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Creating Networks for Transformative Change

Our research approach is to create networks for transformative change by developing initial projects or pioneer nodes of activity that become initiators for change at a larger scale across a network. The pioneer nodes map out the wider network of change in their area. This includes bringing together the different actors who are mutually committed to realising positive change. The network itself will hold considerable value for potential investors and future members. It will bring together key change-makers in the areas of science, economics, government and policy, local community and advocacy.

Our Climate Finance solutions focus on the translation and practical application of Climate and Environmental science to improve the resilience and growth prospects of the Financial Services (FS) industry. 

FS partners can draw upon the wealth of world-leading academic expertise and industry experience within the Global Systems Institute, and across the entire University, to support their efforts in responding to the Climate Emergency.  Dr Jean-Francois Mercure’s work on stranded fossil fuel assets is an example of our highly influential research.

Examples of collaboration outputs, include:

  • Creating or enhancing ESG/Sustainability policy and strategy;
  • Integrating physical and transition risk into risk management and asset allocation decisions;
  • Developing bespoke analytics applications and new ESG/Sustainability (Impact) financial products;
  • Delivering improved ESG/Sustainability internal reporting and external disclosures;
  • Receiving bespoke climate change research content.

Please contact Jack Oliver to discuss opportunities in this area. He is contactable Tuesday-Friday on 07453323375.

This £4.8M project on the Economics of Energy Innovation and System Transition, funded by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) aims to transform the way science, economics and scholarship interacts with our way of informing and assessing the costs and benefits of important strategic innovation decisions in driving a sustainability transition, in the UK, the EU and in the major emerging economies of Brazil, China and India. It will promote and develop methods of policy analysis based on an evolutionary understanding of innovation, technology and economic change. Can we systematically identify the risks and opportunities that are inherent in a system transition? Can we effectively predict the deep social and economic implications on society that such a radical transformation will have?

In close cooperation with the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth office and overseas UK embassies and BEIS, this project will directly engage policy-makers worldwide to co-create new and effective science-policy bridges to close the gap between ambition and policy strategy in major economies worldwide. This 3 year project is led by Jean-Francois Mercure at the Global Systems Institute of the University of Exeter, and involves a consortium of 16 institutions worldwide, including Cambridge, Oxford, UCL and the World Resources Institute.

» Find out more

The Colombia BioResilience project examines the long-term resilience of Colombian forest ecosystems to environmental and climatic changes and aims to improve understanding of the future implications of forest degradation for Colombian society. Researchers from the project have been collaborating with the artist Chris Haughton to develop an animation that communicates information about the physical and social science from the project and have also worked with the Colombian writer, Juan Cárdenas on a short story about forest conservation in Colombia. The animation presents the main themes from the project, “palaeoecology”, “forest ecology”, and “human geography” and was shown at the Hay Festival in May 2020. The fictional short story, Espiral, was written following several workshops with the researchers and a video reading of the story was presented at the Hay Festival in Cartegena in Jan. 2020 as part of TRANS.MISSION II. The mixture of creative content from this work in the form of spoken, visual, and written material provides unique opportunities to communicate the science of the BioResilience project to a diverse global audience.

The research, animation, and story development was funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with the animation and story also developed in collaboration with the Hay Festival.

» Colombia BioReslience project

» The science-fiction tale, Espiralis set in 2049 in Colombia and sees two childhood friends exchange messages across an ideological divide

» Chris Haughton animation

Supported by Pivot Projects, The Global Systems Institute are working with Exeter City Futures to create an ‘Exeter Living Lab’. The aim is to benefit from our city’s collective knowledge, insight and experience and identify perhaps as yet unseen solutions to the complex challenges Exeter faces in becoming carbon neutral.

»  Find out more

‌‌Exeter Living Lab‌‌‌

TIST is a farmer-led network operating in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and India, with over 100,000 members (80,000 in Kenya). TIST supports subsistence farmers to plant trees on degraded land to provide fuel, fodder, fruit crops, to protect and rebuild soils and to sequester carbon. By planting trees members of TIST grow a ‘virtual crop’ of verified carbon credits that can be sold internationally, with 70% of the proceeds returning directly to the farmers and the remainder invested in the program. TIST has shown enormous benefits both to the farmers it serves and to the ecology of the landscapes in which they live, with quantified impacts on 16 out of 17 of the sustainable development goals. 

To help better serve the farmers, and scale up the impacts across degraded landscapes GSI has been working with TIST on three key activities:

1. In their 20 years of operation TIST has accumulated an extremely large collection of data including tree locations and growth rates, connected to social information such as meeting dates, gender, date of membership etc. We are working with TIST to map social networks as TIST grows by grass-roots activity and word of mouth, and to try to understand characteristics of the most successful and less successful TIST groups.

2. We are combining TIST’s own data with remote sensing products and field studies to understand TIST’s ecological impacts at the landscape scale, and understand the likely impact on farmers of projected climate change.

3. We are helping TIST to develop a new generation of training materials that can be delivered remotely to widen TIST’s reach and allow it to spread to areas it would not reach by its current word-of-mouth approach. 

TIST poster‌‌‌

» Download/view the TIST poster pdf or watch Tom Powell present the poster at the online event Nature Based Solutions Digital Dialogues

» Find out more

» Read Rudy Arthur's blog, 'Data Science for Climate Resilience in East Africa'

» Watch a wonderful animation from the folks at Kiss the Ground about carbon, soil, and the promise of regenerative farming practices.

IngaSystems brings together two projects focused on agroforestry and silvopastoral systems in Latin America led from the University of Exeter. Scientists from Exeter, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and University of Edinburgh have teamed up with the Instituto Ouro Verde (IOV) to create a social approach to sustainable tropical agriculture. The projects support and encourage local communities to adopt sustainable farming methods that provide food security and income whilst simultaneously improving tree cover and soil conditions in one of the most degraded areas of Amazonia.

» Find out more

ExeMPLaR is a Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub led by the University of Exeter. The hub will use the principles of the circular economy to address the accumulation, impact and costs of plastics in the environment, whilst maintaining applications for multiple high value purposes.

The programme will address both the causes of the problems and efforts to solve them, rather than just treating the symptoms. This research effort connects technical solutions, human behaviours, social, environmental and economic systems with circular economy principles.

» Find out more

Kidnapping in Mexico has reached epidemic proportions. The latest national victimization survey states that 79,315 people were kidnapped in Mexico in 2018. Whilst the country is now recognised as a global hotspot for this violent crime phenomenon, its effects are even deeper than the trauma delivered to many thousands of victims and their relatives. Threat of kidnapping has a wider paralysing effect on everyday life across Mexican society, creating widespread fear and anxiety. To assist those affected by kidnapping, academic experts from the Universities of Exeter and Leeds are collaborating with Mexican filmmakers to develop new approaches to raise public awareness about this crime problem and trigger new strategies to confront it by merging science with soap operas.

Following their recent three-year Newton Fund M.A.K.E. project to develop innovative tools to help ordinary Mexicans counter kidnapping, Dr. Ernesto Schwartz-Marin (University of Exeter) and Dr. Conor O’Reilly (University of Leeds) have taken this research further and co-produced a Telenovela (‘soap opera’) about kidnapping called Amor Secuestrado (‘Kidnapped Love’ in English). Funded by joint-ESRC Impact Acceleration Awards from their respective Universities, Amor Secuestrado blends academic expertise with the social justice passion of the grassroots filmmakers to push the boundaries on how academic research is communicated effectively and how it can make a real difference.

 » Watch the Telenovela, Amor Secuestrado (Kidnapped Love) 

 » Find out more about the M.A.K.E project

NRT is an umbrella group supporting communities in the northern Kenyan rangelands to establish community conservancy areas. NRT currently comprises 35 member conservancies covering around 8% of Kenya’s total land area and incorporating around 70,000 people. In a landscape with 18 different ethnic groups, where armed conflict has been endemic and severe overgrazing has led to serious food insecurity, the community governance structures pioneered by NRT’s member conservancies provide hugely powerful platforms for communities to resolve conflicts, collectively agree on community grazing strategies to ensure preservation of productive grazing land for their livestock during increasingly frequent drought events, and establish significant biodiversity conservation areas.

GSI is working with NRT to use remote sensing products to identify the impacts of NRT practices on the resilience of vegetation in the rangeland ecosystems, as retaining productive grasslands even through periods of severe drought is fundamental to the security and wellbeing of pastoralist communities. We are also pursuing several lines of enquiry around better understanding NRT’s governance structures and their integration with traditional community governance structures, and quantification of impacts on the other SDGs

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HELIX is an EU-funded collaborative research project assessing the potential impacts of climate change. Scientists from 16 organisations worldwide have worked together to develop a number of future scenarios of the natural and human world as a consequence of 1.5°C, 2°C, 4°C and 6°C global warming.

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Research into the drivers and impacts of drought and fires in Indonesian Borneo

Led by Professor Frank van Veen at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Kalimantan Lestari (KaLi), meaning “sustainable Borneo” in Indonesian, is a UKRI-GCRF funded project. Its multidisciplinary team of UK and Indonesian researchers is investigating the complex issues surrounding drought and peatland fires in Kalimantan. A consortium of 5 UK and 3 Indonesian universities, and the Indonesian NGO Borneo Nature Foundation, KaLi researchers are bringing their wide range of expertise in both natural and social sciences to gain a holistic understanding of the problem to support Indonesian communities and policy-makers in building resilience in the face of these challenges. To learn more about the project visit

While there is widespread discussion of both sustainability and migration, with the latter focused particularly on the potentially destabilizing impacts of unmanaged movement, there is little understanding on the connections between the two. MISTY migration, transformation, sustainability seeks to explore the ways that migration interacts with sustainability concerns in destination cities, with an emphasis on the unrecognised benefits that it can bring.

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GSI is supporting Tidelines, an Exmouth-based project which brings together arts, sciences, community and trans-disciplinary research to explore and adapt to the changing world at a time of climate and ecological emergency and to connect us with the other inhabitants who share our home (for example insects, marine life, birds, microfauna).  A project for all residents on and around the Exe estuary to investigate together how the estuary and coastline works and how it is changing: a ‘communiversity’ of enquiry working with University of Exeter and local specialists with in-depth knowledge on a variety of subjects. A program of events will launch this spring; in response to the current situation this will begin with a series of participatory online activities which people can take part in from home. Tidelines is also supported by the University's Erasmus+ Socially Engaged Universities program.

»Find out more

In partnership with the Met Office Hadley Centre, we are leading a team of experts in performing the central analysis for this nationally-important programme under the UK’s Climate Change Act.

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The South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) is a new initiative that will help deliver economic and community benefits to the South West, whilst also protecting and enhancing the area's natural resources. The South West Partnership for Environment & Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) is a new initiative that will help deliver economic and community benefits to the South West, whilst also protecting and enhancing the area's natural resources. 

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GSI is currently supporting UNESCO and Eden Project International in piloting community-led ecological restoration activities in the Lake Chad basin. Lake Chad decreased in area by 90% in the second half of the 20th century, making over 40 million people increasingly vulnerable to environmental degradation and food security. This has helped to inflame insecurity and conflict across the region as well as leaving huge numbers of people stranded in extreme poverty, and has been exacerbated since 2013 by the incursion of Boko Haram in the region.

Drawing on lessons from TIST, NRT and other projects we are facilitating communities in Chad to explore the potential for improved livelihoods and security based on regenerating the ecological services on which people depend. We are developing pilot programs around sustainable fisheries, regenerative farming and grazing practices and the production of Spirulina algae. These pilots will be extremely small and undertaken highly sensitively given the extreme poverty and insecurity faced by the communities we are working with, but we are very optimistic about the potential for this approach, once demonstrated, to have much wider reach and to help build security and opportunity across the region. We have so far conducted preliminary scoping and engagement work, and held a 3 day workshop in N’Djamena, Chad, in February 2020. We have had excellent engagement with stakeholders in the region and are very excited to develop this project further.

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To reduce the risk of experiencing dangerous climate change and reach net zero, it will very  likely become necessary to actively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  However, direct removal of CO2 from air is hampered by its very low concentration in the  atmosphere. SeaCURE harnesses two natural properties of the ocean that can circumvent this  problem. (1) The amount of carbon dissolved in a seawater is approximately 150 times higher than its concentration in air, making extraction significantly easier and quicker, (2) we can utilise the ocean’s vast surface area to remove CO2 from  the enormous volume of air sitting above it, rather than having to push all of that air through air-based CO2 capture facilities.


SeaCURE will combine and refine existing approaches to develop a new system that removes  CO2 from seawater and releases the CO2-depleted water back to the ocean, where it will  naturally re-absorb an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. Specifically, at the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory we will benchmark established approaches to prepare seawater for CO2 extraction, strip that CO2 from the seawater, and collaborating with Brunel University concentrate the CO2 to high purity. TP Group, a UK based technology and engineering firm with world leading expertise in gas extraction from seawater, will then develop and upscale the most cost effective approach from this toolkit. The SeaCURE team will design a portable pilot plant to remove at least 100 tonnes of CO2 a year. Future testing using the pilot plant would generate the data required to develop commercially viable CO2 removal at the megaton scale, aimed at public and private sector offsetting and the carbon trading market.