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The University of Southampton

Study takes novel approach to transform cities to low carbon pathways and healthier living

Published: 29 May 2012

Researchers at the University of Southampton are embarking on a low carbon engineering project that could transform the way cities are built, as well as the way we live in them. The work will provide pathways of new engineering and social solutions that test acceptability and coherence for low carbon living.

The research is aimed at defining alternative urban futures with drastically reduced CO2 emissions. The analysis will then develop realistic and radical engineering solutions to achieve the required emission reductions in a socially acceptable way. People are at the centre of the research providing linkage to aspirations and wellbeing within the proposed engineering transformation of cities.

Professor AbuBakr Bahaj of the University of Southampton’s Energy and Climate Change Division (ECCD) and the Sustainable Energy Research Group, says:

“This research is targeted at answering the questions ‘what will it be like to live under the proposed UK government target of 80 per cent Co2 reduction in emissions by 2050? How does that map to peoples’ aspirations? And what are the environmental, economic and social impacts?’ These are extremely important questions that we need to plan for now and develop the needed knowledge to inform all stakeholders.”

Professor Bahaj will lead the energy portfolio of the overall Programme Grant. This work is supported by Dr Patrick James from the ECCD, with social aspects being led by Professor Jane Falkingham and Dr Melina Buck. The focus of the research within Southampton is to primarily address the above questions and integrate their analysis within the future scenarios of how cities will work in the future.

As the world undergoes the largest wave of urban growth in history, research that can provide visions of an alternative economically viable future for low carbon, sustainable development is crucial as global population centres within cities are projected to be the major contributors to future emissions.

In 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population was living in towns and cities. The UK was the first country in the world in which this happened. By the 2001 census almost 80 per cent of the UK population lived in cities, today this figure has risen to 90 per cent.

The UK government is committed to meeting its 2050 climate change target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels.

Research with the Programme Grant will also use focus groups, case studies, and develop city analysis methodology and other approaches in pioneering futures research. The researchers will create roadmaps that aim to drive future engineering thinking for decades to come. Its goal is to influence policy and be used by urban designers in the UK with the potential to be applied anywhere in the world.

The study has been made possible by a £6.5 million Programme Grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Programme Grants are flexible grants made available to world-leading research teams aiming to address significant major research challenges.

Lancaster University, University College London and the University of Birmingham, who are leading the project, are part of the five-year multidisciplinary research team.

Commercial partners include power and gas company E-ON, global engineering consultancy Halcrow, international engineering and construction company Costain and the UK’s rail operator Network Rail.

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Notes for editors

1. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, granted the Royal Charter that enabled the University of Southampton to award its own degrees in the early weeks of her reign in 1952

In the six decades to follow, Southampton has risen to become one of the leading universities in the UK with a global reputation for innovation through academic excellence and world-leading research.

This year, the University’s reputation continues to grow with the recent awarding of a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in recognition of Southampton’s long-standing expertise in performance sports engineering.

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2. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

For further information contact:

Glenn Harris, Media Relations, University of Southampton, Tel: 023 8059 3212, email:  

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