Oct 18 2021

At November’s External Engagement Showcase and Forum, we will hear about and discuss various forms of external engagement, what we can learn from these examples, and how we might scale some initiatives to serve as school or College models or channels. Many colleagues already undertake such work without necessarily thinking about it in these terms, and by sharpening our awareness and collating this work, we can represent our collective efforts and use these to up our game further. To inform these discussions, we will be organising four break-out sessions. These will focus on partnerships, our collective response to climate change, community engagement and working with schools. In this second ‘trailer’ article for the Showcase, we highlight selected examples of existing work in this sphere. 

The new Living Sustainably research catalyst intends to provide an integrative framework for this and other sustainability-related work, in order to exchange information about what is being done and thereby to exploit potential synergies as a springboard to new collaborations, enhanced funding applications and added value in our external engagement work. To this end, Professor Klaus Dodds, the catalyst Director, works closely with the directors of External Engagement to ensure effective cross-school collaboration and exploit opportunities as they arise. 

The urgency for such research – both pure and applied to real-world problems - is underlined by successive authoritative reports warning that we are running out of time to reach net zero emissions (an indicator that some regard as inadequate) and that the changes required are becoming greater as time passes. Just last week, the Environment Agency’s latest report, Living Better with a Changing Climate, came with a stark warning that we must ‘Adapt or Die’! Here are just a handful of examples of how academics from our College are tackling this most pressing of global challenges.  

Understanding the changing physical environment under climate change: Professor Dave Waltham (Department of Earth Sciences) has refocused his research from energy extraction to storing carbon and energy underground as important components of getting to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. Professor Euan Nisbet, Dr Dave Lowry and Dr Rebecca Fisher (Department of Earth Sciences) lead greenhouse gas research, with a particular focus on measurement and interpretation of atmospheric methane and its isotopic composition to understand changing sources and mitigation opportunities. The Royal Holloway MIGGAS facility (vehicle mounted laser spectrometers, GPS and anemometer) can map methane and ethane emission plumes from a wide range of settings. Recent work with the UN Climate and Clean Air Coalition included measurement of emissions in London and Bucharest and North Sea gasfields. 

From scientific research to public engagement and education: Dr Bethan Davies (Department of Geography) is a glaciologist studying their responses to climate change by using satellite and drone imagery as well as field surveys, to untangle glacier-climate relationships and to understand the controls on glacier dynamics. She is committed to communicating to the general public the implications of the loss of glaciers and the ice sheets, and among other activities maintains the educational website, www.AntarcticGlaciers.org, which recently won a prize for geological education, provides free teaching resources and articles for teachers as well as undergraduates and the interested reader.  

Politics and policies: Dr Liam Beiser-McGrath's (Department of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy) research focuses on understanding individuals' beliefs about climate change and their support for policy initiatives, using experimental research designs and machine learning. This research has informed policy reports by influential organizations such as the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, and the Overseas Development Institute. Meanwhile, Professor Helen Tregidga (School of Business and Management) focuses on accounting and accountability practices relating to corporate ‘sustainability’ reporting, and on democratic participation in organisational and civil society contexts surrounding contentious environmental issues where she has an interest in the role of accounting academics, social movements and others in countering or resisting corporations in an attempt to advance sustainability. 

Climate driving migration: Dr Irene Antonopoulos’s (Department of Law and Criminology) research examines the consequences of climate change on humans and identifies alternative legal frameworks to challenge state inaction in tackling climate change. She focuses on the human rights aspects of climate change such as climate-induced migration, and the identification of victims and perpetrators in the context of human rights and climate change. A particular focus is the rapidly developing strategic litigation that aims to force states to take action against climate change (and the transboundary effect of their polluting activities) by raising climate change as a human rights violation. 

More details about the Showcase, including introductions to our other break-out sessions, will follow in subsequent staff newsletters. Next time, on Tuesday 2 November, we will be discussing how colleagues across the College are addressing issues around the theme of Community. 

Professor David Simon, Director of External Engagement, School of Life Sciences and the Environment 

Dr Matthew Smith, Director of External Engagement, School of Humanities