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SENSE Students present, ‘takeover’, and win at COP26

SENSE Students in the Blue Zone

On 10 November, SENSE student Bryony Freer and Heather Selley had the opportunity to host a side event in the ICCI Cryosphere Pavilion within the COP26 Blue Zone, following the publication of Heather’s study on the speedup of glaciers in the Getz region of Antarctica. Here, Bryony shares an account and pictures of their experience in Glasgow. 

Getting to Glasgow

Heather and I headed up to Scotland the day before our event, greeted by countless ‘Welcome to Glasgow’ signs and COP26 volunteers as we arrived at Glasgow Central station. It was a very exciting atmosphere, but we decided to spend our first night prepping our talk in the hotel room. The next day we headed to the Blue Zone bright and early, but just getting inside was a mission in itself! The whole area had been closed off for cars and we had to pass through several climate protests, turnstiles, airport-style security, and ID checks showing our passports, UNFCCC accreditation and a negative covid test result before we could enter the main conference centre.

Our Side Event in the Cryosphere Pavilion

Once we made it in, we headed straight to the Cryosphere Pavilion to get ready for our event at 10am: ‘West Antarctica: Getz on the Run’. Nerves were high, but after checking our slides all worked and getting mic’d up, we were ready to go!

Heather kicked off the session with a discussion of the importance of the Antarctic ice sheet in the global climate system. I followed up by highlighting the important role of satellites and earth observation data in underpinning climate change science and monitoring its impacts in the polar regions. Heather then presented findings from her study on the speedup of glaciers in the Getz region of Antarctica, and we finished up together to tell the story of the series of climate treaties, conferences and reports chosen by Heather to give their names to 9 previously unnamed glaciers in the Getz region. These included:

  • Geneva Glacier – the world’s first climate conference in 1979
  • Rio Glacier – the first ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992
  • Berlin Glacier – the first Conference of Parties (COP1) in 1995. 
  • Kyoto Glacier – the signing of the Kyoto Protocol at COP3 in 1997
  • Bali Glacier – the release of IPCC Assessment Report 4 (AR4) in 2007
  • Stockholm Glacier – the IPCC AR5 approval session in 2014
  • Paris – the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement
  • Incheon – the special report of global warming of 1.5°C
  • Glasgow Glacier – the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26)

These were named to honour 42 years of scientific collaboration and climate policy decision making, but also act as a symbol of what was at stake in Glasgow.

The event seemed to go down well and after some interesting Q&As we were able to enjoy chatting with some of our audience over coffee + pastries. You can watch the event back on the ICCI Youtube Channel here

Exploring the Blue Zone

In the afternoon, we set off exploring the rest of the conference centre!  First up we went to check out the other pavilions, most importantly to see who was offering the best food and merch (South Africa definitely took the prize here!). We were able to sit in on a couple of very interesting talks, including a side event run in the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion about how Indigenous Women and Girls across the world understand climate change, and a lunch briefing in the Nordic Pavilion from members of the Icelandic Youth Environmentalist Association.

Attending an event in the Indigenous Peoples Pavilion: ‘How Indigenous Women and Girls Understand Climate Change’

As observers in the Blue Zone we were also able to sit in on many of the main Plenary sessions. Heather and I managed to get a seat in the ‘Informal stocktaking plenary by the Present’ led by Rt Hon Alok Sharma.  It was very exciting sitting in the room alongside representatives from all of the different UN member states, and witnessing how these kinds of meetings function. To be honest much of the actual content was pretty dry, going through precise wording of texts drafted during the negotiations, but it was interesting to see how each member was given the opportunity to make interventions putting forward their points of view.

Heather and Bryony in the ‘Action Zone’

In the evening, we headed to the ‘Action Zone’ – a huge space filled with media outlets broadcasting to the world. Of course we had to get some photos under the huge spinning globe suspended above us – a poignant reminder of all that we were trying to protect during COP26. We were able to watch the UN Global Climate Action awards ceremony, in which prizes were awarded to innovative projects across the globe showing innovative, scalable and replicable examples of action to tackle climate change. A highlight was seeing the Climate Neutral Now award given to Taylors of Harrogate! The awards ended with a speech by Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and an inspiring musical performance, entitled ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’.  This was a very uplifting end to our first day at COP!

Whilst Heather was working with Space4Climate in the Green Zone for the rest of the week, I decided to make the most of my Blue Zone pass. Morag (a fellow SENSE student) was able to join me from Edinburgh on the Friday and together we did some more exploring! As this was technically the last day of COP it was an exciting day to be inside, although disappointingly a lot of the more juicy meetings and negotiations were closed to observers. One of the most inspiring sessions we were able to attend though was the People’s Plenary organised by the COP26 Coalition. Here, representatives from UNFCCC civil society groups around the world took the stage to deliver the People’s Decision for Climate Justice, demanding a just and urgent outcome from COP26. These groups included the Gender and Women constituency, YOUNGO (Children and Youth constituency), Farmers & Peasants, CAN International, the Disability Caucus, Trade Unions Congress Demand Climate Justice and Indigenous Peoples.

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, speaking at the UN Global Climate Action awards ceremony

The huge room was full to capacity, brimming with energy with speakers expressing their deep frustration with the outcomes of the climate summit; a stark contrast to the rather dry official plenary sessions that we had attended earlier in the week. Emotions were high; people chanting, singing and crying. The session ended with a call for hundreds of us to march out of the Blue Zone meet a rally of climate justice movements hosted by Fridays for Future Scotland. Morag and I joined the march and it was a very memorable experience that will stay with us for a long time.

On our last night, Heather and I went for a celebratory meal and drinks with other COP26 attendees from Leeds, including Prof. Piers Forster who brought along some of his other IPCC colleagues! A fantastic way to end our time in Glasgow.

It was a privilege to have the opportunity to attend and present at COP26 and it has definitely inspired us to become more engaged with climate change policy & action in the future.

SENSE Student is joint-winner of the COP26 SFN Hackathon!

One of big problems facing small scale farmers today is a lack of timely and good quality services that help them improve their farming methods and techniques. With the onset of the digital revolution, many organisations offer a variety of digital applications for farmers, but these tend to be siloed with a lack of transparency and interoperability. Farmers and farming collectives end up subscribing to too many independent solutions.

In an effort to address this, the STFC Food Network (link) has been involved in developing an integrated platform for small scale farming collectives in order to improve their incomes, tclimate resilience, and to improve transparency and traceability in the supply chain.

As part of this, the STFC Food Network launched a ‘hackathon’ event in November, in which different groups of scientists, coders etc competed over the course of a few days to develop an integrated open access platfom for recommending crop type, planting data, management advice and more for smallholder farmers in India. This was a competition with a cash prize for first place, alongside additional funding for winners to develop their projects further into a real world application. More info here

SENSE Student Sam Bancroft was announed joint-winner, and he says –

Working against a tight deadline, I developed an application that I called the ‘One Stop Crop Shop’ – an online portal using data science and machine learning techniques to help Indian smallholder farmers. By using soil maps and meteorological data, guided by farming decisions over the last 5 years, I successfully trained a machine learning model that recommended the top crops for a farmer to plant given a date, location, and field size.

Other features of the application included:

  1. Information on soil health, including how best to manage a crop with fertilisers. Local weather information for a location could be used to inform farmers as to when they should or shouldnt apply fertiliser to their fields.
  2. A tool to allow farmers to look up local market data in their district, and quickly analyse market trends for a given crop.
  3. An aproach using historical satellite imagery to infer when previous crops have been sown and harvested, in order to given farmers a good sense on how their neighbours and competitors have managed their crops.
See Sam’s online portal in action

I was really pleased to be announced joint-winner of this hackathon, sharing my prize with ‘Team Revive’. We’re in discussions on how to further our work with the STFC Food Network and I’m excited about the potential for my data science platform to have a real-world impact.

Well done Sam!

SENSE Students in S4C Youth Takeover

On the Fridays of COP26, the Green Zone – or public outreach area – hosted a ‘Youth Takeover’, focussing on the impacts on, and role of young people in the climate crisis. SENSE students Amber Turton, Lucy Wells and Calum Hoad made the trip to Glasgow to ‘Takeover’ the Space4Climate stand in the Green Zone, alongside other young people in the Earth Observation sector. 

Space4Climate is an organisation that links together different users of Earth Observation data for research and climate action. We joined their stand to demonstrate to the public the wide range of satellite data that’s available, and how it’s used in many different ways for climate science, from figuring out where peatlands are degrading and emitting carbon, to understanding how the Antarctic ice sheets are changing. 

We shared the world of satellite data with the public using interactive displays such as a ‘pufferfish’ globe to represent different data across the globe.