New Fellowships to protect the environment

New Fellowships to protect the environment

Last autumn, leaders from the world’s nations met in Glasgow for COP26 to assess commitments and progress made in tackling climate change. This follows the agreement made in Paris in 2015 to limit global heating to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and aspire to keep it to 1.5°C. These are highly aspirational targets which need to be met if severe damage to the Earth and the billions of organisms, including people, who live on it is to be avoided. It is generally said that the Glasgow conference was a success, but the real test is what happens afterwards, in terms of nations achieving their agreed targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Professor Peter Liss is an environmental scientist at the University of East AngliaDownload image
"We hope the Churchill Fellows in these themes will gain valuable ideas and experience." - Professor Peter Liss, Environment Working Group member

Closely linked to the climate change issue is that of the environment more generally, including biodiversity loss. Our activities have and continue to use and exploit the Earth’s natural resources with detrimental effects including pollution by a whole host of chemicals producing harm to biological systems, including us. Dealing with this topic is of considerable difficulty in part because of its breadth, with a myriad of individual chemicals and their interactions to be understood and their harmful effects dealt with.

So, what can the Churchill Fellowship do to attempt to address these big issues? Clearly the Fellowship can only be a small player in trying to advance knowledge of such large and complex problems. However, as a member of the charity’s Environment and Resources Working Group, I have helped to develop two new themes within which Churchill Fellowships can be awarded. These will enable Fellows to identify tractable aspects of the issues, learn how they are addressed in other countries and then apply that understanding in the UK where it can be applied to our particular situation.

One of these Fellowship themes is called Climate Change, where we are seeking Fellowship applications that attempt to help the UK to minimise climate change and adapt to its effects. Of particular but not exhaustive interest are proposals that investigate obtaining the energy we need from renewable (non-fossil fuel) sources. We encourage applications that support behavioural change on an individual, local or national scale and projects that seek a fair and equitable transition to a carbon-neutral future.

The other theme is Caring for our Natural Environment. Here we would like applications that aim to help protect, restore and enhance the environment including how to deal with biodiversity loss. Examples of particular aspects include practical solutions to address degradation of nature (including its causes and effects) and how the environment can be improved, and also projects that aim to gain better understanding of the impacts of changes in how we use and value the natural environment. We will favour projects that seek fair and equitable access to nature’s benefits for all UK communities.

Professor Peter Liss (centre) in discussion with students in Qingdao, ChinaDownload image

We do not see these two themes as being independent of each other, since in some cases there is interlinkage between climate and environmental changes. For example, change in climate affects organisms and, in turn, feedbacks from the environment can ameliorate or exacerbate climate change. With this in mind, there is no detriment to Fellowship proposals that address aspects of both themes and the interactions between them.

Also common to both themes, we are encouraging applications that seek to enhance understanding, appreciation and engagement by stakeholders and wider society, for example through education, communication, participation or policy initiatives.

In such ways we hope the Churchill Fellows in these themes will gain valuable ideas and experience, which can be used in the UK to help to address the great climate and environmental challenges that we face.

Personally, I see the work of the Churchill Fellows in these areas to be hugely important not only for the Fellows themselves but also as the contribution they can make to helping address vital goals for the benefit of human society.

Emeritus Professor Peter Liss, CBE is a member of our Advisory Council and an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia. A pioneer in the field of global biogeochemical cycles, he chairs several scientific committees, was a member of DEFRA’s Science Advisory Council and a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. He has been Executive Director of the International Science Council. Peter was awarded the Challenger Society Medal and the John Jeyes Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.

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