Home » Climate Action » Tackling the ocean crisis to unlock a safer, fairer future

Professor Brendan Godley

Director, Graduate School of Environment and Sustainability, University of Exeter

Tackling the multiple threats facing the ocean is essential to ensuring a safe and fair future for humanity, according to experts from the University of Exeter.

Threats including climate change, plastic and chemical pollution and overexploitation are complex and interconnected — so, solutions must be holistic, leading to more resilient marine ecosystems. Protecting the ocean will trigger wider positive impacts, such as limiting climate change and providing sustainable food and livelihoods for millions.

Teaching the next environmental experts

The University of Exeter has more than 300 people working on all aspects of marine research and has launched a graduate school to extend this and train the next generation of environmental experts. “All business and human endeavour is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment,” said Professor Brendan Godley, Director of the new Graduate School of Environment and Sustainability at Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

Marine protection initiatives

The university’s work includes building the evidence to support initiatives such as ‘30×30’ — a global call urging governments and world leaders to significantly increase the level of protection for marine environments to 30% by 2030 — and boosting conservation of habitats ranging from seagrass and mangroves to coral reefs and the seafloor.

The university has several groups working on ecotoxicology, the threat from marine plastics and how to inspire people to become part of the solution. “We very much focus on education and our engagement with the public and wider communities on these issues,” Professor Godley said. “We are looking to galvanise interest in stopping the flow of plastics into oceans, but the whole plastics issue has been a catalyst to engaging more people in marine conservation.”

If we don’t save the environment, humanity is doomed.
So, we need more people working in this area.

Interdisciplinarity in finding solutions

The university’s Business School hosts the Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research hub (ExeMPLaR) and the Exeter Centre for Circular Economy. Experts from these groups work closely with colleagues from other fields, developing solutions that will have powerful real-world impacts. “One of our strengths is that we do interdisciplinary work very well,” Professor Godley said. “For example, it’s impossible to disentangle the plastic problem from climate change, so experts from different areas need to consider these problems together.

“This interdisciplinary approach is reflected in our education. Our Penryn Campus in Cornwall focuses extensively on environment and sustainability, and we have now pulled all this together for our environment and sustainability masters programmes within the graduate school. As a university, we are really trying to make a difference in the world. Education is a crucial part of this, and people at masters and PhD level also play a key role in driving research.”

Driving global climate action

Exeter’s education focuses strongly on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the 2023 THE Impact Rankings, the university secured top spot globally for its pioneering research, action and commitment towards clean water and better sanitation (SDG6) and emerged as a leader in Climate Action (SDG13), securing first position in Europe.

The high-quality education on offer attracted over 250 students for this year’s masters programmes in Cornwall, with over a third of them coming from outside the UK.“These are people that could go anywhere in the world but are coming to study with us. It is a source of pride that we are a global beacon attracting the best. These students then go back to their own countries and start making a massive difference.”

At the COP28 climate change conference, now underway in Dubai, the university will make a key contribution through projects including the Global Carbon Budget (a comprehensive assessment of emissions). It is also leading the first-ever Global Tipping Points Report, assessing damaging Earth system tipping points — and the potential for ‘positive’ tipping points in our societies and economies.

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