Durham University: Countdown to COP26 – Working with nature to address the climate crisis

Protect the soil, protect the world
Next to fossil fuels, soil is the biggest stores of organic carbon on Earth, and yet this valuable carbon storage facility goes largely overlooked. Experts led by Professor Karen Johnson in our Department of Engineering are dedicated to understanding, protecting and rebuilding soil health.

Their work includes looking at how damaged soils can be repaired to enable it to store more carbon, retain more water, and in turn provide much needed flood and drought resilience.

A step-change in global soil health awareness
The team is committed to encouraging a step-change in the global understanding of the importance of soil in tackling the climate crisis.

They will be attending COP26 in Glasgow and showcasing their collaboration with experts in Zimbabwe to understand and illustrate the challenges posed by climate change for both the global north and south, and how improvements to soil health hold the key to tackling these.

The team will also invite people to learn about soil health in a practical way, by showing them how to make their own mini terrarium and learn about the soil ‘circular economy’.

Karen and the team are also taking part in the Durham County Council ECO 2 Smart Schools Climate Conference, working with children across the globe to educate them on soil health and climate change.

Nature and innovation
Durham has also led a pioneering, four-year project funded by the European Commission, called NATure-based URban innovation, or NATURVATION.

Lead by Professor Harriet Bulkeley, from our Department of Geography the project has looked at how nature can be used to foster urban climate change innovation, adaption and resilience through the use of ‘nature-based solutions’.

Examples include green roofs to provide a rainwater buffer and encourage biodiversity, urban lagoons to store water, increased space for city parks to help limit heat stress and the use of green/natural permeable surfaces (notably vegetation or plants) and rain gardens to intercept storm water and limit flooding.

Turning research into action
In September Professor Bulkeley provided evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on role of nature-based Solutions in mitigating climate change and achieving the UK’s ambition of Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The researchers have also produced a database detailing 1,000 examples of nature-based solutions, across 100 cities globally, to help inspire and inform urban planning and policy decisions globally.

Meanwhile, the NATURVATION project has also developed the Creating Green Cities podcast series which uses stories of innovations across Europe to explore urban-nature based solutions.

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