Keele University hosts local leaders and businesses to discuss Staffordshire's actions to address the climate emergency

Keele University hosted a series of sustainability-themed events over the last two weeks as part of its own COP26 Festival event, engaging with over 500 local leaders, businesses, staff, students, school children, and residents.

The festival, which coincided with the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), saw a range of community representatives coming together on the Keele campus to discuss how local organisations and groups can positively impact Staffordshire’s contribution towards a more sustainable future.

The headline event of the Festival, the Staffordshire Sustainability Leaders’ Summit, featured a round table of regional leaders from across different sectors who came together to discuss what COP26 means to Staffordshire and what collective and individual actions can be taken to address the climate emergency.

Professor Zoe Robinson, Director of Keele’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, chaired the round table, having attended COP26 in Glasgow the previous week, and speakers included Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council Leader Cllr Simon Tagg, former MP for Stoke-on-Trent Joan Walley, and Chris Langdon, Development and Investment Director at EQUANS UK & Ireland (part of ENGIE Group). 

 Following the summit, Professor Zoe Robinson said: “As a university we are in a privileged position in working directly across many different sectors, which is why we wanted to bring different sector leaders together to discuss what this momentum around climate change means to Staffordshire.

“Although the negotiations in Glasgow have been played out on the world stage, actions need to be local. High-level negotiations are necessary, grass roots movements are essential in keeping our leaders' feet to the fire, but actually it’s the middle where the action happens, and that’s really represented by all of our speakers who are essential to making the change happen."

Joan Walley added: “Keele has a track record of reaching out to SMEs and businesses, a track record of innovation with a global reach and sustainability embedded into its curriculum, and a training role for local councils as well.

“So now is the time to assume a greater leadership role, we need to support all partners, we need to make sure that what is agreed at COP26 gets taken forward, and that we are all ready to bring about change for future generations and protect the world in which we live. Nature won’t wait for what Staffordshire does next.”

Events for local businesses also took place, bringing together different industries to discuss the steps that businesses across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire can take to have a significant impact on their carbon footprint.

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Image: Keele COP26 Festival event, 'Embedding Sustainability into your Business'

A talk was hosted by Huw Evans, Keele's Environmental Manager, and Elliot Jones, Keele's Energy Manager, to provide an overview of Keele's carbon footprint and the current plans and actions that are underway to create a pathway to achieving net zero carbon.

Keele’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Trevor McMillan, said: “From leaders across the county, to inspiring school children, Keele’s COP26 Festival was both a celebration of what we are collectively doing across Staffordshire, but also served as a stimulus to do even more.

“Universities can have a unique role in applying our broad expertise and events such as this mean we can act as a convener of critical networks to address specific aspects of the climate emergency.”

Many of the festival events took place under Luke Jerram’s inspiring GAIA installation in Keele Chapel – a six-metre-wide floating three-dimensional model of the Earth, featuring NASA imagery. The installation, which is presented in partnership between ArtsKeele and Appetite, is open for events and public viewings until Saturday 27 November.

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Image: Students from Newcastle Academy visit Keele University (pictured under the GAIA installation) as part of a Keele COP26 Festival event run by Higher Horizons.