A week at COP23

From the 6th -17th of November the UNFCCC’s (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change) annual meeting or “Conference of the Parties” – COP took place. This year was COP23 and was hosted by Bonn in the UN’s world conference centre with Fiji taking the presidency.


Heading into the Bonn Zone on the first day of the COP. The Bonn Zone was the part of the conference for NGO stands and side events.

As part of the Walker Institutes Climate Action Studio another SCENARIO PhD and I attended the first week of the COP while students back in Reading participated remotely via the UNFCCC’s YouTube channel and through interviews with other participants of the COP.

There are many different components to the COP, it is primarily the meeting of a number of different international Climate agreements with lots of work currently being done on the implementation on the Paris Agreement. However it is also a space where many different civil society groups doing work connected to or impacted by climate change come together, to make connections with other NGOs as well as governments. This is done in an official capacity within the “exhibition zone” of the conference and with a vast array of side events taking place throughout the two weeks. Outside of these official events there are also many demonstrations both inside and outside of the conference space.

Demonstrations in the Bonn Zone

As an observer I was able to watch some of the official negotiations. On the Wednesday I attended the SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) informal consultation on research and systematic observations. It was an illuminating experience to see the negotiation process in action. At times it was frustrating to see how picky it feels like the negotiation teams can be, however over the week I did have a newfound appreciation for the complexity of the issues that are having to be resolved. This meeting was based on writing a short summary of the IPCC report and other scientific reports used by the COP, and so was less politically charged than a lot of the other meetings. However this didn’t stop an unexpected amount of debate over whether to include examples such as carbon-dioxide concentrations.

One of the most useful ways to learn about the COP was by talking to the different people and groups who we met at COP. It was interesting to see the different angles with which people were approaching the COP. From researchers who were observing the political process, to environmental and human rights NGO’s trying to get governments to engage with issues that they’re working on.

Interviewing other COP participants at the Walker Institutes stand

A particular highlight was the ex-leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett, she spoke with us and the students back in Reading about a wide range of topics, from women’s involvement in the climate movement to discussing my PhD.

Kelly Stone from Action Aid provided a great insight into how charities operate at the COP. She spoke of making connections with other charities, often there are areas of overlap between their work but on other issues they had diverging opinions. However these differences have to be put aside to make progress on their shared interests. Kelly also discussed how it always amazes her that people are surprised that everyone who attends COP does not agree on everything, “we’re not deciding if climate change is real”. The issues being dealt with at the COP are complex dealing with human rights, economics, technology as well as climate change. Often serious compromises have to be made and this must be done by reaching a consensus between all 197 Parties to the UNFCCC.

To read more about the student experience of COP and summaries of specific talks and interviews you can view the COP CAS blog here. You can also read about last years COP on this blog here.

Clockwise from top left: The opening on the evening of Monday 6th November showed Fiji leaving its own mark as the President of the conference. The Norwegian Pavilion had a real Scandi feel, while the Fiji Pavilion transported visitors to a tropical island.


Adventures in Modelling – NCAS Climate Modelling Summer School

At the beginning of September 3 PhD students from Reading, including myself, went to Cambridge to attend the NCAS Climate Modelling Summer School. This is an annual event aimed at PhD students and early career scientists who want to develop their understanding of climate models, with topics covering parameterisations to supercomputers.

Staff and students of the course pose outside the Chemistry department, which played host to morning lectures

The course ran over two weeks with lectures on the components of climate models in the morning, covering fundamental dynamics and thermodynamics, numerical methods and different parameterisations. This was followed by an afternoon of computer practicals and then more topical lectures in the evening, such as “User engagement in climate science” and “The Sun and Earth’s climate system”. The lectures were very fast paced but this was a great opportunity to cover so many topics in a short space of time and get a grounding in lots of different topics that I will definitely be looking over in future. A poster session on the second evening gave us the chance to learn about other people’s work and make connections with other people starting out their careers in climate science, including a few readers of the blog, that will hopefully last throughout our careers.

One of the highlights of the course was the chance to run some (rather interesting) experiments with an earth system model. This involved breaking into groups with each being given a different project. It was exciting to go  through the whole process of having an idea, developing a hypothesis, thinking of specific experiments to answer the hypothesis and then analysing the results in just a week – something that takes much longer when you’re doing a PhD! My group worked on the Flat Earth experiment, which looked at the effect of removing all of the earth’s orography not, to our dismay, turning the earth into a flat disk. I learned a lot about how to run models, something which I have never done even though I use the output. It also developed my understanding of different climate processes that I don’t work with such as the monsoons, and even dynamical vegetation.

Flat earth experiment looking at the change in the monsoon winds

Throughout the course we stayed at St Catharine’s College. Right in the centre of Cambridge it quickly felt like a home from home, keeping us well fed to get through the intense science. Although the weekend was rainy, apparently breaking a run of excellent weather for the school, we still had plenty of time to explore beautiful Cambridge. A few people were even brave enough to go punting!

An interesting, hectic and inspiring two weeks later we may have been glad to head back to Reading for a good sleep but having thoroughly enjoyed the summer school.

The beautiful St Catharine’s College, image from http://www.caths.cam.ac.uk/


Summer Barbecue and Ceilidh

Every year the Meteorology Department holds a summer barbecue and ceilidh to celebrate the end of the academic year. Organised by a couple of PhD students, work has been going on behind the scenes for a couple of months. There’s a surprising amount of things to do for an event like this, with health and safety forms and events licenses to fill in as well as booking the band, trying to find 200 bread rolls, and ticket design and selling.

After what seems like an age the day of the barbecue finally arrived! The first job was to collect all the meat – trying to fit 160 burgers and sausages into the communal fridge finally put my tetris skills to good use. A day of bread slicing and salad prep followed until 4:30 arrived and all the PhD students were rounded up to transform the lawn next to the department into a summer party paradise. What looked like an explosion in a bunting factory, one extremely innuendo ridden marquee erection later and with the BBQs lit everything was ready for the guests.

How many PhD students does it take to put up a marquee?

Primarily being a barbecue the food was of utmost importance. As the guests began to arrive the brilliant (or foolish) volunteers were hard at work keeping up with the demand for sausages and burgers. Fortunately the weather held out and we ended up with a rather glorious evening. It was lovely to be sat out on the sunny lawn with a glass of sangria surrounded by people enjoying an event that you’d put together. However we couldn’t just sit back and watch the clouds all evening, there was the Ceilidh to come.

Following rave reviews last year the Hogs Back Band made their triumphant return. For those not in the know a ceilidh is a party with folk music and traditional dances. I don’t know about you but I don’t have a repertoire of traditional folk dances memorised. Luckily for us the band came with a caller who explains all the dance, gives some interesting facts and helps pressure some ‘volunteers’ to get up and dance.

The first people on the dance floor were the kids and families, but after a couple of songs, some social pressure and a touch of dutch courage the students and staff started to get up. For a supposedly well educated group some of the dances caused us a bit of trouble; fortunately the band’s caller was on hand to put us to rights and publicly shame the group that were having the most trouble. Let me tell you dancing to a ceilidh is a proper work out! Good job there was a stack of desserts brought by some of meteorology’s excellent bakers to keep us going.



After the sun had set everyone was rounded up for the final dance, with a lot of galloping round a giant circle and spinning round we were almost done. Just tidying up and then back inside for the afterparty.

All in all it was a great event to get everyone together and get the students and staff to mix in a social setting. Watching your supervisor dancing a ceilidh with their children certainly helps you remember that they’re real people too. It’s so lovely to be part of such a sociable department and be reminded that there’s more to life than your PhD.