Sustainability and Countdown to COP26 at Ulster

COP26 is set to be the biggest global summit ever hosted in the UK. It is a significant milestone in the UK's push towards achieving its 'net zero' carbon target by 2050.

What is COP26?

COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, is due to take place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021. This is set to be the biggest global summit ever hosted in the UK. It is a significant milestone in the UK's push towards achieving its 'net zero' carbon target by 2050.

COP26 affords government, businesses, universities, NGOs, lobbyists and individual citizens a unique opportunity to get involved in climate issues. Universities across the world, as institutions of research, innovation, and education, are working across a broad range of climate topics and disciplines.

Link to COP26 website

Leading role in tackling climate change

It is important that we all play a leading role in tackling climate change – not only to reduce and eliminate our carbon footprint but also to effect change regionally, nationally, and around the world and to contribute more broadly to the sustainability agenda.

Ulster is a member of the COP26 Universities Network, a growing group of over 80 UK-based universities and research centres working together to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference.

The Network's mission is to ensure that the UK academic sector plays our role in delivering a successful COP26, getting all players on track to deliver a low-carbon, resilient world. We aim to do so by easing access to evidence and academic expertise for COP26 for government, NGOs, and other actors, and by taking action ourselves.

We encourage our academic staff working on climate change-related fields to visit the COP26 Universities Network website and submit their details to the database of climate expertise.

General enquiries:

Our Strategic Approach

The university has taken a strategic approach to managing its climate impact, involving multiple strands of activity, several of which are outlined below.

Providing vital research input

Universities are hubs of cutting-edge climate research that addresses the many facets of the climate challenge, for example: community activism, financial mechanisms and sustainable tourism; in sectoral analysis (agriculture, transport, energy, water, etc.) and the ethics and politics of the climate crisis. In fact, Ulster’s research community has recently benefited from the inclusion and highlighting of the UN Sustainable Development Goals within the PURE system.

At Ulster, the Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST), the Centre for Engineering and Renewable Energies (CERE), and the Centre for Hydrogen Safety Research (HySAFER) all host researchers from across a wide range of disciplines, providing a platform for university-wide collaboration, innovation, impact and engagement.

There are many more sustainability research projects across the university in for example, safe water, sustainable textiles, communities, business, and health and wellbeing to name a few.

Accelerating and Mainstreaming Education

A longitudinal survey by Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS) has found that since 2010, around 80% of students want their institutions to be doing more on sustainability with around 60% wanting to learn more about it.

It is vital therefore, that we respond to this call to action. At Ulster, we are constantly developing new initiatives to embed sustainability into the curriculum in practical day-to-day teaching and through enhancements to the revalidation process and we have performed as one of the top UK institutions at the annual Global Goals Teach In.

Net Zero University

We are exploring our commitments to net-zero like many other universities and to date we have met our existing emissions reductions targets.

As part of this, we have recently completed a new baseline exercise of our carbon emissions from our business activities including those associated with the operation of our buildings, commuting and business travel and emissions associated with procurement.

As we consider our future net zero plans, we will continue with on-going campus improvement projects such as on-campus renewables, space and energy efficiency projects, and biodiversity projects – see Annual Sustainability report 2019/20.

Ulster University and COP26

  • School of Geography and Environmental Sciences - Global Warming and Food Security - 4 per 1000 Initiative

    The 4 per 1000 Initiative addresses both global warming and food security.  It calls for countries to draw down more carbon than they emit, and to store it in the soil by scaling up regenerative farming, grazing and land-use practices. These practices lead to an increase in photosynthesis, they also produce more drought-resistant and resilient crops, and more nutrient-dense food.

    Watch the video

    If followed by the countries, it could revitalise degrading arable lands and improve income of poor rural communities while ensuring food security at the global level.  Dr Farshad Amiraslani is currently a Science and Technical Committee (STC) vice-chair and also sits on the 14 global STCs which provides policies and technical guidelines on enhancing soil carbon.

    Dr Amiraslani will be attending the COP26 conference in Glasgow.

  • Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) - Food Waste in Food Environments - 2021 Global Food Security Policy Lab Award

    Ulster University Early Career Researcher Dr Aoife Caffrey and her research team have been awarded the 2021 GFS Policy Lab Award for their work entitled ‘A New Era: Removing Siloed Thinking about Food Waste in Food Environments’.

    Dr Caffrey, who is based at Ulster University’s Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) in Coleraine, was nominated to lead the award-winning research team as Principal Investigator (PI). In recognition of this, the GFS Award will be held at Ulster University to fund the development of a policy report by Aoife and her research team.

    The team, consisting of Dr Caffrey and 6 Researchers from various Institutes across the UK, have been awarded £1,000 to support the policy facing think-piece they will publish. This will explore recommendations for policy, practice and research around reducing food waste and the environmental benefits of doing so.

    The team, led by Dr Caffrey, will be launching their report on an international scale at the United Nations COP26 Conference.

  • Festival of Social Science 2021

    This year, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science in Northern Ireland will run from 1 – 30 November and will feature 21 free events organised by social science academics from both universities.

    Coinciding with COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference, several events will look at the impact of climate change and the call for greater climate action.

    Download the Festival programme here and register for events at this Eventbrite link.

Ulster University and Climate Change

  • In the Spotlight: Centre for Sustainable Technologies - RULET Project

    Ulster and Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) collaborate on SPIRE 2 - RULET (Rural-Led Energy Transition) initiative to seek to reduce or eliminate the risk of low-income households being left behind in the transition to clean, smart, integrated energy systems.

    The SPIRE 2 - RULET  initiative will quality the system value which could be created by significant uptake of flexible electric heating in NI social housing.  Lead partners Ulster SPIRE 2 and NIHE are assessing how energy efficiency upgrades, electrical heating systems, energy storage and smart control technologies could improve outcomes and create new business and ownership models for social housing tenants.

    The SPIRE 2 - RULET initiative will carry out field trials of domestic technologies provided by project partners Climote, Grant Boilers and Sunamp.  In parallel with field trials, Energia/Power NI will trial new dynamic market arrangements, which will allow NIHE tenants to take advantage of cheap wholesale electricity prices.  UU, NIE Networks and SONI are modelling the impact of the extensive uptake of smart heating systems in NI dwelling; initially concentration on off-gas grid homes in western counties of Northern Ireland

    Download the  full case study

    NIHE will expand this into a 300-house trial next winter (2022/23).  By installing these low carbon heating systems (rather than fossil-fired boilers), the intention is to put this into NIHE policy by 2025, leading to around 5-6,000 installations a year initially.

    See the SPIRE 2 Project in the 'Partnerships for the Planet: Cooperation for COP26' publication.

  • In the Spotlight: Schools Academy - Outreach Project

    The mission of Schools Outreach is to diversify the student body at Ulster by empowering and supporting prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds to access university, regulated by the Widening Access and Participation (WAP) Plan.

    This is achieved primarily by working in collaboration with Schools, Principal Forums, Learning Communities and community organisations, alongside Faculty colleagues across the University to co-design a diverse range of programmes and events, with the aim of promoting fair access to education and sustained widening participation across all campuses and faculties of the University.

    In support of this, Schools Outreach has adapted and created the  ‘Ulster University Schools Outreach Academy’.  This online outreach has been launched to offer interactive workshops, lectures and seminars, to develop materials to ensure accessibility to our school communities in collaboration with teachers and schools.

    The Schools Outreach Academy have developed a Sustainability Module outlining the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the role the university plays in contributing to the SDGs along with resources on COP26 , the UN Conference on Climate Change.

    To coincide with CO26 the Schools Outreach Academy are launching a schools competition open until January 2022.

    Download the Primary School Competition

    Download  the Secondary School Competition

  • At a Glance -Teaching
    • Belfast School of Art - collaboration with Oxfam with students recycling and upcycling clothes donated by Oxfam that cannot be sold in their stores into new contemporary fashion garments.
    • Global Goals Teach In - Participation in annual Teach In promoting why the Global Goals should be at the centre of education to motivate the next generation of change agents to take action to achieve a better and more sustainable future for everyone.
    • Dr Judith Wylie supports the 1,000 Chartered Accountants campaign, supporting Chartered Accountants who have committed - or want to commit - to begin their journey to net-zero carbon emissions, or who have been an active voice in decarbonising the economy.
    • Within the School of Law, the Law and the Environment module includes a very strong focus on climate change given that the UK is hosting the COP during the semester.
  • At a Glance - Research
    • PhD research by Sarah McCann investigates how the curriculum in NI and Finland explores climate change, preparing young people for the challenges of the future
    • Ulster University and Belfast City Council have come together in a unique research partnership.  The Architects of Change project puts students from the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the heart of developing a training programme for business leaders to bridge the green skills gap.
    • Roisin Hyde, Lecturer in Architecture researches the development of a high-performance, low-impact, cement-free geopolymer concrete through the use of innovative automated technologies including 3D Laser Scanning, Point Cloud Modelling and 3D Printing
    • The School of Geography and Environmental Sciences (GES) are the proud owner of an inshore research vessel.  The Laconia is a state-of-the-art platform on which to conduct coastal and marine multidisciplinary science at sea.
  • At a Glance - Operations
    • We've launched the Net Zero Challenge, motivating staff and students to take steps to do better, and collectively, together make a big difference on our journey to net zero.  Watch the video.
    • Our Sustainable Procurement Strategy has supported the integration of climate and sustainability considerations into all of our purchasing activity. We operate Level 4 of the Flexible Framework, the national approach for sustainable procurement.
    • We have invested in Warp It, a waste furniture and resource redistribution portal making it easy for employees to transfer surplus work items to other individuals inside the university.  This encourages staff to reduce waste generation.
    • Our sustainable travel plan encourages our key stakeholder’s staff, students and visitors to travel to and from the University by more sustainable means reducing carbon emissions and the local impacts of congestion and pollution.
    • All new buildings achieve an ‘excellent’ BREEAM (sustainability) rating, the university also considers sustainability within its minor refurbishment works programme and carries out specific energy efficiency and renewable energy projects