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Embedding sustainability in 2023

Professor Dave Petley, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull, outlines the University’s ‘crucial role’ in addressing the critical issues faced by our planet

As we look forward to 2023, one of my top priorities for the University of Hull is to continue to drive research and innovation in the fight against climate change. As underlined by the recent breakthrough at COP15 to halt biodiversity loss, this is an effort that we can and must progress. It will require collaboration between universities, local and national partners from Government, business and the third sector, working together to develop innovative solutions to both reverse the human drivers of warming and to mitigate its effects on the most vulnerable in our society.

Professor Dave Petley, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hull

Last year we launched the University of Hull’s Strategy 2030, in which we committed to create a fairer, brighter, carbon neutral future, with environmental sustainability and social justice informing teaching and research across all our departments. Our ambition of become a carbon neutral campus in 2027 was boosted by the announcement in April that we had secured funding from institutional investors that will allow us to develop sustainable facilities and infrastructure.

True sustainability will be delivered through real projects involving businesses and communities. The ambitions outlined in our Strategy 2030 inform much of the ground-breaking research, innovation, and partnerships that the University of Hull is now looking to pioneer across the Humber, the UK and internationally. For example, the University’s Aura Innovation Centre, which brings low-carbon ideas to life, has recently been working with farmers from across the region, as well as experts from the University’s Business School and academics from Biology, Geography, Geology and Computer Science, to tackle a deadly weed wreaking havoc across the English countryside. Using machine learning, we have supported farmers to better understand the weed and to optimise their use of chemicals and fertilisers, providing practical, effective and environmentally sound solutions to the issue.

The University’s Aura Innovation Centre brings low-carbon ideas to life

Aura is also collaborating with researchers from across the university to help local businesses to reduce their carbon footprint. This has included work with East Yorkshire smart parcel tech firm iParcelBox, a disruptor that creates secure, weatherproof drop-boxes, allowing customers to receive parcels securely when they’re not home, enabling them to improve the sustainability of their delivery practices. Similarly, working with Rainbow Professional, a leading manufacturer of forestry and horticultural products, Aura, with the help of expert researchers at the University, has supported the development of innovative, 100% plant-based polymer tree guards as an alternative to traditional plastic items.

Road transport accounts for over 10% of global emissions. Our Logistics Institute has been carrying out fantastic work to help green the transport industry, for example working to optimise freight transport. They have succeeded in reducing congestion by using more environmentally friendly and less costly ways to transport freight. They have also created a Railfreight Energy and Emissions Calculator, which significantly reduces the cost and time required for the analysis of the energy and emissions impact of rail freight initiatives, enabling faster and more consistent analyses ahead of large investments.

The next generation of scientists and engineers will play a key role in the fight against climate change. The Aura Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) is working to fill the skills gap in the offshore wind industry, training professionals whilst also supporting business involved in offshore wind operations with cutting edge research. As an anchor institution in the Humber region, we are incredibly proud of these local partnerships, which can help to deliver real impact, support the economy and effect a long-term, low-carbon transition within our communities.

Researcher from the University of Hull takes soil seed cores to test for Black Grass seed contamination
An innovative research project is helping farmers in our region tackle the problem of Black Grass

But the battle against climate change is not just about reducing emissions. Our researchers are helping deliver climate resilience for communities in the Humber and more widely. Beginning at home, our own campus has become a living lab for sustainable drainage, with our systems slowing the water flow and channelling it away from drains and sewers. This is helping to manage flood risk, reduce pollutants in the water and enhance biodiversity. In order to develop community resilience against the worsening impacts of global warming and rising sea levels, we are working with partners throughout the Humber to establish climate change resilience through specialised research and innovation, including through our Living with Water partnership and our £3 million Flood Innovation Centre. We have recently implemented a scholarship investigating the links between climate-related water stresses, migration and human trafficking, furthering our interest in the intersection between sustainability and social issues. This reflects our belief that climate change’s most damaging effects are felt most keenly by the most disadvantaged people.

In the coming year, to continue our work to advance climate justice, we are creating scholarships that will help develop the talent necessary for a more sustainable future. With an investment of over £1.4 million across the next three years, we will be funding 22 PhD projects in five clusters, three of which relate to social justice and two to sustainability. The scholarships will nurture research talent, equipping postgraduate researchers with the skills and knowledge to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges.

Alongside the launch of these exciting new research programmes, we are also looking to build a set of solar farms, generating renewable energy that will directly supply our main campus, saving about 2,500 tonnes of carbon annually.

Universities such as Hull throughout the UK play a crucial role in addressing the critical issues faced by our planet. As the new year starts, the University of Hull will drive world-leading research, innovative teaching, and the development of outstanding graduates who will go out into the world to create long-term, positive impacts to secure a fairer, brighter carbon neutral future for everyone.

This article was originally published in The Yorkshire Post.


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