Cambridge academics and students alike will play crucial roles in the summitDr Emily Shuckburgh, Rosa Prosser

Cambridge scientists, students and city councillors are among those who will attend the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which begins this Sunday (31/10) in Glasgow. Varsity has interviewed some of those making crucial contributions to the three-week summit.

Cambridge undergraduate’s documentary on green careers to debut at COP26

Rosa Prosser, a third-year NatSci at Lucy Cavendish, has produced a documentary series called ‘Careers to Solve the Climate Crisis’, the final episode of which will premiere at COP’s ‘Green Career Pathways’ event on Sunday 7th November.

Prosser began the project – which she filmed, directed and edited herself – as part of a Cambridge Zero internship this summer. Her series highlights the need for people to come together across different sectors to tackle the climate crisis, showcasing the careers that will be critical to achieve net zero by 2050.

It features appearances from many leading figures in the fight against climate change such as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and prominent scientist and activist Dr Mya-Rose ‘Birdgirl’ Craig.

Speaking to Varsity, Prosser expressed shock that her documentary will be shown at such an important event – she said this “definitely wasn’t on the cards” her internship began, but that the success of her film “goes to show that being ambitious with what you’re doing, and not being afraid to ask, always pays off.”

She hopes that her series can “raise awareness of the great diversity of green jobs that are currently available, as well as those that will be available in the future”, thereby “empowering young people to pursue a career that has a positive impact on the planet.”

The film series will launch on the Cambridge Zero YouTube channel on 3rd November.

What the Cambridge Green Party expects from the summit

Green Party Councillor and Jesus College Alumna Hannah Copley, is set to speak remotely at an event with the COP26 People’s Summit for Climate Justice. She told Varsity that it is“imperative that governments at COP26 agree to implement the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Cambridge became the first UK city to endorse the treaty, which calls for a rapid phasing out of fossil fuel use.

Copley hopes “to see the UK pledge meaningful resources and reparations to the Global South.” Pointing out that the UK has the “fifth highest cumulative historical CO2 emissions,” she said that it was the country’s “responsibility” to lead efforts to decarbonise and to support developing countries.

One of the first steps the government needs to take, Copley continued, is to not develop the “huge” Cambo oil field off the north-west of the Shetland Islands. She says that to approve the development while hosting COP26 would be “the height of hypocrisy, and make a mockery of our climate commitments.”

‘We need to move from ambition to action’: ‘Friend of COP’ Dr Emily Shuckburgh

Dr Emily Shuckburgh is the director of Cambridge Zero, the University’s climate change initiative. She is also one of 30 ‘Friends of COP’, experts from around the world brought together by the UK government to advise the COP26 presidency.

Dr Shuckburgh has a background as a climate scientist on the British Atlantic survey and is a professor of computer science. She joined the University with the main purpose of setting up Cambridge Zero, which celebrates its two-year anniversary this November.

Since its inception, Cambridge Zero has grown rapidly, Dr Shuckburgh tells Varsity, with its primary ambition being to “bring all the University’s resources together to support climate action.” This includes Cambridge’s engagement with national and internal policy, business and industry, and the public, as well as its own decarbonisation.

COP26 will showcase a range of contributions from Cambridge students and academics, of which Dr Shuckburgh highlights three. The first is the ‘Futures We Want’ project through which Cambridge post-doc students worked alongside academics in different countries to collate profiles on climate risk and hopeful visions of climate resilience.

The project work included conducting workshops with many stakeholders, including businesses and indigenous populations, to ensure the project was made “as inclusive as possible.” The visions from the project, and a video, will be showcased at COP26.

Cambridge Zero and Imperial College will also present the findings of the Climate Risk Summit at the summit. They have brought together UK universities to discuss “the risks of climate change in terms of the increase in extreme weather and passing tipping points.” By building a “better understanding how climate-related risks can cascade through society,” Dr Shuckburgh hopes the findings of the summit can help build climate resilience.

Dr Shuckburgh also highlighted a film called ‘Act Now’ – to be launched at COP26 – that aims to “actively platform” the voices of young people from around the world.

When asked about her hopes for the summit, Dr Shuckburgh emphasised the findings of the IPCC report this summer, which remind us of the “scale of the challenge.” COP26, she said, needs to move away from the talk about ambitions in Paris, and move towards actual action.

She listed her expectations for the summit:

  • Countries need to step up and commit to the things they agreed to in Paris and tie up outstanding negotiations from Paris
  • There needs to be increased ambition in emission pledges; 1.5 degrees ought to be the maximum warming we see, but we are not currently on course to remain well below the 2 degrees increase limit set in Paris
  • We need to talk about adaptation and building resilience
  • Countries that are the most vulnerable and the least responsible for the climate crisis need to be supported financially

We asked Dr Shuckburgh about the recent outrage over the challenges developing countries are facing sending delegations to the summit in Glasgow as a result of vaccine inequity and prohibitive quarantine costs – she acknowledged the tricky balance between needing to act urgently, and the need to have all voices heard. She said there should be a more equitable distribution of vaccines globally, and there needs to be a “vaccine rollout irrespective of what happens in COP itself.” However, this cannot be not “an either-or situation between pandemic and climate change.”

As countries around the world recover from the worst of the Covid crisis, we need to discuss how to “recover those economies in a green way.” The UK plays a critical role in its COP26 presidency in leading the way “for a green recovery.”

Commenting on the UK net-zero strategy released earlier this week, Dr Shuckburgh said that while such policies “can always be more ambitious,” a clear positive was the government’s recognition of a “systems approach” towards climate action involving government departments working together to reduce emissions.

“This is a critical moment when the science makes it clear that unless we act immediately we’re not going to be able to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Dr Shuckburgh concluded, saying that “anything Cambridge students can do to get involved in any way” is necessary.

“Cambridge has been around for 800 years,” she said, and we are now “at the cusp of potential for societal collapse” in the coming decades. This event will “affect everyone’s future.”