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Bristol researchers set to join leading experts at COP28 as world ‘stands on edge of burning bridge’ to tackle climate change

The Triborough Bridge along the East River in New York City with massive air pollution in the sky from wildfires. iStock

Dr Matt Palmer, Associate Professor of Climate Science at the University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment, presenting research at the World Climate Research Programme Sea Level Conference in Singapore, 2022. University of Bristol

Press release issued: 23 November 2023

A team of University of Bristol experts are poised to join the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will hold the world to account in addressing humanity’s most urgent and ambitious challenge.

The annual two-week summit, starting in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, 30 November, is set to deliver the first-ever global stocktake of progress in achieving key international climate targets to reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming.

Dr Matt Palmer, Associate Professor of Climate Science, is among a group of academics from the University of Bristol’s renowned Cabot Institute for the Environment, who will be attending to share their expertise and insights.

“The world community stands on the edge of a burning bridge: we must act faster to reduce emissions if we are to avoid devastating impacts of climate change on humans, the environment, and vital ecosystems,” Dr Palmer said.

“2023 is set to be the warmest year on record and saw a catalogue of unprecedented and damaging extreme climate events across the globe. Current emissions reduction pledges by nations fall well short of the 1.5C Paris Agreement warming target. Immediate concerted action is imperative to lessen future climate risks and this meeting is a crucial opportunity for the global community to review progress, recognise shortcomings, and commit to stepping up mitigation actions.”

Dr Palmer has been a lead author on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, covering sea-level rise and ocean warming, and he will be presenting an event focused on the latest observations on climate change.

Wide-ranging experts in hot topics including climate change policy, emissions, climate modelling, adapting to a warming world, food systems, and ensuring the shift to a net zero economy is fair, are joining the gathering.

The conference will help harness joint global efforts on climate action and identify changes needed to bridge gaps preventing being on track to meet agreed goals.

Delivering climate resilient, net zero food systems is a major global challenge which will come under discussion.

Dr Pete Falloon, Associate Professor in Climate Resilient Food Systems, is attending in this capacity, leading an event in the UK Pavilion spanning partners and youth farmers from the Global North and South amongst others.

He said: “Droughts, flooding, high temperatures and rising sea levels are increasingly threatening the security and resilience of our food systems worldwide. Food systems are also a key part of the pathway to net zero, given they are responsible for around a third of global emissions. We critically need to transform our food systems so they are well adapted to climate change but also deliver on net zero goals.

“My hope is that by bringing together scientists, young farmers and policy makers together, we will use climate science and services as a platform to accelerate food system change, innovation and practice to reduce hunger and ensure a more sustainable future.”

Dr Katharina Richter, a specialist in decolonial environmental politics and equitable development, hopes negotiations will consolidate previous multilateral plans to help emerging economy countries have swift access to financing to mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

“This year, extreme weather events in Africa, including drought and flooding, are thought to have been exacerbated by climate change and, tragically, have killed more than 15,000 people already. To prevent further loss of life, it’s absolutely critical developing countries can access climate finance quickly and unconditionally,” Dr Richter said.

“I will therefore be watching closely to see how G77 and Alliance of Small Island States proposals are met by the international community, especially details on operationalising last year’s negotiation highlight: the Loss and Damage Fund.”

Technology and the transition to a green economy are further important areas to be negotiated.

“Rich and oil-producing countries must honour their emission-related responsibilities and commit to phasing out fossil fuels entirely. Clean energy technology will be key to replacing fossil fuels. Without commitments to demand-side reductions by rich nations, however, a business-as-usual energy transition will continue to create sacrifice zones in indigenous, biodiverse, and/or water scarce territories of the Global South,” Dr Richter added.

“I will therefore also be looking out for how green technology supply chains are addressed in the negotiations, including outcomes for developing countries where critical raw materials are extracted.”

Climate justice specialist Dr Alix Dietzel, who also attended last year, leads work to help ensure the journey towards net zero is fully inclusive and equitable.

Dr Dietzel said: “I’ll be interested to see who is able to attend and who will have their voices heard at the negotiations and whether this represents fair and equal decision making. Substantial commitments to mitigation targets, adaptation planning, and loss and damage funding are vital requirements of the just transition to climate change.

“I hope the global community rises to such pressing challenges and that pledges are fair to all those most affected by climate change, who may be under-represented.”

Incorporating the voice of Indigenous groups will play a pivotal role in realising such aspirations.

Dr Karen Tucker, an expert in the politics of Indigenous knowledge, added: “Indigenous peoples are some of the most knowledgeable actors in global climate politics. But this doesn’t mean their expertise or rights are always recognised in international negotiations.

“I’ll therefore be paying attention to the ways in which Indigenous peoples and Indigenous knowledges are incorporated into negotiations, particularly relating to land use and nature.”

Raising the ambition of climate policies by integrating cities in national climate policies could help deliver and step-up progress in meeting demanding targets.

Energy and climate policy specialist Dr Colin Nolden is hosting an official event, which highlights the latest research development and cross-sectoral policy recommendations for ramping up climate action at urban level. It has a specific focus on using Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to generate investment, especially in the context of climate clubs and alliances.

Dr Nolden said: “Article 6 of the Paris Agreement provides a mechanism not just for trading carbon credits but also for generating investment and lowering the cost of capital, ranging from district heating systems in the global north to clean cooking projects in the global south.”

“Climate clubs and alliances, meanwhile, can increase emission mitigation ambition among participating countries if they include cross-border investment and trading arrangements for carbon emission reductions generated using Article 6.

“If appropriate Article 6 market governance arrangements are agreed on at COP28, climate clubs and alliances, ideally spanning the Global North and South, have great potential to help implement effective and just net zero policies. I will be providing insights and pitching an idea on how to make this happen.”

University of Bristol student Katie Riley, who is in the final year of her degree in politics and international relations, will be joining as an observer.

The 21-year-old has been an environmental lobbyist for several years and recently published a book about experiences of youth in climate activism. At COP27 Katie was a UK communications delegate for the Future Leaders Network and this year she is on Generation Climate’s COP28 strategy delegation.

“I mainly started because I saw a space for change and loved engaging within my community. But international politics is exciting, especially within COP, so I’m pleased to be developing my involvement more widely,” Katie said.

“I also think it’s necessary for as many young people to have a platform within big conferences like this, as our generation will be most affected by the climate crises.”

The University has been working closely with Mayor Marvin Rees and Bristol City Council to help the city achieve a just transition towards a more sustainable economy. This includes a shared commitment to deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to deliver better health, education, economic growth, and equality while also tackling climate change.

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