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The Road to COP26 and beyond

In the approach to CoP26, Creative Informatics supported several projects which reflect data driven approaches to climate change.

The 26th U.N. Convention of the Parties, or CoP for short, convened in Glasgow in November to discuss global governance on climate action. Whilst scientists and politicians concede that we must strive to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celcius (we are currently at 1 degree warming already with concomitant increased changes to weather patterns) what politicians don’t agree on is the timescale and speed at which this Net Zero economy must be delivered, and how.  Here we discuss a range of activity Creative Informatics got involved in, in the run up to CoP26, which reflect two correlated approaches to climate change; a Net Zero economy will require both a fundamental culture shift and a radically new means of doing business.

The Culture for Climate Scotland group, convened by Creative Carbon Scotland, has collated The Ten Steps towards a Just and Green Recovery in the Cultural Sector. Number one is the acknowledgment and encouragement to “harness our [creative] sector’s ability to contribute artistically to wider conversations around climate change, positive responses and positive futures”. This critical argument underpinned the Ocean ARTic project which Creative Informatics supported to bring creatives and marine climate scientists together to explore innovative ways to tell the story of the impact of climate change in the Arctic and Scotland through climate data. Funded by Creative Scotland and led by MASTS, this work was established in a pivotal year for climate change negotiations at CoP26, and the start of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030). The resulting two art commissions were launched at the Creative Informatics Lab #19 on the 5th of November 2021. The composition by award-winning composer Michael Begg commissioned by Ocean ARTic was premiered at Inspace with Black Glass Ensemble playing a live set.* Begg has continued his work with large climate data sets from the Arctic as also explored in his Connected Innovator work to transform atmospheric and weather data into pieces at the margins of classical and experimental music.

Eve Mosher, an internationally renowned environmental artist, introduced her chatbot Ossian in Holding the Ocean. In this piece she continues her interrogation of how climate change impacts communities and works with them on emotional and intellectual connections to climate change, as notably explored in her HighWaterLine project. The chatbot helps the listener explore the stories of climate scientists and coastal communities most intimately connected to the issue, weaving their lived experience with the research and data. Eve said: “Art can create a personal, even emotional connection to the data. Sharing people’s lived experience of climate change creates a level of understanding which motivates shifts in attitudes and actions in response to the challenges the world faces”. Thus, two very different responses to climate data were generated. Begg’s work uses data as the raw material to create the musical composition with, whilst Mosher’s work deals with the emotional work climate data evokes and uses the chatbot to navigate these responses. The rationale for climate scientists working with artists is to communicate not simply the science but rather more; to engage with the topic of climate change at a fundamentally human level through story telling. Adapting to, and mitigating the impacts of, the climate we have created requires collaborative, interdisciplinary thinking as well as creative solutions.

Circular Economy and Doughnut Economics

Alternatives to the linear business model of indefinite growth, which has fuelled climate change exponentially since the 1950s (the Great Acceleration, Steffen et al., 2015), such as those offered by the circular economy model and the doughnut economics, were investigated in The Road to COP26 Innovation Grant Programme in Nepal and the Closing the Loop project in Scotland and viewed through the lens of  the Quintuple Bottom Line. The Triple Bottom Line, originally a concept developed within business studies (Profit, People and Planet) has been expanded upon here to include Purpose and Place to account for the importance of local communities and material resources. The Road to COP26 Innovation Grant Programme supported by the British Council in Nepal brought together young entrepreneurs to explore how Nature Inspired Making could support climate solutions in business. The programme delivered an online Incubator Programme to 50 aspiring entrepreneurs, in partnership with Kathmandu University, Applied Arts Scotland and Edinburgh Napier University. The Incubator Programme focused on a Circular Economy model, which placed design at the heart of product and service development.

The concept of circular economies, as described by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation as looking ‘beyond the current take-make-waste extractive industrial model’, to offer an alternative framework based on three principles:

  1. Design out waste and pollution,
  2. Keep products and materials in use
  3. Regenerate natural systems.

Furthermore, the circular economy focuses on design to encourage a circular model (Bruangart and McDonough, 2009) but this is expanded upon here to include a doughnut economics model (Ratworth, 2017) which denotes a safe space for humanity to operate in which safeguards social foundations and ecological limits. Unlike the UK, Nepal still has a very rich ecology of indigenous crafts making communities; wood workers, potters, weavers, brick makers, rope makers, gilders, embroiders and so on, which tend to focus on heritage rather than design focussed products. These indigenous communities have been recognised as still possessing traditional making practices and knowledge bases (Watson, 2020).** which may inform Nature Inspired climate solutions. The six finalists who received funding to invest into their business idea are introduced in this short film below which also premiered at CI Lab #19.

Introducing the six finalists of the Nepal Nature Inspired Making project. 

It has been notable that the funded projects which are demonstrating the most promise are those which take a whole systems approach, which looks at the ecology of the supply chain, connects disparate craft communities, uses design to re-think traditional materials in a more contemporary context but to do so with sensitivity to the traditions and communities which produce these. The Road to COP26 project was presented in a panel discussion at the Climate Fringe which ran alongside the official programme of COP26.

The Climate Fringe brought a rich offering of cultural events and provided a platform for all of civil society, from activists to NGOs to Trade Unions, particularly in Scotland, to share events and connect around Climate Change and COP26. The After the Pandemic programme hosted the #GetOnWithIt campaign, led by Edinburgh Napier University and DaydreamBelievers (with whom CI has worked with before), and in partnership with LEGO and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, to bring the voice of youth to the fore including the voice of these young entrepreneurs who highlighted possible nature inspired climate solutions. This community of budding entrepreneurs was introduced to the Scottish crafts community, enabled through a Royal Society of Edinburgh grant. In contrast to Nepal, the crafts community consists of mostly individual practitioners, where individual design trumps. The Closing the Loop maker-led research group explores gaps in current materials knowledge and application of sustainability tools and practices in the studio, in partnership with Creative Informatics. This short film, introduces the Scottish makers and their responses to the principles of circular economy in their material practices and a Doughnut Economy. Their work too was presented through a Pecha Kucha at the climate fringe.

Closing the Loop film

The next phase of this ongoing research is collating and gathering evidence of how, and if, data Driven Innovation (DDI) in the CI funded community can continue to support the shift towards a Net Zero economy by looking through the lens of the Quintuple Bottom Line.

* Michael Begg will be performing again, at the Queen’s Hall: more info here

**Please note that Julia Watson will be at our next Lab #20 on the 21st of January 2022


Braugart, M. and McDonough, W. (2009) Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things. London: Vintage, Penguin books

Ellen Macarthur Foundation (2019) What is a circular economy?. Available at: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/concept [Accessed 30 August 2019]

Raworth, K. (2017) Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. London: Random House Business Books

Steffen, W., Broadgate, W., Deutsch, L. Gaffney, O., Ludwig, C. (2015) ‘The Trajectory of the Anthropocene: The Great Acceleration’. The Anthropocene Review.  Vol 2(1), pp. 81-98. [Online] DOI:10.1177/2053019614564785

Watson, J. (2020) Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indigenism. Cologne: Taschen