Innovating for Sustainable Development


In 2016 the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force to tackle key global challenges under a sustainable framework.

The SDGs comprise 17 global goals and 169 targets to be achieved across the next 15 years. As part of the ‘2030 Agenda’ for sustainable development, these goals aim to address a range of important global environmental, social and economic issues such as climate change, poverty, hunger and inequality. Adopted by leaders across the world, these goals are a ‘call for action’ to ensure that no one is left behind. However, the SDGs are not legally binding. The success of goals will rely solely on the efforts of individual countries to establish and implement a national framework for achieving sustainable development.

The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals

As part of the NERC funded ‘Innovating for Sustainable Development’ programme, students here in the Department of Meteorology were given the opportunity to explore and find solutions to key environmental challenges as outlined in the UN’s SDGs.

Run by the SCENARIO and SSCP doctoral training partnerships, the programme challenged students from a variety of disciplines and institutions to re-frame the SDGs from a multi-disciplinary perspective and to develop tangible, innovative solutions for sustainable development.

The programme began with an ‘Interdisciplinary Challenges Workshop’ where students participated in activities and exercises to review the importance of the SDGs and to consider their multi-disciplinary nature. Students were encouraged to think creatively and discuss issues related to each of the goals, such as: ‘Is this SDG achievable?’, ‘Are the goals contradictory?’ and ‘How could I apply my research to help achieve the SDGs?’

Visual representations of SDG 5 and SDG 7

Following this, three ‘Case Study’ days explored a handful of the SDGs in greater detail, with representatives from industry, start-ups and NGOs explaining how they are working to achieve a particular SDG, their current challenges and possible opportunities for further innovation.

The first Case Study day focused on both SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy and SDG 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production. For SDG 7, insightful talks were given by the Moving Energy Initiative on the issue of delivering energy solutions to millions of displaced people, and BBOXX, on their work to produce and distribute off-grid solar power systems to rural communities in places such as Kenya and Rwanda. In the afternoon, presentations given by Climate-KIC start up NER and Waitrose showcased the efforts currently being taken to reduce wasteful food production and packaging, while Forum for the Future emphasised the importance of addressing sustainable nutrition.

The second Case Study day focused on SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation. Experts from WaterAid, De-Solenator, Bear Valley Ventures, UKWIR and the International Institute for Environmental Development outlined the importance of confronting global sanitation and water challenges in both developing and developed nations. Alarmingly, it was highlighted that an estimated 40% of the global population are affected by water scarcity and 2.4 billion people still lack access to basic sanitation services, with more than 80% of human activity wastewater discharged into rivers without going through any stage of pollution removal (UN, 2016).

Case study
Participants discussing ideas during the second Case Study day

The last Case Study day explored SDG 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities. A range of talks on building technologies, carbon neutral buildings and sustainable solar technologies were given, along with a presentation by OPDC on the UK’s largest regeneration project. The day finished off with an overview from the Greater London Authority about the London Infrastructure Map and their new approach to sustainable planning and development across the city.

The programme finished off with a second workshop. Here students teamed up to develop innovative business ideas aimed at solving the SDG challenges presented throughout the Case Study events. Business coaches and experts were on hand to offer advice to help the teams develop ideas that could become commercially viable.

On the 16th March the teams presented their business ideas at the ‘Meet the Cleantech Pioneers’ networking event at Imperial’s new Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB). An overview of the projects can be found here. This event, partnered with the Climate-KIC accelerator programme, provided an excellent platform for participants to showcase and discuss their ideas with a mix of investors, entrepreneurs, NGOs and academics all interested in achieving sustainable development.

The final showcase event at Imperial’s I-HUB

Overall the programme provided a great opportunity to examine the importance of the SDGs and to work closely with PhD students from a range of backgrounds. Fundamentally the process emphasised the point that, in order for the world to meet the 2030 Agenda, many sustainable development challenges still need to be better understood and many solutions still need to be provided – and here scientific research can play a key role. Furthermore, it was made clear that a high level of interdisciplinary thinking, research and innovation is needed to achieve sustainable development.



UN, 2016: Clean Water and Sanitation – Why it matters, United Nations, Accessed 05 March 2017. [Available online at]

What is loss and damage from climate change?

Characterizing loss and damage from climate change
James et al., 2014. Nature Climate Change, 4, 938–939. doi:10.1038/nclimate2411


Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries negotiate how to address the impacts of anthropogenic climate change through mitigation and adaptation. Despite these efforts, climate-related events still cause huge impacts across the globe every year. Impacts can be particularly  devastating in developing countries and this is what the relatively new area of ‘loss and damage’ in the negotiations aims to address.

In 2013, the UNFCCC established the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) to “address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extremes events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change” (UNFCCC, 2013). Two decades of negotiating went into forming this mechanism, since the first calls from small island developing states in the early 1990s to address the effects of sea level rise.

Island states such as Vanuatu in the South Pacific have been requesting support for the impacts of sea level rise since the early 1990s. Source: Meredith James/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The WIM states it will address the impacts of both extreme events (such as floods and heatwaves) and slow onset events (such as sea level rise). However, as yet, there is no official definition of what loss and damage will actually encompass. In our commentary in Nature Climate Change (James et al., 2014), we considered one aspect of defining loss and damage: whether loss and damage would need to be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. As the text of the WIM describes “loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change” and the UNFCCC’s definition of climate change is that which is “attributed directly or indirectly to human activity” (UNFCCC, 1992), this could imply that there would need to be proof that impacts from events were caused by anthropogenic climate change.

If this were the case, impacts would first need to be attributed to particular events (e.g. the infrastructure damaged by a particular flood), and then the event would need to be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. For slow-onset events like sea level rise, the science attributing these to anthropogenic climate change is well-established. However for individual events it is much more challenging to say how climate change had an influence. Extreme event attribution can, for some types of events, estimate how anthropogenic climate change affected the probability of the particular event occurring. This generally relies on large ensembles of climate model simulations, which are necessary to estimate the probabilities of such rare events, and studies therefore rely on the ability of the models to represent the processes that produce the extreme event in question. Observations are also necessary to both to validate the model simulations and define the extreme event to be studied, which are not always available, particularly in developing countries. Up to now, studies attributing specific events have been carried out on an ad hoc basis in the aftermath of particularly extreme events, rather than more systematically. They have also mainly focussed on events in developed countries, rather than the developing countries the WIM aims to assist.

Typhoon Haiyan caused devastation in November 2013 as the WIM was being negotiated. It was used as an example of loss and damage, but without any consideration of whether anthropogenic climate change played a role. Is this an important consideration? Source: DFID/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

While the attribution of events to anthropogenic climate change could be relevant to addressing loss and damage, it is controversial in negotiations. This is in part due to its perceived association with compensation claims. However we suggest that, somewhere along the line, the question of causality is likely to come up, to establish just what the loss and damage being addressed is. Attribution may or may not have a role to play here. What is key is that as event attribution science is continuing to develop, scientists and policymakers need to have opportunities for conversations about what information the science can provide and how this could be applied if it was deemed necessary for policy.

Since writing our commentary we have continued to research this science-policy interface. We have investigated what is understood about event attribution science by stakeholders associated with loss and damage negotiations and how they think it could be relevant (Parker et al., 2016). We have also investigated how policymakers and practitioners are defining ‘loss and damage’, as this still has no official definition and there are differing perspectives among those looking to address loss and damage. Our aim is that by better understanding this policy context, the science will be able to develop in ways that are most relevant to the needs of decision makers and, if deemed relevant, ultimately help to address loss and damage in vulnerable regions.

This work forms part of the ACE-Africa project, for more information see 


James, R., Otto, F., Parker, H., Boyd, E., Cornforth, R., Mitchell, D., & Allen, M. (2014). Characterizing loss and damage from climate change. Nature Climate Change, 4, 938-939, doi: 10.1038/nclimate2411.

Parker, H. R. , Boyd, E., Cornforth, R. J., James, R., Otto, F. E. L., & Allen, M. R. (2016). Stakeholder perceptions of event attribution in the loss and damage debate. Climate Policy, doi: 10.1080/14693062.2015.1124750.

UNFCCC (1992). Article 1: Definitions

UNFCCC (2013). Decision 2/CP.19: Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts FCCC/CP/2013/10/Add.1

Discovering COP22


Over the past two weeks 25,000 delegates have been gathering in Marrakech to discuss mitigation and adaptation for climate change. On the 4th November 2016 the Paris Agreement came into force and as a result discussions during the conference debated its implementation. The Walker Institute and the Department of Meteorology (University of Reading), with the support of the NERC SCENARIO doctoral training partnership and an UNFCCC partnership, supported two PhD students to be official UN observers at COP22, and enabled remote participation with students back at Reading University. To find out more about our work with COP22 continue reading this blog post and check out:

Today (18/11/16) the UK government are set to announce that the United Kingdom has ratified the Paris Agreement. Yesterday, Boris Johnson (UK foreign secretary) signed the Paris Agreement after no objections were raised by the House of Commons or House of Lords. The United Kingdom in accordance with the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) of the European Union, are set to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 relative to 1990 emission levels. Today also marks the end of the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and here are some quick summary points that PhD students took away from observing the process in Marrakech:

1) The significance of the Paris Agreement.

“Now that we have Paris, we need to take action immediately”

Teresa Anderson, ActionAid UK.

The Paris Agreement marks a change in the intentions during the COP process. Due to the success and ratification of the Paris Agreement more discussions can be based on the adaptation and mitigation against climate change, rather than negotiating global targets on climate change prevention. The Paris Agreement states that a global response is needed to respond to the threat of climate change and that global temperature rise should be kept well below 2°C and that efforts should be pursued to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. COP22 Marrakech, began by stating that this is the “COP of Action”, and therefore the focus seen during side events, negotiations, dignitary speeches and press conferences was on the need for action.

“Countries have strongly supported the [Paris] Agreement because they realize their own national interest is best secured by pursuing the common good. Now we have to translate words into effective policies and actions.”

Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.


2) A continued effort is needed to concentrate on the individual.

As SCENARIO PhD students we were challenged to understand the process that takes place during a UNFCCC conference. To do this we interviewed many conference delegates including policymakers, research organisations, industry experts, entrepreneurs, environmental consultants and funding sources to name a few. A common theme that ran through most of our interviews is that action is needed to prioritise the individual as well as thinking in terms of national- and community-level. To ensure the successful mitigation and adaptation to climate change, strategies need to come into place that protect the rights of the individual. This poses a global challenge, stretching from protecting the livelihoods of indigenous cultures and those impacted by sea level rise on low-lying islands, to supporting workers who rely on the non-renewable energy industry. In terms of climate research we need to ensure that we make our scientific conclusions accessible on an individual-level so that our work has a greater impact.

“a key goal for us is making climate change research accessible to the user community”

Clare Kapp, WMO Press Office Communications Leader.

3) Action is needed now, however the Paris Agreement only implies action post-2020.

Throughout our attendance in plenary meetings and side events there was an emphasis that whilst the Paris Agreement is an important stepping stone to combatting climate change, action is needed before 2020 for the Paris Agreement to be reached. Currently INDCs are proposed for between 2021-2030, however for the intended global temperature targets to be achieved it was argued that action is needed now. Although, pre-2020 action raises much contention, with the most popular argument against pre-2020 action being that more time and effort is needed for negotiations to ensure that a better understanding of national efforts to climate change mitigation is determined.

“We need to take action before 2020. Working for action post-2020 is not going to be enough. We need to start acting now.”

Honduras Party Representative.

“We need more time to work on the rule book for the Paris Agreement. Discussions on this should continue.”

Switzerland Party Representative.

4) There is a difference in opinion on whether 1.5°C can be reached.

For me the most interesting question we asked conference delegates was “do you think the target of 1.5°C can be reached?” This question brought a difference of opinion including some party members arguing that the change in our non-renewable energy dependence is far too great for the target to be achieved. Meanwhile, other political representatives and NGO delegates argued that accepting the target is unachievable before even trying makes negotiations and discussions less successful. There was also anticipation for the future IPCC report titled, Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.

“Of course we want to fight for 1.5°C, why fight for 2°C? It just makes sense to fight for 1.5°C”

Martina Duncan, Party Representative for Grenada.

COP22 has been a fantastic opportunity for PhD students in our department to interact and understand the process that takes place during a UNFCCC conference. Whilst the past couple of weeks have been dominated by the results of the US election and the associated uncertainties, there has been an increasing global recognition of climate change and that action should be taken. In the next few years the challenge to mitigate and adapt towards climate change will be an increasing priority, and let us hope that these annual UNFCCC conferences are key stepping stones for climate change action.

“This is a problem people are recognising, and that it is time to change”

Jonathan Pershing, US Climate Envoy

Thank you all those who have supported our work at COP22 this year. Thank you to the Walker Institute, NERC SCENARIO doctoral training partnership and UNFCCC for this brilliant opportunity. Thank you to all those who have supported us with publicity including NERC, Royal Meteorological Society, members of staff and PhD students at the University of Reading and Lucy Wallace who has ensured the appropriate communication of our project. Plus a huge thanks to all delegates and staff at COP22 who volunteered their time to talk to us.

Robots and COP?


Robots aren’t a frequent topic of conversation amongst PhD students in the Met department, but currently everyone seems to be talking about a robot, virtual reality and COP. What’s going on?

COP stands for the Conference of the Parties, and forms the decision making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is the UN body with the responsibility of “stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. They meet once a year to review and assess the implementation of the UNFCCC and associated agreements and protocols. The 22nd COP will be held in Morocco next week.

So what is significant about this year’s COP? Well 2015 was a landmark year in terms of creation of UN agreements. Firstly, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction aims to substantially reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health. Secondly, the Sustainable Development Goals, call for action to end poverty, protect the planet and encourage peace and prosperity. Thirdly, and finally the Paris Agreement, when all nations agreed to limit the global temperature rise this century to below 2 degrees Celsius and to try to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the agreement aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

We, as PhD students studying meteorology understand that robust evidence underpins the three major global agreements of 2015. The first priority for action under the Sendai Framework is ‘understanding disaster risk’, where science is one of the major contributors. Many of the Sustainable Development Goals, which link strongly with both the Paris Agreement and Sendai Framework , require a strong scientific basis. As early career scientists, appreciating the role of research and importance of our science is crucial.

So where does the robot come into this? Next week, Josh Talib and Caroline Dunning will be attending COP22 in Morocco on behalf of the Walker Institute. Accompanying us will be a robot avatar, which will enable remote participation in COP. Back in Reading, other PhD students will be running a Climate Action Studio, operating the robot and using virtual reality to interact with the COP and conduct interviews with participants. The hope is that, with the help of the robot avatar, we will all be able to engage with the discussions in Marrakech, and gain a greater understanding of climate governance.


If you are interested in hearing more, or intrigued about how we are using a robot to conduct interviews, we will be posting updates on this blog under the COP22 link ( We will also be tweeting using the hashtag #COPbot on @SocialMetwork. Thank you to NERC, SCENARIO DTP and the Walker Institute for this incredible opportunity.


What will make the public and politicians take climate change seriously?



Imagine you’re creating a problem that we don’t understand. A problem where the majority of people just go, “meh, not important, I don’t really get it”.

What would it look like?

It would be complex, uncertain, something in the future and possibly an issue that was geographically distant.

Now those factors should you remind of climate change, and on 5th October 2016 the South-East Royal Meteorological Society local centre hosted a meeting where a panel of experts were presented with the question, “What will make the public and politicians take climate change seriously?”

The panel included professionals from a range of backgrounds including Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, leading expert in meteorology and climate, and first director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London. Dr Rachel McCloy a well-respected figure in behavioural science with experience in policy making in the former Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Treasury. Finally, Paul Simons a prominent journalist for the Times known for the depth of scientific understanding in his articles.

Images taken during the RMetS South East local centre meeting (06/10/16). Left image: Panelists (from left to right) including Dr Rachel McCloy, Sir Brian Hoskins and Paul Simons.

Sir Brian Hoskins opened the discussion with the challenge that we have a responsibility to “encourage” rather than “make” the public take climate change seriously, and recognised the progress in politics including targets announced in COP21, Paris and the UK Climate Change Act 2008. However, it was also recognised that climate change may not be prioritised high enough in political agendas, and the question was raised on whether governments take their environmental global responsibility seriously enough?

Discussion then moved onto personal actions each one of us can take to increase the public response. Repeating the “doom and gloom” message over climate change can become boring and repetitive, and we need to bring a positive message to tackling this global issue. We also need to recognise the responsibility of the individual in a global context and introduce small steps that can be taken to reduce our environmental impact.

One key message from Brian’s talk, and the meeting as whole, was that it’s currently hard for a member of the public to understand what climate change actually means to their daily lives. What impact will a 2°C global temperature rise actually cause? Researchers, the media and policymakers need to relate the science of global warming to our everyday lives, whether that’s through health, nutrition, the working environment, or air quality to name a few.

Our second speaker, Dr Rachel McCloy, introduced psychological behavioural frameworks that are introduced by climate change and how they impact the progression towards successful mitigation. For example, emotional reactions towards climate change can include dread and injustice, and this combined with typical adjectives used to describe the environmental changes including “natural” and “uncontrollable”, can lead to an increased likelihood of no effort being taken at all against climate change.

A component of Rachel’s talk I found particularly interesting was the impact of over-congratulating individuals and societies for taking “baby steps”. When we congratulate or applaud an action too much it reduces the likelihood of an even better action taking place. Therefore, as a society, we need to keep looking at the next step to mitigating against climate change. If we think about this in the present day, could we agree that we congratulated the agreements met in COP21 Paris too much, and as a result the likelihood of ratification and progress being made has been dropped. We as a community need to hold each other to account even when those “baby steps” have been made.

And finally, Paul, a leading science journalist for The Times, brought to the discussion how the media can be used to encourage climate change to be taken seriously. Everything in the media is a story and when a phenomena such climate change impacts health, water or even transportation it can gain a public interest. To increase the media’s attention to climate change, greater emphasis is needed on how environmental changes will impact our daily lives. Paul also reminded us that the public have begun to associate extreme weather events to climate change, whether proven to be a result of anthropogenic action or not. A recent example that comes to my mind is the recent European thunderstorms that occurred last summer. The media should be used to successfully “shape opinions” and it is up to us to grasp the opportunities that they have to offer.

After an intriguing set of three short talks to answer the question “What will make the public and politicians take climate change seriously?”, discussion was opened to the audience. Questions included: What is the importance of education to solving climate change? How much advocacy work should a climate scientist get involved in? The meeting as a whole stimulated a continued discussion on how climate change can be communicated effectively to “encourage” the public and politicians to take climate change seriously.

I would like to thank all three panellists for a set of thought-provoking and challenging talks. Thank you to the Royal Meteorological Society for supporting the local centre event, and to find out more about meetings taking place in your region check out