28 October 2021

This is a pivotal year for our planet. In November, the UK will host COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference - bringing together politicians, business leaders and some of the brightest minds on earth, including researchers and students from the University of East London (UEL).

Tackling the climate change crisis is going to require everyone to do their part. In the lead-up to COP26, we want to shine a light on some of the people, projects and networks at the University that are making a difference.

UEL projects at COP26

There are two exciting UEL projects in Glasgow for COP26.  We have the world famous Pollution Pods by Michael Pinsky, artist and UEL reader, which are no stranger to the conference as the Pods featured at COP25.

New for COP26 is the Peatland Pavilion which has been co-developed by UEL, the Global Peatlands Initiative, Wetlands International, Greifswald Mire Centre, IUCN UK Peatlands Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Peatland Pavilion

Peatland covers 3 per cent of the earth and can be found on every continent. Yet they have often been overlooked during the climate change debate, and it's only in recent years that they have started to receive significant international recognition because of their role as major global stores of soil carbon.

Peatland takes carbon out of the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) during the photosynthesis process. Due mainly to agriculture, many areas of peatland have been destroyed, however work is now being done to restore areas of peatland as a natural defence to rising CO2 emissions.

Richard Lindsay, head of environmental and conservation research, Jack Clough, research assistant for the Sustainable Research Institute (SRI), and master's students at the University have been heavily involved in creating both the physical and virtual Peatland Pavilion.

The pavilion at COP26 aims to raise awareness and become a hub for collaboration around peatland policy issues, research, best practice and innovations.

Richard Lindsay said, "COP26 is all about solving our climate problem, and one of the biggest problems for the climate is what we call our Cinderella habitat, peatlands.

"They are invisible as the peat is below ground and the problem is because they are invisible, we keep damaging them. So, what we have now is peatlands that are part of the problem, but they can be part of the solution as they can contain more carbon per hector than rainforests."


Pollution Pods

The Pollution Pods started their journey to COP26 at the University's Docklands campus in early October. The Pods are no stranger to the conference having featured at COP25. What is different this time is that the project is being supported by UEL students.

The students will be constructing, adapting and maintaining the pods throughout their journey to Glasgow, as they seek to engage people on the climate change debate focusing on air pollution.

UEL architecture student, Orseer Gbashah, said, "The best thing about being involved is the reaction you get from people. They might be unaware of air pollution levels but when they go in the pods and come out the other side, they are more educated and enlightened.

"For instance, Londoners don't really know how bad their air is, let alone the terrible conditions people face thousands of miles away."


What UEL is doing locally

In addition to the projects going to COP26, there are countless other ways that the University and our community are doing their part to combat climate change.

The Sustainability Research Institute (SRI) was established in 2021 and was one of the UK's first dedicated research institute. SRI focus on three main areas of research and knowledge sharing across 'green infrastructure', 'resource management' and 'sustainable living'.

The University has pledged to be a net zero carbon campus by 2030. Work is already underway to ensure the amount of greenhouse gas we emit is either offset or reduced altogether. This will not only be better for the environment but will improve the health and wellbeing of our community.

UEL has partnered with Siemens to help us achieve this goal and an energy audit was carried out in 2019 to provide a baseline of where we are today, so we know what we must do to get to where we need to be tomorrow.

Building a greener future

Human psychology is at the heart of the climate crisis as it is our behaviours that are causing many of the issues we face. That is why UEL has launched a BSc (Hons) Environmental Psychology undergraduate degree, the first of its kind in the UK.

The course aims to teach students about environmental issues and the psychological approaches to understanding human effects of, and contributions to, these issues.

UEL and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

We are also supporting all 17 UN SDGs. Here are some examples:

  • Goal 6 | Clean water and sanitation: UEL postgraduate researcher, Ria Devereux, has been exploring the state of microplastic pollution in the Thames. The level of pollution she found after the 2019 New Year's Eve fireworks display would truly shock you!
  • Goal 7 | Affordable and clean living: Professor of digital infrastructure, Rabih Bashroush, has been working on improving the energy efficiency of data centres. Data centres and the digital industry produce more CO2 than the entire aviation industry, and that is only set to increase as the world increasingly relies on online data storage.

These are just a few examples of the amazing projects happening across the University that are contributing solutions to the climate change crisis. To find out more follow us during COP26:


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