Gemma Cassells: Data from both a local and a global level can help us tackle climate change

When thinking about the impacts of climate change, it can be hard to know where to start. With a problem this big, we need data to understand all the different components, as well as partnerships to bring together different perspectives to find appropriate solutions.

The Meadows in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

The Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) is working towards achieving low-carbon futures and collaborating with the City of Edinburgh Council to develop a range of tools to achieve the city’s Net Zero declaration. This includes a Climate Commission, established with funding from the Place-based Climate Action Network, and developing a tool to capture how future projects will affect carbon emissions in the city.

To take effective action now, we need consistent, accurate approaches to data collection, analysis, and visualisation. More locally, the Edinburgh Living Lab (ELL) has played a vital role in connecting community-sourced data with academics and policy makers to address many topics around place and place-making.

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Supporting personal choices around low-carbon options such as active travel not only helps improve community environments, but raises awareness of wider climate issues. The recent ELL ParkLife project helped connect visitors to four parks in Edinburgh to information about biodiversity, something which is likely to be altered as the impacts of climate change become more apparent.

Cat Magill, ELL programme manager, says: “Local-scale projects, like those facilitated by ELL, integrate novel uses of data collection and analysis with human experience to help understand wider systems and impacts.”

On a global scale, Edinburgh’s expertise in using satellites and other airborne sensors to understand global environmental processes has been recognised, with the award of funding to establish the Centre for Satellite Data in Environmental Science (SENSE), funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the UK Space Agency.

Partnering with 18 organisations including Airbus, tech firm Leonardo and Unilever, the centre will train 50 PhD researchers on the use of satellite data to tackle climate issues.

Professor Edward Mitchard, SENSE centre leader, says the aim was to recruit “outstanding candidates to undertake a PhD in this exciting and innovative centre”. And he promises: “The students will belong to a happy, inclusive and stimulating research environment, with supervision from world-leading Earth observation scientists.”

This expertise in space and satellite data has also led to entrepreneurial opportunities helping a wide audience use this data to understand ­climate change impacts.

Dr Genevieve Patenaude, chief executive and co-founder of Earth Blox – which has its origins in the University of Edinburgh –

has recently announced a collaboration with Google Earth Engine and the United Nations Environment Programme.

This will deliver a global Environmental and Climate Stress Index which will help end users easily and rapidly understand where build-ups of environmental stress are occurring around the planet. The index will allow users to generate analytical products that can be used as an input to assess different human-environment systems interactions.

The buildings we live and work in are associated with significant carbon emissions over their life cycle and the university is leading a Climate Challenge Collaboration Project, supported by the Scottish Funding Council, to build capacity for zero and low-carbon innovation across public sector construction and the built environment.

A key element of the project is to create a “living laboratory” at the University of Edinburgh to test innovative digital technologies designed to improve building energy performance and demonstrate the value of using advanced data analysis, modelling and simulation to achieve reductions in emissions and

energy use.

The project involves University of Edinburgh departments including estates, procurement, ECCI and the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability. Industry ­partners include Robertson Group, Scottish Futures Trust, Zero Waste Scotland and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre.

Gemma Cassells is lead for the University of Edinburgh’s Data-Driven Innovation Public Services