ECR Net Zero Conference 2024 – Closing Keynote – Aaron Goater (ECR Meeting Fund)

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Roberto Loza (Cardiff University) and Ibrahim Kadafur (Heriot-Watt) share their takeaways from the closing keynote talk from Aaron Goater, Baringa, at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

The recent ECR conference organized by UKCCSRC featured a compelling keynote talk by Aaron Goater, a distinguished speaker from Baringa. At the heart of his discourse were the UK’s ambitious plans for reducing emissions and the critical steps needed to achieve a sustainable future. In this blog post, we delve into the key points from Aaron Goater’s speech, addressing the UK’s legislated carbon budgets, their global implications, and the strategies required to meet upcoming targets.

Aaron began by shedding light on the significance of the UK’s legislated carbon budgets. These budgets, legally binding commitments, serve as a roadmap for the nation’s journey towards carbon neutrality. By establishing clear emission reduction targets, the UK aims to pave the way for a more sustainable and environmentally conscious future.

One of the key highlights of Aaron’s speech was the connection between the UK’s ambitions and the broader global agenda for carbon emission reduction. The UK, through its commitment to aggressive carbon reduction targets, plays a pivotal role in shaping international efforts. By setting an example and fostering collaboration, the nation contributes to a collective global ambition of mitigating climate change and promoting environmental sustainability.

Addressing the pressing question of whether the UK will meet its next carbon targets, Aaron provided valuable insights. Whilst acknowledging the challenges posed by economic considerations, technological transitions and global uncertainties, he expressed optimism. The commitment to innovation, investment in green technologies and growing public awareness were identified as driving forces that could propel the nation towards meeting, and possibly exceeding, its future carbon targets.

For the UK to meet its legislated carbon budgets in good time, Aaron stressed the need for a comprehensive and integrated approach. Transitioning to renewable energy sources, implementing energy-efficient technologies and adopting sustainable practices across industries emerged as critical strategies. He emphasized the importance of aligning government policies, private sector initiatives and individual actions to create a holistic framework for emission reduction.

On mitigation actions for accelerated progress (the pursuit of the UK’s 2030 targets), Aaron outlined key mitigation actions essential for accelerating progress. These actions included increased investment in renewable energy infrastructure, advancements in carbon capture technologies and fostering collaboration between public and private sectors. By leveraging cutting-edge innovations and embracing sustainable practices, the UK can expedite its transition to a low-carbon economy.

Aaron’s keynote talk provided a comprehensive overview of the UK’s plans for reducing emissions. As the nation charts its course toward a greener tomorrow, the collaboration of governments, businesses and individuals becomes paramount. By aligning ambitions, implementing strategic measures and fostering a global community dedicated to sustainability, we can collectively contribute to the realization of a more environmentally resilient and sustainable future. Let Aaron’s insights catalyze our shared commitment to building a world where the delicate balance of our planet is preserved for generations to come.

Mohsen Lotfi (Teesside University) and Kristofer Poirier (Teesside University) share their takeaways from the Plenary session 2 on “Global net zero ambitions” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

Attending the recent Early Career Research (ECR) Net Zero Conference in Birmingham on 27-28 February 2024 was very inspiring. As PhD students working at the Net Zero Industry Innovation Centre at Teesside University, this conference was essential to meet fellow researchers working on state-of-the-art technologies to achieve the Net Zero Goals. This conference included keynote speeches, poster presentations and plenary and parallel sessions to showcase the recent progress and key findings from a variety of topics focusing on carbon capture, renewable energies, clean technologies and novel strategies.

Plenary session 2 on Wednesday 28 February presented the current global net zero objectives and opportunities on a global scale with a comparative focus on African and Western countries. This talk was given by incredible speakers: Charlotte McLean, Nadine Moustafa, Yacob Mulugetta, Imogen Rattle and Richard Simon.

A first introduction to carbon emissions reduction strategies was given by showcasing maps comparing CO2 emissions from different countries under different perspectives. Highest emissions were mainly coming from the US, China and India, while African countries were generally amongst the lowest emitters. Globally, all countries have Net Zero commitments but their strategies tend to differ significantly depending on a wide range of factors such as location, existing energy infrastructures, natural resources, landscapes, policies, economics, public acceptance, energy independance goals and geopolitics. Those strategies mainly focus on the development of small- or large-scale renewable energy systems, nuclear power plants, heat pumps, hydrogen, carbon capture, utilisation & storage (CCUS) as well as new incentives and policies.

This session also included a great Q&A discussion with Imogen, Richard and Yacob about their views of the industry when it comes to achieving Net Zero targets on a global scale, with a deeper look into the opportunities and challenges in the UK and African countries. A roadmap to achieving Net Zero was given and includes the following milestones:

  • Clean energy growth,
  • Cutting development of fossil fuels
  • Transformation of transport systems through mainly electrification.

Figure 1. Roadmap to achieving Net Zero by 2050

It was found that clean technologies evolve at uneven paces which renders adequate decision-making on a case-by-case basis and requires sufficient funding. Universities and industries are working together to develop Net Zero technologies through research programmes in the UK but also abroad like in Africa using open-source tools, summer schools, and training initiatives. Research themes include energy, transport, and economy and are progressing rapidly.

The Q&A session provided key questions and answers from the experts as follows:

Do we have the technologies to reach Net Zero targets?

For the industry, it depends on the application. Energy-intensive technologies need more research, especially for high temperatures or electrification. Innovation is crucial to develop new energy systems and improve existing ones. The UK has dedicated a lot of funding for innovation in the sectors of CCUS, hydrogen, renewables and heat pumps. Researchers and industries “have the tools to innovate”. But still some challenges remain to apply them everywhere at all scales.

What are the challenges to deploy and finance the technogies for Net Zero?

Social acceptance can be an obstacle, especially for large-scale projects. “We also need the people who have the expertise to deploy the infrastructures”, especially for hydrogen and CCUS systems. Additionally, the supporting infrastructure can be difficult to adapt and can sometimes take years to develop in remote areas. High required capital investments are also important obstacles that can affect profitability. Politics and elections can also affect decisions to achieve Net Zero, particularly in the US. Some countries are also in great debt or suffer from other urgent crises which hinders investment in the development of new clean technologies.

What are the benefits and the opportunities of achieving Net Zero in Africa?

“The benefits of developing clean energy systems in Africa are huge” as they can improve lives of people by developing new infrastructures and improve access to resources. Improved health standards, safety, clean cooking, time saving, gender equality, comfort, constant and reliable electricity supply, energy and resource independence, access to water and food, access to critical minerals, global equity are all examples of the potential benefits of Net Zero in Africa that aim at improving working and living quality. But more investment is needed urgently. “A big paradigm shift in politics is needed” to develop industries and new jobs. There are massive opportunities in Africa especially in terms of supply and value chains. As such, improved life quality and reduced carbon emissions are both co-benefits of Net Zero.

 

Sunera Athauda (Cranfield University) and Fayez Qureshi (Cranfield University) share their takeaways from the parallel session on “Business speed networking workshop” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

It was a cold and damp February morning in the city of Birmingham, and yet the attendees from various research organisations within the broader net zero research community were sampling the delicious food and drink provided by the wonderful catering staff of Birmingham Conference and Events Centre, ready to engage in one of the three parallel sessions on the final day of the ECR Net Zero Conference.

One of these sessions, ‘Business speed networking workshop’, was facilitated by Amy Beierholm (University of Birmingham), Lennie Foster (ERA & C-DICE) and Iniobong James “IJ” Ikpeh (C-DICE), with the aim of fostering collaboration between academia, businesses and industry within the scope of Net Zero.

Our first speaker was IJ Ikpeh of C-DICE, who provided details on several opportunities for funding for early career researchers (e.g. Research Proposal Development Grant & Networking Grant), which included: Biochar: ECR (< £40k, deadline: 22nd March 2024), CO2RE (< £60k, 26th March 2024), EDI+ Fellowship (2 years, 0.2 FTE), HI-ACT: EOI, IGNITE Network+ EDI Challenges (opens April, deadline: 17th May 2024), SUSTAIN ECR 2024 Call: ECR (opens Sept/Oct 2024). Further details on these openings can be found on C-DICE website: https://www.cdice.ac.uk/.

Our next presentation was delivered by Jon Saltmarsh, CTO of Energy Systems Catapult, a not-for-profit company who provide technical, commercial and policy expertise with the aim of advancing UK’s Net Zero strategy and developing future energy systems, via ‘whole system approach’ that can aid research innovations’ pathways to commercialisation. Their expertise has been employed via five main approaches: aiding fast expansion of home energy innovations via real-world-testing, acceleration of at-scale emission reduction across all sectors (e.g. industrial, public, commercial), empowerment of local authorities and network operators to implement Net Zero protocols, advising leaders (e.g. governments, investors, networks, businesses) on policy and regulation of Net Zero energy systems, cultivate relationships with domestic and foreign SME partners for UK innovation to thrive. Currently, they are interested in collaborating with ECRs with big ideas that can make the biggest impact to achieve Net Zero: https://es.catapult.org.uk/.

Then we heard from Kenneth Freeman, Director of SAO Innovations, whose company has one specific aim: eradication of fires in buildings and products caused by electricity. The drive for such innovation was derived from the London Grenfell Tower fire disaster, which took the lives of 72 people, due to a fire caused by an electrical fault in a fridge freezer. Mr Freeman was told that to stop all electrical fires in any building and any product using electricity was near impossible, which are mainly caused by wear & tear, misuse, component failure, human error and poor quality products. However, SAO Innovation’s ‘Electrical Fire Prevention System’ and ‘Intelligent Conduit’ is an innovative system and product that can do it. It was shortlisted for the Safety Innovation Award at the Electrical Product Safety Conference 2021, approved by the UK patent office and patented on July 2021, and have collaborated with a number of academic institutions (e.g. University of Wolverhampton, University of Birmingham) and businesses (e.g. accepted into Siemens ‘Solid Edge for Start-ups’ programme).

Gary Morgan (Director), from Pixelshrink Digital Impact, one of the UK’s leading web design and digital marketing agency for academic research, wanted to discuss their specialisation in bridging the gap between research projects and their diverse audiences. The company has projects based in the UK, Norway, Portugal and Germany, with their specialist services allowing for the enhancement of research and communication, especially for early career researchers (ECRs). Some of the services include content creation, data design – infographics, hosting and legacy, domain names, project acronym creator and multi- lingual sites, etc.: https://www.pixelshrink.com/.

Our final talk was given by representatives from Imfuna, a software technology company aiding early career researchers to understand processes, and create automated systems to solve repetitive tasks, improve efficiency, enhance collaboration, easily storing value from the field into professional made reports. Current methods of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) panel assessment lacks accuracy and are manually intensive, leading to ineffective risk management in public buildings. To solve this, a centralised database infrastructure is designed to store data about each RAAC panel with all property stake holders to having access to up-to-date information source. Moreover, risk-based prioritisation algorithms can be made for automating analysis and decision making for factors such as environmental structural conditions, potential financial impact, etc.  Therefore, their tools allow professionals to assess the condition of a structure.  Overall, Imfuna aims to reduce emissions in operations by enabling remote surveying and collaboration, whilst reducing travel-related emissions: https://www.imfuna.com/en-za/.

After the delivery of these presentation, attendants had the opportunity to openly discuss with all the speakers at the session, for the purpose of collaboration and networking.

Abubakr Ayub (Teesside University) and Aylin Kemal ( Cranfield University) share their takeaways from the parallel session on “Built environment net zero/energy efficiency” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

We felt privileged to attend the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024 in Birmingham, arranged by UKCCSRC. We attended a parallel session where four presenters showcased their research works on their on-going projects dealing with energy efficiency in buildings.

Figure 1: Hua (Mia) Ben presenting the energy savings model for building retrofits

The first presenter was Hui (Mia) Ben from the University of Birmingham. She delivered an interesting presentation on building energy consumption model. She showed how occupant behaviour changes plays significant role in energy savings of a household. She showed five classifications of occupants’ behaviour known as 1) active spenders, 2) conscious occupiers, 3) average users, 4) conservers, and 5) inactive users. In addition to different occupants’ behaviour, the effect of different insulation applied in construction, different heating technologies and smart metering controls on energy savings is also shown. At last, the adaptive thermal comfort strategy is shown as a suitable approach to achieve energy savings in buildings regardless of the kind of insulation method adopted in the building.

Figure 2: Presentation on Sunrise project by Dr Carol Maddock

The second presentation was from Dr Carol Maddock from Swansea University. She came up with the topic of public engagement and community involvement in renewable energy projects. She is already a part of SUNRISE project in which the main objective is to encourage the engagement of community and ensure their active participation to achieve net zero targets. She shared her experience of travel to a rural area in Maharashtra, India, for the purpose of survey and data collection. They did interviews and group sessions with people from different age groups and sexes and identified the main problems, social and economic values of the community. The engagement with local people in different sessions and during different occasions allowed them to understand the main social challenges, and study what kind of measures should be taken to encourage public involvement in the renewable energy projects. Dr Maddock stressed the importance of community participation, especially in areas with lower awareness of climate change.

Figure 3: Chris Twinn presenting his cost-effective model retrofit for UK housing

The third presentation was given by Chris Twinn in which he showed different possible building retrofit designs for energy savings in building heating demand. His main headline was ‘Making retrofit as cost effective as wind turbines’. In his presentation, he illustrated how combination of different retrofit methods helps achieving cost effective heating in UK buildings.

In addition, he also explained that the standard method for heat pump designing is based on worst weather conditions which leads to oversized heat pumps, therefore he proposed halving heat pump size and its potential benefits in energy savings (MWh/year). By right-sizing heat pumps, it is anticipated that the systems will operate more efficiently and effectively match the heating or cooling requirements of the space. This not only aligns with the principles of sustainable and eco-friendly practices but also contributes to cost savings for end-users.

Figure 4: Guangling Zhao presenting active building model specifications

The last presentation was given by Guangling Zhao from Swansea University. The main theme of her topic is energy cost and carbon cost of building-integrated photovoltaic systems (BIPV). She showed potential benefits of BIPV in terms of reduction in CO2 emissions on one side but rather larger rise in material depletion potential on other side compared to the electricity grid.

The concept of ‘Active Building’ encompasses structures within the built environment, factories, offices, and homes in the UK. These buildings are specifically designed and equipped to efficiently manage energy by conserving, generating, storing and releasing it. The objective of her research initiative revolves around a comprehensive analysis of the economic performance of the Active Building model. This particular study delves into the integration of cutting-edge technologies within the Active Building framework, specifically focusing on building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. The investigation is conducted with a meticulous examination of real operational profiles of the building and the metered energy load profiles it sustains.

The session was ended with 15 minutes of Q/A session and discussion between the presenters on the topic of building retrofits, heat pump retrofitting and the significance of public involvement and engagement in energy efficiency projects.

Roberto Loza (Cardiff University) and Ibrahim Kadafur (Heriot-Watt) share their takeaways from the parallel session on “Cost of net zero transition” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

The ECR Net Zero Conference 2024 in Birmingham served as a great platform for networking and exchanging knowledge among researchers across various disciplines and institutions. The conference, which incorporated multiple research centres spanning carbon capture and storage, energy, hydrogen, renewables, policy, and social sciences, provided a rich environment for collaboration.

On Wednesday 28th February, the conference started with three parallel sessions. The one titled “Cost of net zero transition” was conducted entirely by early career researchers (ECRs) and it was really interesting due to the multifaceted topics, addressing the hurdles and complexities associated with the costs involved in steering the world towards a Net Zero future.

The Cost of Net Zero: Trade-Offs and Tricky Decisions

Dan Taylor, the inaugural speaker from Aston University’s Systems Research Group, explored the intricate landscape of trade-offs and challenging decisions associated with the cost of achieving net zero. Drawing from estimates by the UK Climate Change Committee (CCC), Dan delved into various cost scenarios dependent on the population’s behavioural change and the level of innovation required for groundbreaking technology to reach net zero (Fig. 1). His thought-provoking discussion addressed the responsibility of certain nations in cutting global emissions, questioning which nations should bear more significant cost contributions. For instance, the UK has benefited from the large CO2 emissions during the industrial revolution to develop its economy since the boom of coal burning, prompting contemplation on fair cost distributions. The talk left attendees with lingering thoughts and it set the stage for engaging discussions.

Figure 1. Dan Taylor explaining the UK carbon budget scenarios

Wood value chains in the net zero transition

Eilidh Forster, the second speaker from Bangor University, explaining the carbon fluxes in forestry value chains. Focusing on the rising global demand of wood, Eilidh highlighted the environmental impact of wood imports, particularly in countries like the UK, where a substantial portion is sourced from places like Canada, contributing to increased CO2 emissions (Fig. 2). Advocating for a circular economy in wood use, Eilidh outlined strategies such as expanding local forests, efficient wood usage to reduce demand for virgin woods, and reduction of wood imports to mitigate environmental consequences.

Figure 2. Eilidh Forster explaining the rise of global demand for wood

Dynamic “Fishbowl”

The final segment of the parallel session introduced a “Fishbowl” dynamic, where attendees actively posed questions to be later discussed by a panel of voluntary experts within the ECR community (Fig. 3). Researchers raised diverse questions, from relatively straightforward questions about which sectors need the most significant investment to achieve net zero on time, to challenging questions about the compatibility of the current economic system with the net zero transition in mind. Panellists facilitated engaging and diverse discussions, dissecting and analysing questions from various perspectives.

Figure 3. Panel of volunteers discussing net zero challenges during the “Fishbowl” session

To conclude, the “Cost of Net Zero Transition” parallel session not only unveiled the challenges and complexities of the journey to net zero, but it also highlighted the crucial role that early career researchers play in finding solutions for a net zero future. The collaborative, interdisciplinary and interactive nature of these discussions showcased the depth of insights brought by the emerging voices of future leaders in the field.

Billy Davies (Brunel University London) and Kofo Awodun (Brunel University London) share their takeaways from the parallel session on “UK multidisciplinary research in net zero” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

Speakers/Facilitators:

  • Carys Blunt – UK Carbon Capture and Storage Research Centre (UKCCSRC)
  • Nadine Moustafa – Imperial College London & the Industrial Decarbonization Research and Innovation Center (IDRIC)
  • Jen Roberts – University of Strathclyde & UKCCSRC ECR Champion
  • Maud van Soest – The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH)

To achieve net-zero emissions, researchers from across the disciplines must step up to the challenge with a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach. At the 2024 ECR Net-zero Conference held at Birmingham, a parallel session led by distinguished researchers shed light on the intricacies of this collaborative effort and the potential it holds for addressing the complex issues surrounding climate change. Let’s delve into the key takeaways and insights garnered from this session.

Jen Roberts kicked off the discussion by delineating the spectrum of collaborative research, ranging from intradisciplinary to transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches. She emphasized the transformative potential of multidisciplinary research, where novel ideas are explored through the integration of diverse perspectives and expertise. This sentiment resonated strongly with the attendees, who recognised the imperative of leveraging various disciplines to tackle the multifaceted challenges of achieving net-zero emissions.

Throughout the session, participants engaged in interactive discussions facilitated by prompts, delving into their personal experiences and perspectives on interdisciplinary research. They shared insights into the benefits and potential costs associated with interdisciplinary collaboration, highlighting the richness that arises from merging different research domains. From exploring the performance of materials like Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOFs) in CO2 capture to addressing broader societal challenges, the necessity of embracing multidisciplinary approaches became evident.

A pivotal moment in the session was the exchange of research ideas within small groups, where participants identified overlapping areas of interest and potential avenues for collaboration. The exploration of topics such as systems engineering, Integration of AI and industry 4.0, underscored the interconnectedness of diverse fields in tackling complex problems like climate change. The session’s interactive nature fostered a vibrant atmosphere conducive to networking and idea generation. Participants seized the opportunity to forge connections and explore areas of collaboration that could catalyse transformative research initiatives. Discussions extended beyond disciplinary boundaries, paving the way for innovative solutions and novel research directions.

Figure 1 – Photograph of researchers interacting and discussing the possibility of multidisciplinary collaboration

As the session drew to a close, participants reflected on how to effectively implement multidisciplinary research strategies and leverage support from networks and funders. The importance of fostering a culture of collaboration and providing resources to facilitate interdisciplinary endeavours emerged as key priorities. In conclusion, the parallel session on multidisciplinary research for net-zero solutions offered invaluable insights into the power of collaborative endeavours in addressing pressing environmental challenges. By harnessing the collective expertise of diverse disciplines, the UK research community is poised to drive meaningful progress towards a sustainable and resilient future. As we embark on this collective journey, let us embrace the spirit of collaboration and innovation to realize our shared vision of a net-zero world.

Maryam Awode (University of Nottingham) shares their takeaways from the parallel session on “Public engagement to address net zero” at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

On the first day of the ECR Net Zero conference in Birmingham, I attended one of the parallel sessions titled “Public Engagement to Address Net Zero: Research into Practice.”. The session, expertly led by chair Dr. Chris Jones (University of Portsmouth), fostered an engaging and insightful discussion on crucial aspects of achieving net zero.

Dr. Jones’s introductory remarks effectively highlighted the conference’s role in bridging the gap between communities and relevant projects. His energetic and engaging delivery set the tone for a stimulating session.

The first presentation, delivered by Dr. Gareth Thomas (Cardiff University), focused on the importance of incorporating public sentiment and thought processes into decisions regarding the transition to adaptable energy systems. He emphasized how people’s unique lived experiences and geographical contexts significantly influence their desires and concerns surrounding the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Immediately after, Dr. Phedeas Stephanides, from the University of East Anglia and lead researcher on UKERC’s Public Engagement Observatory, delivered a captivating presentation titled “Mapping Public Engagement with Energy, Climate Change, and Net Zero.” He emphasized the importance of a deeper understanding of public engagement with these issues to inform more effective decision-making. Dr. Stephanides’ key recommendations included acknowledging the diversity of public engagement and recognizing its ongoing, interconnected and exclusionary nature.

Dr. Kate O’Sullivan presented her research on “Enhanced Rock Weathering as a Greenhouse Gas Remover.” Her presentation focused on a study that is gathering information about public perceptions and community acceptance of ERW in the UK, using major farmlands as a case study. The research seeks to examine how ERW affects the locations, cultures, and communities where it is deployed, as well as potential social barriers to its implementation.

L-R: Daisy Dunne, Joshua Lait, Flora Graham and Ross Freeman

Following a captivating presentation by the speakers, a panel discussion commenced with Daisy Dunne (Carbon Brief), Ross Freeman (Dialogue Matters Ltd), Flora Graham (Nature), and Joshua Lait (University of Exeter) as panelists. Chris Jones skillfully moderated the discussion, which centered on the following questions:

  1. Communicating research to diverse audiences: Panelists discussed strategies for effectively communicating research findings to both the scientific community and media outlets. Daisy Dunne emphasized the importance of crafting engaging narratives and utilizing visuals to capture the attention of a broader audience. Ross Freeman advocated for using clear and concise language to enhance public engagement. Flora Graham advised researchers to consider the audience’s perspective and tailor their communication accordingly, while Joshua Lait highlighted the significance of inclusivity and crafting stories that resonate with diverse populations.
  2. Selecting research topics: Daisy Dunne shed light on the process of selecting research papers for publication at Carbon Brief, highlighting the extensive review of scientific literature, often in the form of abstracts. Flora Graham offered guidance to researchers, urging them to strive for clear and concise abstracts, and recommending that we leverage our university press offices to connect with journalists. She emphasized the value of engaging storytelling and the use of metaphors and imagery to capture the attention of the media.

The discussion further explored the importance of public engagement in research, including methods for involving the community and disseminating research findings. Dr. Chris concluded the session by expressing gratitude to the presenters, panelists, and attendees.

Mike Gorbounov (Brunel University London) and Ben Petrovic (Brunel University London) share their takeaways from Plenary session 1 on EDI at the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024.

The opening plenary session of the ECR Net Zero Conference 2024 kicked off with a bold choice of topic: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). While some attendees might not have chosen this session if it were one among the parallel sessions, making it the plenary proved to be a resounding success. It fostered a diverse range of participants and ignited discussions that reverberated throughout the rest of the conference.

The session led by Lennie Foster (ERA and C-DICE), Jessica Gagnon (University of Manchester), Marco Reggiani (University of Strathclyde), Claire Scott (IGNITE+ and University of Strathclyde) and Molly Westby (EDI+) provided a comprehensive overview of EDI. The speakers covered everything from foundational concepts, to real-life examples of inclusive (or lack thereof) design as well as offering potential strategies for addressing unfavourable behaviour.

Figure 1: Lennie Foster presenting at the ECR Net Zero Conference in Birmingham, 27-28 Feb 2024.

A particularly engaging aspect of the session was a group activity where attendees were tasked with imagining ways that EDI principles might be integrated into two scenarios. The first scenario looked at the design of an autonomous vehicle whilst the second was centred on the organisation of a conference on the topic of small modular reactors. Time was allocated to allow discussions for both scenarios. The depth and breadth of these discussions highlighted the importance of these exercises and the significance of diverse representation. After, Lennie went on to present suggestions put forward during previous events with many well aligned to our group’s suggestions! This convergence of ideas among ECRs from various backgrounds suggests a shared vision for meaningful improvement in both scenarios. Signalling a collective readiness to begin implementing these ideas in every part of our research proposals as well as work altogether!

Molly Westby then went on to introduce some extremely intriguing and new (for us) concepts, namely the “positive disruptor” and the “active bystander.” Briefly, a positive disruptor challenges the status quo to drive progress towards positive alternatives whereas an active bystander would look to challenge or intervene in situations where unfavourable behaviour or wrongdoing is observed. We were then provided with a template for action as an active bystander based on the 4 Ds – Distract, Delegate, Delay and Direct – nicely summarised and described by a handout also provided in Figure 2. These approaches are tailored to the diverse personalities of individuals but also the situation itself. The 4 Ds acronym offers a memorable framework for responding to such situations (granted there are other alternative acronyms but we like this one).

Figure 2: The 4 Ds of being an active bystander

Additionally, a comedic yet insightful YouTube video shared during the session offered further food for thought on effective intervention strategies. Overall, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion plenary set a strong precedent for the rest of the conference. It showed us that EDI is not just a box ticking exercise but a vital ingredient for the just and sustainable future we ECRs are all working towards.