

The Arctic is one of the most rapidly changing regions on Earth. Its lands and oceans are undergoing unprecedented transitions, from permafrost melting to sea ice thinning, and its people are vulnerable to the knock-on effects of climate change.

At the same time, Arctic governments (state, regional and local) are looking towards the future of economic development, broadened participation and connectivity, and improved health and education. All of these socioeconomic and environmental challenges are going on against the background of a complex governance structure and heightened geopolitical pressures.


Unlike the Antarctic, there is no one treaty or agreement that underpins Arctic governance, which is instead reliant on the Arctic Council and a plethora of bilateral and multilateral agreements.

The Arctic Circle is a not-for-profit organisation that forms the largest “network of international dialogue and cooperation on the future of the Arctic”, with the ambitious aim to promote open…
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Flooding in the UK: Understanding the past and preparing for the future

On the 16th of October 2019, Ivan Haigh ­Associate Professor in Coastal Oceanography at the University of Southampton - gave a presentation on the “characteristics and drivers of compound flooding events around the UK coast” at the BRIDGE research seminar in the School of Geographical Sciences. He began by outlining the seriousness of flood risk in the UK - it is the second highest civil emergency risk factor as defined by the Cabinet Office - before moving on to the first section of the talk on his work with the Environment Agency on its Thames Estuary 2100 plan (TE2100)[1].
Thames Estuary 2100 plan: 5-year review The construction of a Thames barrier was proposed after severe flooding in London in 1953, and it eventually became operational 30 years later in 1983. Annually, the Thames barrier removes around £2bn of flood damage risk from London and is crucial to the future prosperity of the city in a changing environment.

Flood defences in the Thames estuary were assessed in the TE210…

Uncomfortable home truths: Why Britain urgently needs a low carbon heat strategy

A new report backed by MPs and launched by Minister for Climate Change Lord Duncan on 15 October 2019, calls for an urgent Green Heat Roadmap by 2020 to scale low carbon heating technologies and help Britain’s homeowners access the advice they need to take smarter greener choices on heating their homes.  The year-long study by UK think-tank Policy Connect warns that the UK will miss its 2050 net-zero climate target “unless radical changes in housing policy, energy policy and climate policy are prioritised”. Dr Colin Nolden was at the launch on behalf of the Cabot Institute for the Environment and blogs here on the most interesting highlights of the report and questions raised.
---------------------------------- Policy Connect had invited a range of industry, policy, academic and civil society representatives to the launch of their Uncomfortable Home Truths report. The keynote, no less than Lord Duncan of Springbank, Minister for Climate Change, and the high-level panel consisting of Ma…

AI & sustainable procurement: the public sector should first learn what it already owns

While carrying out research on the impact of digital technologies for public procurement governance, I have realised that the deployment of artificial intelligence to promote sustainability through public procurement holds some promise. There are many ways in which machine learning can contribute to enhance procurement sustainability.

For example, new analytics applied to open transport data can significantly improve procurement planning to support more sustainable urban mobility strategies, as well as the emergence of new models for the procurement of mobility as a service (MaaS).* Machine learning can also be used to improve the logistics of public sector supply chains, as well as unlock new models of public ownership of, for example, cars. It can also support public buyers in identifying the green or sustainable public procurement criteria that will deliver the biggest improvements measured against any chosen key performance indicator, such as CO2 footprint, as well as support the…

CAKE: In memory of Dr Caroline Williams

It all started with a picture.

A picture of a 1773 eruption of Tungurahua volcano in Ecuador. Caroline, the historian, was fascinated by the writing. Alison and Kathy were interested in the details of the eruption: the two vents, the distribution of the lava bombs, the flow that blocked the river. Erica, the paleoclimatologist, was the conduit between us, receiving the image from Caroline and passing it along to Alison and Kathy. And thus CAKE (Caroline-Alison-Kathy-Erica) was established.

Over the intervening years, we pursued several academic collaborations with students (one PhD and two MSc) that not only brought us together on questions of science and historical records, but also grew into a deep CAKE friendship, with shared dinners and social events in addition to a shared Dropbox folder and co-authored publications. Caroline taught us (the scientists) that the methodologies employed by data-driven historians are very similar to those used by scientists - find more than one sourc…

Tackling the climate crisis with energy transitions

Aerospace Engineering student Kieran Tait recently returned from a transformative journey through Western Canada, representing the University at the Energy Transitions summer school at the University of Alberta. A timely topic following the recent declaration of climate emergency here at the university.
Throughout the two weeks, we endured a 40-hour lecture series, in which world-leading industry experts and researchers presented to us the current state of energy, the outlook for the future and an insight into different types of energy systems and their relative merits. This was superbly rounded off with insightful field trips including a tour around a wind farm and a hydroelectric dam, which really helped to contextualise the lectures.

The course was coordinated by the Worldwide Universities network, in which 21 representatives from 13 universities worldwide came together to study the practicalities of decarbonising society. The network brought a diversity of cultures and study areas…

Why no change? Sustainable development, extractivism and the environment in Bolivia

As an early career academic, it’s been a challenge to research sustainable development and the SDGs. The SDGs may be a new set of development goals but the concept of sustainable development is old….and already much critiqued. In my recent research on the early take-up and implementation of the SDGs in Bolivia, I have tried to use this as a starting point for my work. In terms of theory, this has meant asking what can help us think about sustainable development differently? And in terms of my empirical focus, this has meant questioning how the mainstreaming of the SDGs, as a global (and globalizing) response to climate change, effect more radical environmental agendas - those that have emerged since the mainstreaming of sustainable development in the 1980s (and sometimes in critique of the concept). Somewhat conversely, these efforts to think differently have actually helped me to better understand why things are staying the same and how, in Bolivia, powerful, extractivist developmen…