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Press release: Cambridge Festival focuses on climate change action

Global experts, from Sir David Attenborough to Tom Rivett-Carnac, Emily Shuckburgh and Mike Berners-Lee, will lead a wide-ranging series of events on climate change at the Cambridge Festival with an emphasis on action.

The inaugural Cambridge Festival, which brings together the hugely popular Cambridge Science Festival and the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, runs from 26 March – 4 April. It hosts an extensive programme of over 350 events that tackle many of the critical global challenges affecting us all.

Coordinated by the University of Cambridge, the Festival features hundreds of internationally renowned experts in the field of climate change. The key themes are health, society, environment and explore.

In a packed programme of events on climate change, speakers also include Chris C Funk, Director of the Climate Hazards Center (CHC) at UC Santa Barbara, wildlife and natural history presenter Liz Bonnin, marine biologist and broadcaster Helen Scales and environment writer Fred Pearce,  author of The Last Generation: How nature will take her revenge for climate change.

Two of the speakers have new books out: 

  •  Helen Scales’ The Brilliant Abyss tells the story of our relationship with the deep sea – how we imagine, explore and exploit it. In her session Scales will capture the golden age of discovery we are currently in, look back at the history of how we got here, forward to the unfolding new environmental disasters brought about
    by mining and pollution that are taking place miles beneath the waves and will outline what we can do about them.
  • Chris C Funk will speak about his new book, Drought, Flood, Fire: How Climate Change Contributes to Catastrophes, which describes how and why climate change is already fomenting dire consequences and will certainly make climate disasters worse in the near future. He will examine recent disasters, including heat waves, extreme precipitation, hurricanes, fires, El Ninos
    and La Ninas and their human consequences. By describing the dangerous impacts that are already occurring, Funk will give a clarion call for social change. 


The Festival will hear from a variety of experts, making the case for urgent action on climate change:

In Ask the experts: climate change, Mike Berners-Lee, an expert on the carbon footprint, will answer questions from young people on what they would most like to know about the climate crisis and the future of our planet.

In The case for stubborn optimism, Tom Rivett-Carnac, co-founder of Earth Optimism and co-author, with Paris Climate Agreement Champion Christiana Figueres, of The Future We Choose, will set out the case for stubborn optimism - a mindset based on grit and determination in the face of daunting but unavoidable challenge. Rivett-Carnac is one of the architects of the Paris Climate Accord of December 2015. This is part of the #EarthOptimism series of talks, led by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, which also features an exclusive interview with Sir David Attenborough, discussing his hope for our planet, alongside a brief Q&A session.

Other #EarthOptimism events include Hope for our planet, in which TV and radio presenter Liz Bonnin will share her views on why we should all have hope for our planet and Responding to the biodiversity and climate crisis, where local climate strike campaigner Junayd Islam will set out how young people are responding positively to the ecological crisis facing our planet. The #EarthOptimism series features more than 30 passionate speakers who will present compelling accounts of conservation success. These inspiring talks come from many different sources – from ground-breaking conservationists to inspiring youth champions, and from business leaders to engaged celebrities. 

In Mathematics: a toolkit to tackle climate change, climate scientist and mathematician Dr Emily Shuckburgh, Director of Cambridge Zero, will talk about her research on modelling localised effects of climate change including floods, droughts and extreme weather. Dr Shuckburgh is also Reader in Environmental Data Science in the Department of Computer Science and Technology and in her previous role at the British Antarctic Survey she led a national research programme on polar climate change. She is co-author of the Ladybird book on Climate Change.

In Invention and Innovation: How Engineers are Manufacturing a Better World, Professor Tim Minshall will look at the ways in which engineers are trying to address the many challenges we read about in the news, from COVID-19 to climate change, from toilet paper shortages to living on Mars.


The events also include a series of expert panel discussions:

Why has it taken so long for us to take climate change seriously? brings together Rob Doubleday, Executive Director of Cambridge University's Centre for Science and Policy, Fred Pearce, Kamiar Mohaddes, a macroeconomist at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, and Zoë Svendsen, director of the performing arts company METIS to discuss questions such as: What or who has prevented urgent action on climate change? Why have policymakers lagged behind the science and technology? How much do individuals make a difference or has it needed people to work out how to make money out of climate change for politicians to take action? Is there a human tipping point  - allied to the scientific tipping point - where more radical action becomes inevitable? And how can we reimagine a more positive future? Chaired by Professor Steve Evans, Director of Research at the Institute for Manufacturing at the University of Cambridge. 

In How will climate change affect our health? Gates Cambridge Scholars from around the world will debate how climate change will have an impact on everything from where we live to what we eat with profound implications for our health and wellbeing. Gates Cambridge is the University of Cambridge's leading scholarship programme for international postgraduate researchers who are at the cutting edge of research. Kim van Daalen will talk about her research on and advocacy for climate change and health, including her role in the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change; environmental design consultant and lecturer Dr Nkatha Gichuyia will speak about how overheating can be mitigated through architecture/building design; Ramit Debnath will talk about his research on housing and energy conservation in India; and journalist and researcher Reetika Subramanian  will talk about her research on climate migration in India and the knock-on effect on girls' health. Chaired by Gates Cambridge Trustee Professor Bhaskar Vira.

In Writing the Next Chapter: Can we create a brighter future by placing Earth at the centre of education? educators, creatives and story tellers Claire Culliford, Cindy Forde and Marion Leeper consider the limitations our existing education model and explore how we might design education fit for the future and inspire optimism and excitement rather than doom and anxiety. The organisers say: "The time is right for a new type of education, with caretaking of Planet Earth and creative problem-solving at its core. This is the means by which we can best encourage, empower and excite the next generation, enabling them to transform our world for the better."

In Arts and climate change , Zoe Svendsen, Dramaturg, Director and Lecturer in Drama and Performance in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge , Rachel Drury Creative Producer, Director and Co-Founder of Collusion and Marina Velez, Researcher, artist and curator, Faculty of Arts,  Humanities and Social Science at Anglia Ruskin University discuss what the arts can do to address climate change and imagine a better world.

There are also interactive sessions on how to tackle climate change:

In 2050: A new world, the audience will be invited to play an online policy-making boardgame where they will develop strategies to move towards a future where climate change is mitigated. They will be forced to make tough decisions with limited resources, enact policies to reach their city's 2050 sustainability goals and allocate local resources. The game prompts the question: What would you be willing to change for a sustainable, resilient life? It was created by a group of researchers at the University of Cambridge, all tackling climate change from a different perspective (i.e. energy, nature, food, and shelter). 

In Fuel of the Future, Joseph and Collin, researchers from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology will demonstrate their research on how to harness this energy and make ammonia the ‘fuel of the future’, exploring in a live demonstration how scientists are searching for a carbon-free fuel to meet the needs of powering our world, whilst reducing the impact of climate change.  They will also talk about their day-to-day lives as scientists and will take any questions about their work, climate change and what it's like to be a research scientist. 

At Your Carbon Footprint: Question Time, organised by Cambridge Carbon Footprint,  an inspiring panel of local people who have made great progress across the four areas of the carbon footprint: food, travel, home energy and shopping will answer questions on what you can do lessen the impact of climate change.


Other events include:

On March 26th, Holly Jean Buck and Oliver Morton will deliver a talk entitled Which net zero are we headed for and what should we be asking for beyond emission cuts, as part of the Cambridge Climate Lecture Series. Dr Buck is a research fellow at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and is interested in how communities can be involved in the design of emerging environmental technologies. Oliver Morton is a science writer and editor and is briefings editor at The Economist, having previously been its energy and environment editor. 

How to fix the financial system: mitigating inequality and the climate crisis through investments will look at how university endowments, pension funds and individual savers can contribute to the mitigation of inequality and the climate crisis through their investments?


View the full programme via Many events require pre-booking, please check the events listings on the Festival website.

Keep up to date with the Festival on social media:

Instagram: @Camunifestivals | Facebook: @CambridgeFestival | Twitter: @Cambridge_Fest

The Festival sponsors and partners are AstraZeneca and RAND Europe. The Festival media partners are BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and Cambridge Independent.


Global climate change protest demonstration strike