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by Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser
02 November 2021
Associate Feature: Tackling the Climate Crisis through Research and Innovation

Associate Feature: Tackling the Climate Crisis through Research and Innovation

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published part one of its sixth assessment report in August 2021, the warning was stark. The changes in the Earth’s climate are now at extremely high and, in some cases, irreversible levels. Multiple interventions will be needed, with science and innovation as an essential element, providing real solutions that allow us to take climate action.

Like the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change demonstrates just how important research and innovation are when we are faced with a global crisis. Decades of publicly funded research, delivered through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and its predecessors, helped deliver the vaccines to tackle COVID-19.

For more than 50 years, UKRI and its councils have invested in cutting-edge research and innovation to understand, tackle and mitigate the effects of climate change and embed evidence in decision-making and climate policy. This long-term investment in climate research and innovation has been a key element of the progress made so far in tackling climate change. For example, our investments identified the hole in the ozone layer and how to close it and developed new technologies to reduce carbon emissions from energy, transport and industry.

The UK has a strong track record of investing in the many new ideas arising from our research and innovation system in this area. Building on this track record, the UK’s unique position of leadership – holding the Presidency of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), in partnership with Italy – presents a huge opportunity to strengthen global commitment to climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience through international collaboration.

UKRI is fulfilling its role as a steward of the research and innovation system to work with national and international partners to reduce carbon emissions and encourage new ways of living that enable nations to meet ambitious net zero commitments while protecting our environment and the people who live within it.

UKRI is supporting people across the research and innovation community who have the track record and new ideas to help us all live more sustainably. And we are investing in the next generation of talent, too. In partnership with industries like energy and manufacturing, we are delivering the highly-skilled roles needed to underpin the UK’s move to Net Zero.

UKRI-funded climate change research and innovation spans work in many disciplines: solutions for cleaner energy, building smarter energy systems, identifying and delivering the changes needed in our everyday lives such as how we travel, what we eat, and how we shop, studying how climate change affects our health, and understanding the changing arctic environment.
Below are just two examples of UKRI investments based in Scotland that are contributing to the fight against climate change.

ReFLEX Orkney
ReFLEX (Responsive Flexibility) Orkney is pioneering an integrated, affordable, low-carbon energy system for the future. The project aims to decarbonise energy use on Orkney by linking local electricity, transport and heat networks into one digitally-connected system.
Using battery storage, electric vehicles, smart chargers and smart meters, the project will show that electricity generation and consumption patterns can be modified in response to variability.
It will help to maximise the potential of Orkney’s significant renewable generation capabilities by storing more electricity and lowering the county’s carbon footprint by decreasing reliance on imported carbon-intensive energy from the UK mainland.

ReFLEX Orkney is funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Prospering from the Energy Revolution.

UK Geoenergy observatories
A network of observatories is being established to deliver essential new data from below our feet. The scientific data from underground can help researchers understand how geothermal energy, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and storage solutions for wind, solar and tidal energy can reduce carbon emissions. The Glasgow observatory will be observing flooded mine workings beneath the east end of the city.

This project is being funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

This article is sponsored by UK Research and Innovation.

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