Norwich researchers set green agenda ahead of climate change summit

Norwich cathedral and skyline in cloud of mist and pollution

Transport is the biggest source of emissions in Norwich and Norfolk, accounting for 39pc of our total carbon emissions - Credit: Archant/Simon Finlay

How can East Anglia mitigate its impact on climate change? That is the question scientists based at Norwich Research Park are trying to answer ahead of an international climate action summit.

Asher Minns, executive director at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University

Asher Minns, executive director at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA). Picture: Kieron Tovell - Credit: Kieron Tovell

Scientists from Norwich Research Park and around the world will head to Glasgow in November, when the UK hosts the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26). The summit will explore what the world should do about global warming while accelerating action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Every year researchers across the world in partnership with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, based at the University of East Anglia (UEA) at Norwich Research Park, publishes the global carbon report at the annual UN climate summit, showing the quantity of global carbon dioxide that’s emitted into the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels. The report incorporates an astonishing amount of data analysis in assessing the amount of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide usage of every country on the planet.

Closer to home, “the biggest source of emissions in Norwich and Norfolk is transport, which accounts for 39pc of our total carbon emissions,” says Asher Minns, executive director of the Tyndall Centre. “If our local authorities are really interested in cracking down on emissions, transport is where the biggest transformation must take place.

“Transport pollution covers carbon dioxide emitting exhausts as well as particulate matter from tyres and brake dust, which can cause asthma. It can also affect the cognitive development of children and there’s evidence that it is related to the onset of dementia.

“Pollution from transport is so bad it is becoming an anti-social activity,” Asher says. “Think about how we travel and the effects on other people, including children – there's nowhere more polluted than the cabin of a car during the school run.”

Looking at ways to make the change is where Heike Schroeder comes in. She is professor of environmental governance at the UEA School of International Development and, alongside her work exploring indigenous and international interactions with sustainable development, Heike has studied the crucial effect that non-state actors can have on climate action.

Non-state actors are organisations with power and influence, though they do not belong to established state institutions. They include cities, religious groups, corporations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as lobby groups. Heike explains that the city of Norwich can work as a non-state actor to prevent climate change.

Heike Schroeder, professor of environmental governance at the UEA School of International Development

Heike Schroeder is professor of environmental governance at the UEA School of International Development - Credit: Heike Schroeder

“Many cities around the world have achieved far more than their national governments,” Heike says. “For example, in Los Angeles the transport sector is highly polluting, but they have the comparative advantage of owning their utility company. Municipal utilities meant their mayor could make an executive decision to move toward renewables, which reduced emissions significantly."

Investor-owned utilities promote profits for shareholders, which often involves maintaining the operation of fossil fuels. Public utilities, on the other hand, as non-profit institutions, can answer directly to community needs and green initiatives. 

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“Different parts of the world have different strengths, so we need to determine where East Anglia has a comparative advantage to make our contribution.”

One area with potential for transformation is the East Anglian renewables sector, as we have everything we need to transition, including nuclear power, wind turbines and solar farms.

“Approximately 7pc of all the income to this region is spent on energy bills,” Asher adds. “If that was reinvested into clean energy technologies, then by 2035 the saving in energy bills would be £724 million per year. Which, if you then put that into jobs, is equal to 9,000 years of job creation.”

However, people will also need to make changes on a personal level, Heike argues. “National governments set the scene and drive the incentives, but we also have to take action ourselves. It's really about finding hot spots in your local area to focus on and transform in a way that improves the quality of life for everyone.”

Eating less meat is a highly effective way for individuals to reduce their impact on climate change and Norwich has the highest density of vegan restaurants in the UK. Norfolk is home to many other green initiatives, including co-operatives such as Norwich FarmShare and local companies that deliver organic fruit and vegetables such as Goodery, thereby mitigating problems surrounding transport pollution and pesticides.

“But we have to get at this problem in multiple ways to be effective,” Heike concludes. “It's about air pollution, cutting energy and changing the way we eat – all of it.”

For more information, please visit tyndall.ac.uk

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