Cambridge Festival: can we save our planet?

Will the energy crisis help or hinder UK climate policies? Isn’t it time to fundamentally change the way we live; from the money we spend and the food we eat to how we power our homes and cars? And how can the financial sector help us deliver on the aims of the Glasgow Climate Pact?

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These questions and more are set to be debated during a series of high-profile panel discussions at the Cambridge Festival, which begins on 31st March and runs until 10th April.  

Run by the University of Cambridge, the Festival brings together leading science and policy experts to examine the critical state of our environment and offer solutions for how we might repair it during a series of 90+ events focussed on these pressing issues.

Speakers include Sir Tim Smit from the Eden project in Cornwall; Susie Townend, Head of the secretariat for Scotland’s Climate Assembly, Will Saunter, co-founder of the Cambridge Alt Protein Society and a stem cell scientist at Animal Alternative Technologies; Sir Ian Andrews CBE TD, vice-chair of the National Preparedness Commission (NPC) and former second permanent secretary, Ministry of Defence; Caroline Pollock, Senior Programme Coordinator at The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Claire Dykta, UK Head of Strategy at National Grid; Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of Research in the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge and Dr Nina Seega, Research Director for Sustainable Finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership – both from the University of Cambridge.

We are lurching rapidly towards an energy price and supply crisis, which is being further exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. In UK Energy price crisis (31 March in person and online) a panel explore the many serious implications and challenges involved in this crisis. They also discuss what the regulatory developments could mean over the short, medium, or long-term for the Treasury and to UK energy and climate policy more generally. With Dr David Reiner, a political scientist and University Senior Lecturer in Technology Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School; Claire Dykta, UK Head of Strategy at National Grid; and Dan Alchin, Deputy Director of Retail at Energy UK.

In a related event, Ethics of energy (4 April online), Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, Director of Research in the Centre for Climate Repair at Cambridge, and Dr Mette High, Director of Centre for Energy Ethics at St Andrews University, discuss new research activities to develop next-generation power and heating systems that support energy transition. With the focus on cutting emissions rapidly and the acceleration for Net Zero they ask: what are the ethical implications for what is billed as the next global revolution? What are the financial costs and how would this compare with inaction? What are the ethics of not making investments and changes now? What systems can help the transition?

Dr Sam Stranks from the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge also discusses alternative energy, specifically the potential of novel materials for affordable, next-generation, solar power and lighting during his talk, The future of perovskites for solar power and lighting (6 April in person and online).

With advancing climate impacts comes the need to rapidly rethink and retool how we organise and run our societies. In Cambridge climate lecture series: Eden, Assemblies & COP26 - Climate & People (31 March in person and online) a panel of speakers with a wealth of knowledge and real-world experience discuss solutions and the policy challenges associated with making society actually work in a just and equitable way. Dr Natalie Jones from the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge examines how global injustice and inequality can contribute to climate change. Sir Tim Smit, from the Eden project in Cornwall, offers his thoughts on a more rigorous approach to climate change. Susie Townend, Head of the secretariat for Scotland’s Climate Assembly, presents her recommendations on how governments should change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way. Rebecca Willis, Professor in Energy and Climate Governance at Lancaster University, looks at the relationship between the citizen and state in climate governance. In 2019-2020, Professor Willis was an Expert Lead to Climate Assembly UK, the first national Citizens' Assembly on Climate Change.

The finance sector also comes under scrutiny. Ensuring that finance serves people, nature and climate is key to transitioning towards a sustainable economy. In Financing the transition to a sustainable economy (7 April online), Dr Nina Seega, Research Director for Sustainable Finance at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, University of Cambridge asks: What is sustainable finance? What has COP26 meant for the financial sector? And how can the financial sector help us deliver on the aims of the Glasgow agreement?

From finance to food. Alternative proteins like plant-based and lab-grown meats, or food products made from insects or precision fermentation, are hailed as environmentally sustainable and ethically clean solutions to the challenges posed by climate change. Some of them are already on offer in supermarkets or restaurants around the world. In Alternative proteins, alternative values: changing foods for a changing world (8 April in person and online) researchers and industry experts from the biotech and food sectors explore this new trend. With Blake Byrne, a biotechnologist at the University of Cambridge who formerly served as the lead Science & Technology analyst for the Good Food Institute; Will Saunter, co-founder of the Cambridge Alt Protein Society and a stem cell scientist at Animal Alternative Technologies; Joe Halstead, Manging Director at AgriGrub Ltd; Dr Payam Mehrshahi, a plant biotechnologist at the University of Cambridge; and Dr Inanna Hamati-Ataya, founding director of the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge.  

How we get around is also a big issue. Transport is the UK's largest carbon emitting sector, with virtually no progress in emissions reduction since 1990. While low-carbon technologies are becoming widely available, research shows that no two towns and cities have the same mixture of challenges and solutions. Moreover, the reasons why we travel in the first place (and the means of doing so) are a complex mix of social, economic and political factors. The challenges and possible solutions in Cambridgeshire are explored during the workshop event, Inclusive systems mapping workshop: decarbonising transport in Cambridgeshire (8 April in person). With Dr Timea Nochta, Visiting Fellow, Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, University of Cambridge, and Assistant Professor, Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham; Dr Li Wan, Lecturer, Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge; and Dr Louise Reardon - Associate Professor, Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham.

Climate change will likely increase the chance of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts and storms around the world. So, how do we help societies prepare for these sorts of shocks and to be able to rebuild and recover afterwards? Experts discuss this question and more in How do we build a resilient society (31 March in person). They draw on recent research as well as expert knowledge to highlight how all of society, from national decision makers to emergency services, the UK's Armed Forces and the public, need to work together in the endeavour to bolster societal resilience. With Sir Ian Andrews CBE TD, vice-chair of the National Preparedness Commission (NPC) and former second permanent secretary, Ministry of Defence; Rebecca Lucas, a defence, security and infrastructure analyst at RAND Europe; and Stephen Baker, chief executive of East Suffolk Council and a commissioner for the NPC.

Related events include:

  • Repairing our climate (19 March, in person, pre festival event). Dr Shaun Fitzgerald from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge explains what is needed to repair our climate. He explores the different techniques and the current research to accelerate the development of approaches that take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. Dr Fitzgerald also discusses the timescales involved, why measures may not be sufficient, and introduces some ideas as to what may be required to refreeze the Arctic.

  • Marine Biomass Regeneration (31 March online) Dr Joo-Eun Yoon from the Centre for Climate Repair and PhD student Elisavet Baltas from the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge introduce Marine Biomass Regeneration (MBR). MBR is an international research project that will start in the next two months to see whether humans can artificially emulate the benefits of whale faeces for ocean ecosystems. The hope is the technique will simultaneously boost fish populations and tackle climate change as whale faeces promotes blooms of algae that feed fish and lock away carbon. 

  • Can aviation go green? (31 March online). George Fulham from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology's Energy Carriers and Reactions group at the University of Cambridge discusses the challenges in selecting and producing sustainable fuels for future aviation.

  • Recipe for survival: how our shopping decisions affect the planet (3 April online). Dr Dana Ellis Hunnes (UCLA) an expert on sustainable eating, offers advice on how to improve our weekly shop. The event is based on her new book, Recipe for Survival (Jan 2022).

  • Red list revealed (4 April, in person). IUCN's Red List is a vital tool used by conservationists to monitor changes in species populations and status. Caroline Pollock, Senior Programme Coordinator at IUCN, explains how the list works, what the categories mean, and how the data can be used to inform conservation.

  • Earthopolis by Carl Nightingale (5 April online). Based on his new book, Earthopolis (May 2022), Professor Carl Nightingale from the University at Buffalo, New York, takes viewers on a sweeping six-continent, six-millennia tour of the world's cities, culminating in the last 250 years when we vastly accelerated our planetary realms of action, habitat, and impact, courting dangerous new consequences and opening prospects for new hope.

  • Reducing your carbon footprint vs pushing for structural change? (5 April online). Does it really matter if I change my diet or fly less? Don’t we need ‘system change’ to combat climate change? Entrepreneurs and researchers discuss the merit of individuals in reducing carbon footprint vs. pushing for structural change.

  • Climate change, global pollution, biodiversity: can we turn the corner? (7 April online). Dr Arthur Dahl, formerly a senior official at the UN Environment Programme who was involved in drafting Agenda 21 for the Rio Earth Summit and coordinated UN Earthwatch, explores whether we need to rethink our purpose, our economy and our systems of governance.

For the full list of all the Festival’s environment-focussed events please see here.

Keep up to date with Festival news and announcements on social media: Instagram @Camunifestivals | Facebook: @CambridgeFestival | Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

The Festival sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe. The Festival media partners are BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.

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