Cabot Institute blog

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Friday, 27 July 2012

Cabot office weekly roundup – 27 July 2012


This morning started with the ring of bells to communicate the start of the Olympic Games.  Communications have also been the focus of our work this week.  We now have the new website templates which I will populate over the Summer so we can re-launch the website in the new academic year.  We will have lots of new features including more video content, better layout and ease of use and we can’t wait to share it with you all.  

This week we also met with representatives from across the faculties to help us with our new magazine which we hope to publish in the Autumn.  We have lots of good ideas and interesting material to put in.  We are working on content at the moment and will be pulling together case studies of work that has taken place within Cabot over the last year. 

We also have a new webcam and microphone, courtesy of JISC, for doing more Skype calling and videoconferencing.  We are keen to embrace technology to cut down on national and international travel for meetings.  It is also useful to use online applications for phone calls so that we can share slides, documents and other information with our colleagues, which better enhances the way we work. 

It was also interesting to meet Dan Schnurr of Blom this week, who has a mutual interest in mapping and remote sensing. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

Discussing Rio+20 at the House of Lords



Last month I went to the House of Lords for a meeting of the All party group for international development and the environment.  The morning’s question was: Where next for sustainable development after Rio+20?  I’ll give a brief resume of who said what, with some of my thoughts following over the next weeks....

Joan Walley, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North opened the morning's reflections on Rio.  She chairs the Environmental Audit Committee which monitors action across different government departments. At the top level, Rio lacked vision and clear objectives. Her select committee really tried to engage with government, but there was no commitment from the PM that he was going, and no clear vision from them.  She felt the process needs to be reinvigorated - connecting, collaborating, and understanding the details - e.g. how the proposed Sustainable Development Goals will link with the Millennium Development Goals.

Stephen Hale from Oxfam  asked how do we accelerate the pace of global change on sustainable development and increase the scale of national change? This is beyond Rio, of which he had very low expectations (and was still disappointed). Why were the outcomes so poor? His thesis was we are living in a period where multilateralism is weak - the G20 also had very poor outcomes.  The breadth of issues - the triple line of economy, ecology and equity - is understood by the Rio community but the multilateral process is too weak to deliver change. He put forward:
1 . Understanding the concept of sustainable development does not itself deliver change
2. Change comes by confronting vested interests and shifting power. Need to build
coalitions. Don't need unifying  concept
3. Multilateralism matters hugely but we need to pick our battles. Be selective
4. Business conversation was in a parallel universe. NGOs highlighting how terrible Rio was while business was much more bullish
5. We need a new set of clear and ambitious global goals to follow the MDGs.

Steve Waygood is the Head of Sustainability Research and Engagement, Aviva Investors.  Companies like Aviva know that the economy is on an unsustainable footing. Aviva worked with Forum for the Future to outline a vision for a sustainable economy by 2040 - http://www.forumforthefuture.org/project/framework-sustainable-economy/overview.  Aviva's goal is that every company over £2 Bn should be thinking about sustainability and report their achievements in their annual reports.  At Rio, Aviva proposed a Convention on Corporate Sustainability Accounting, which wasn't accepted overall but elements were included in the final agreement.  Steve highlighted the massive need for good data in the area of sustainability - 90% of what Bloomberg needs to report in this area is missing.

Lord Julian Hunt was part of the GLOBE world summit of legislators at Rio, which had representatives from 180 countries.  One of the major questions was how parliaments should participate in international work and legislation - they are complementary to each other and we need progress on both. Lord Hunt highlighted how rarely the work of UN Agencies such as the WHO is debated in parliament - only once in the House of Lords.  Population was an issue that barely featured at Rio in 1992, but was discussed much more this year, especially by the developing nations.  He mentioned that South India now has a static population, and highlighted the importance of understanding local context and perspective (rather than a 'western NGO' view).  Sustainability, for example, means very different things in different parts of the world.


Andrew Scott is a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute, and was happy to see an agreement in principle to idea of sustainable development goals and initiation of a process to develop these.  He queried how energy would feature in these goals, and questioned the level of agreements that can be realistically reached at international level when national governments ultimately make the decisions.  He highlighted case studies from the ODI development progress programme that show how much progress is being made at the national level - for example in Costa Rica where payments for ecosystem services have been used to tackle deforestation.

Miguel Pestana is the Vice President for Global External Affairs at Unilever.  He reflected that from a business perspective there was a lack of specificity and ambition, although Unilever are committed to integrating sustainability with their  business and there were 1000+ CEOs at Rio.  But with 60% of the world's governments in election cycles in this year, he was not surprised at level of political commitment and ambition.  Nonetheless, there were some significant commitments - e.g. on deforestation involving Walmart, Telco and Unilever.  He highlighted the critical role of the UK government in shaping the process and engaging business - the UK is hosting the G8 and G20 meetings, and David Cameron is co-chairing the review of the MDGs.  He called for specificity - the SDGs need to include nutrition, sanitation and hygiene - as Jeffrey Sachs eloquently outlines in his recent Lancet article.

David Nussbaum, Director of WWF, compared what was politically possible at Rio (given that Brazil removed anything controversial from the text) with what is scientifically necessary. The stifled official process meant that more interesting things happened in the fringe - UK watercourses convention, disclosure by quoted companies of their emissions. 
He saw much positive action from the private sector and questioned how to encourage more and to help, strengthening links between the economy and the environment.  He cited work on natural capital, of which UK Govt Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington has been a good supporter, and the ways that fossil fuel subsidies, and agriculture and fisheries practices damage this.

Questions from the floor included how the MDG and SDG processes will relate to each other, and highlighted a need for a framework to clarify how this will happen.  The role of pressure from the bottom up, and an engaged and informed citizenry were seen as central to aligning political will and scientific imperative.  Miguel Pestana hoped to see a co-creation approach for the SDGs, with less emphasis on the word 'goal' in a highly volatile and changeable situation.

Cabot office weekly roundup – 20 July 2012


Herbert Huppert
This week we have been holding our Cabot Summer School on risk and uncertainty in natural hazards.  The week has gone very well and I have received some very positive comments from attendees.  We had some fantastic speakers including Herbert Huppert, Jonty Rougier, Steve Sparks, Willy Aspinall, Li Chen, Tamsin Edwards, Philippa Bayley and Thorsten Wagener.  Cabot would like to say a great big thank you to all of you for making the Cabot Summer School such a success.  We’re very much looking forward to next year.
Paul F. Hoffman

This week, Cabot member Rich Pancost secured Paul F. Hoffman of Snowball Earth fame as the next Science Faculty Colloquium speaker in September. 

I saw the new templates for our website today.  Its all looking good and I’m quite excited about the implementation of its new look.  By the end of the summer I hope to have it all up and running.

We would like to congratulate Cabot member Professor Mark Eisler and his team who evaluated the effectiveness of a low-cost decision support tool as a diagnostic aid by observing whether its introduction to veterinary and animal health officers undertaking primary animal health care in Uganda could lead to changes in clinical practice.  Improved diagnosis is necessary for the effective management of endemic cattle diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.
 
We would also like to congratulate Gareth Jones, Stephen Harris and Emma Stone who received £559,705 from NERC for a project on ‘Experimental approaches to determine the impacts of light pollution: field studies on bats and insects’.


Friday, 13 July 2012

Cabot office weekly roundup – 13 July 2012


I was on holiday last week in Cornwall when the Met Office gave a red weather warning for rain in the South West, saying there was immediate danger to lives.   Luckily I wasn’t too affected, it just meant more indoor pursuits than outdoor but it made me think more about the extreme weather events we are seeing globally this year.  Drought and heat in the United States, stupid amounts of rain in the UK and Russia and other extreme events elsewhere, shown very well by this map published by UNEP.  And funnily enough, while I was sitting in my caravan, rain pouring down, I thought of work.  The people I work with are trying to better understand the global environment, trying to find new ways to reduce environmental risk to lives and find ways to better adapt to the changing environment.  That red weather warning made me realise the importance of the work that Cabot does.

Returning to work this week I was bombarded by news and events that we have been a part of or will be a part of in the future.  And the future is very exciting!

Lauren Gregoire
In the last couple of weeks we have had the amazing Lauren Gregoire and her team, who have found out the cause of rapid sea level change in the past, which increases our understanding of the nature of ice sheets and climate change for the future. 

Professor Paul Reid found that the rate of cloud droplet growth can be strongly dependent on the composition of the aerosol, which is really important for understanding trends in past global climate and predicting future climate change. 


Chris Deeming
Dr Chris Deeming has been awarded an ESRC Future Research Leaders Grant for a project titled 'New cultural contradictions in modern consumer societies: A political economy perspective using multilevel analysis'.  This research will help to raise public and government understanding and awareness of the impacts of consumption in modern consumer societies and will feed directly into policy.

We have had our volcanologists on the BBC’s Volcano Live series. Cabot scientists featured include Dr Jeremy Phillips and Dr Alison Rust (Earth Sciences), and Dr Adam Crewe (Civil Engineering) amongst others, and topics include Why Do Volcanoes Erupt? (Episode 1), Volcanic Hazards and Flows (Episode 2), Earthquakes and their Simulation (Episode 3), and Supervolcanoes (Episode 4).  Also prominently featured was the volcano field research of Professor Jon Blundy and his team (Earth Sciences).   

Some of our researchers have also received almost a million pounds for a study into forecasting and coping with volcanic eruptions. 

Going back to my realisations in the caravan in Cornwall, I know that the Cabot Institute is going to be doing some amazing work and will have its own realisations of global importance in the very near future. Go team Cabot!