Global crisis, global impact
Published on 5 August 2022
Ranked as the top university in the UK for climate action – and in the top five in the world – the University of Dundee was compelled to play its part in the landmark COP26 summit, contributing its expert insight and research to the two-week event.
The climate crisis is undoubtedly the most important issue of our time, presenting a danger to everything – and everyone – on our planet.
While the need to address climate change is widely recognised, how this is achieved has been one of the biggest problems facing politicians around the world.
But last autumn, the latest concerted effort to protect our planet took place just miles away from Dundee: the UN Climate Change Conference 2021. Better known as COP26, it was hailed by John Kerry, the United States’ Climate Envoy, as the world’s "last best chance" to reach an agreement on curbing emissions and averting environmental catastrophe.
Ranked as the top university in the UK for climate action – and in the top five in the world – the University of Dundee was compelled to play its part in the landmark summit, contributing its expert insight and research to the two-week event.
There are few starker examples of how a changing climate is impacting our planet than the effects on the glaciers of Iceland. Dr Kieran Baxter, a lecturer in Communication Design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, has been charting the decline of these landscapes, where summer melt is no longer recovering in the winter months.
"Climate change is already having dire consequences around the world and we have to take responsibility for that," said Dr Baxter.
"The volume of ice melt that we are seeing in Iceland is just one of the indicators that show us the scale of those impacts."
"There is also evidence of how climate change is affecting communities in Scotland, with post-storm landslips in the village of Falkland, just a short drive from Dundee, leaving a trail of destruction. Dr Martin Kirkbride and Dr Andrew Black, from the University’s Geography and Environmental Science department, warn that weather events influenced by climate change are increasingly likely to damage the landscapes the country is noted for.
There is also concern for the future of another of Scotland’s most notable exports – whisky.
"Climate change is putting increasing pressure on our freshwater resources and dependent ecosystems here in Scotland," warns Dr Sarah Halliday, from the University’s Geography and Environmental Science department.
"Hydropower schemes and whisky distilleries, whose abstraction consents are linked not only to the quantity of water in our rivers but also its temperature, could be disrupted.
"Reduced rainfall and higher temperatures result in increased need for crop irrigation, exacerbating water shortages, and threatening the future viability of many of our traditional crops."
While COP26 provided the University with a platform to share the unchecked damage of climate change, our commitment to protecting our planet is permanent.
The past year has seen the University complete its divestment from fossil fuels and move its managed investments to a sustainable investment portfolio.
The University is also a leading member of the Dundee Climate Leadership Group, a city-wide network of public and private partners, as well as environmental groups, driving local efforts to address climate change and help achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for the city.
Reflecting on COP26, Professor Iain Gillespie, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, said, "As a university, we’ve punched well above our weight and demonstrated the outstanding impact that this University has and all of our colleagues do in our core of transforming lives."