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COP26 Blog: "I witnessed firsthand the impacts of climate change from Kenya to Honduras"

COP 26 - a global conference that tackles the climate crisis - is coming to Glasgow in November 2021. Named the “26th session of the Conference of the Parties” – shortened to COP26 - the conference is a vital coming together of countries and actors to discuss how climate change will be tackled and to agree global and national targets.

Our COP26 blog series profiles inspirational voices from across ECCI's community of climate experts, researchers, students and practitioners, in the lead up to the conference. Here we hear from Dr Kate Crowley, Co-Director of ECCI.

Hi Kate. Please introduce yourself and your work.

I'm the Co-Director of ECCI and also a Lecturer in Climate Risk and Resilience within the School of GeoSciences and the Deputy Programme Director for our fantastic MSc in Carbon Management. I am so fortunate to have these many roles as it means that I get to teach, carry out research and connect with practitioners. My specific research interests relate to better understanding risk related to climate change and disasters, as well as developing new tools that are useful for decision makers.

I work here in Scotland and also overseas. For example, I am currently managing a project that works with researchers in South Africa, Indonesia and Sri Lanka on better understanding how cultural heritage is valued, and how it can contribute towards resilience. Our aim is to bring a diversity of thought to integrating heritage within climate risk assessment for adaptation. It is such a privilege to work with and learn from these incredible colleagues on this project.

I also supervise PhD students and post-doctoral researchers such as Ashrika Sharma who is exploring participatory disaster risk reduction for land use planning in Nepal, and Dr Younghwa Cha who is part of a team developing global risk mapping tools for the UN Environment Programme.

What is your connection to ECCI?

As Co-Director of ECCI I work at the heart of an incredible community that connects climate change researchers, students and practitioners to drive forwards our co-developed vision. We developed our new ECCI vision last year, and this was a really exciting moment for us. It was an opportunity to come together as a community and discuss what we wanted to be and for whom. The resulting vision statement outlines important elements of climate action that we believe are crucial for a thriving and sustainable future. We were able to include climate justice and resilience, ensuring that we are thinking holistically about climate change action. We also renewed our commitment to supporting place-based climate solutions, such as reducing emissions, building resilience and promoting equality and justice to tackle the climate emergency. Our renewed commitment to climate action was commemorated by Her Majesty the Queen and the University Chancellor in July 2021. Other than the day-to-day management of the institute, I also support a wide range of public sector agencies to implement climate risk assessments and implement adaptation.

I champion climate change adaptation because although we must work towards climate neutrality, we will still face severe weather events such as flooding and drought. These threaten our lives and livelihoods, yet adaptation is often missing from crucial discussions on climate solutions. Adaptation must go hand in hand with mitigation.

Tell us about your background.

Before working at the University of Edinburgh, I worked in New Zealand for the National Institute for Weather and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in the hazard and risk team. I worked on national scale disaster risk modelling tools and led a project to develop a tool and training for Samoa and Vanuatu. Working in the Pacific Islands provided me with the chance to listen to a range of people working on risk and disaster management including climate change adaptation. I leant a lot from my Pacific Island colleagues, not only about the challenges they face but their capacity to adapt, innovate and work as a community.

Prior to NIWA, I worked as a disaster risk reduction advisor for CAFOD, which is a large international development and humanitarian charity. I worked with small local partners worldwide to implement risk reduction projects, train staff and collaboratively designed new projects.

It was life changing, I witnessed firsthand the impacts of climate change from Kenya to Honduras. I spoke to communities who had lost everything in severe weather events such as hurricanes, flooding and droughts. But I also learnt that fundamentally people are resilient and that even where there is despair there is kindness, experience and hope.

I see this now everyday as I work in ECCI and as I teach on the MSc course. Students come from around the world with the passion and hope to learn more and contribute to their community’s journey towards resilience.

What plans have you for COP 26?

COP26 is such a big moment for everyone. It is critical that we support our leaders to make sensible and evidenced decisions that are not driven by profit but by the needs of the most vulnerable.

We will be offering our support to delegations passing through Scotland and will be working with our ECCI partners to showcase their work. In particular we hope to provide opportunities for our MSc students to immerse themselves within the COP26 experience.

What’s your hope for the conference?

I personally hope to engage in the discussions on adaptation, to advocate for a clear and equal place round the table for this critical area of climate action.

In the UK and globally adaptation is failing to keep pace with growing risk and therefore COP26 provides an opportunity to make new and renewed commitments and implement these.

Adaptation including climate risk assessments must be considered alongside emission reduction. For too long adaptation has struggled to gain traction and now is the time to invest in collaborative adaptation research, implementation and capacity building.

What’s your ultimate goal?

To see one of our MSc Carbon Management graduates in the media announcing that we have met and are maintaining our targets on emissions reduction as well as adaptation. To know that we played a part in protecting people from dangerous weather hazards.

Your views on ECCI, Scotland and Edinburgh’s role at COP26?

It is really the most exciting place to work. At ECCI we bring together so many people from different backgrounds and experiences to tackle the biggest challenge facing society. It doesn’t get more motivating than that. ECCI is a hub for ideas, collaboration and sharing knowledge and this is what we need for climate change action.

ECCI is situated at the heart of Edinburgh, a city that is vibrant and unique. There are opportunities here that allow us to work with a range of public and private organisations from the finance sector to those managing Scotland’s world heritage sites. It is this ability to work together and share knowledge that we must showcase for COP26.

COP26 and ECCI

Find out more about how ECCI is involved with COP26 and keep up to date with the latest events, news and opportunities via the University's Social Responsibility and Sustainability team and ECCI events page.