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Innovative Scottish-India climate research partnership

An international team of scientists, led by the University of St Andrews in partnership with the University of Aberdeen and Ahmedabad University, India, has been awarded research funding by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) to investigate new approaches to the management of vulnerable coastal wetland habitats in India.

The project, Sustainable Coastal Habitats, Blue Carbon and the Challenges of Net Zero, will focus on India’s coastal wetlands and mangrove forests as important blue carbon systems which can deliver sustainable management solutions for coastal environments and their communities.

Led by the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at St Andrews, with the University of Aberdeen and Ahmedabad University in India, the project is funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Scottish Asia Partnerships Higher Education Research Fund (SAPHIRE). The Fund is a new grant scheme funded by the Scottish Government with the aim of enhancing the existing international research partnerships between Scottish universities and partners in India, Japan and Pakistan.

The team will investigate nature-based solutions that point to sustainable futures for highly threatened coastal habitats in India and demonstrate their ability to contribute to the implementation of an emissions inventory for national greenhouse gases. The research will also deliver new opportunities for emerging climate change and green recovery plans in India.

Mangrove forests are unsustainably exploited in many of India’s unprotected coastal wetlands, due to factors including pressures from land use change and deforestation. Mangrove forests provide livelihoods to India’s rural poor, while also providing important ecosystem services, such as nursery grounds for coastal fisheries. The research conducted will seek to establish the basis to implement an emissions inventory for coastal wetlands across India.

Lead researcher Professor Bill Austin (pictured above left), from the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at St Andrews, said: “Our project offers the opportunity to help meet the global health, wellbeing, social and other challenges caused by Covid-19. We will do this by focusing our project on the recent UN Secretary-General’s initiative to identify climate-related actions to shape the global Covid-19 recovery, which highlights a clean, green transition to economies built on green jobs and sustainable growth to empower societies and people, allowing them to be more resilient by incorporating climate risks and opportunities into the financial system as well as all aspects of public policy making and infrastructure.”

“We will expand the partnership opportunity in higher education research within Scotland and between Scotland and India, by focusing on research which addresses the global climate emergency and builds on expertise at St Andrews, Aberdeen, Ahmedabad and beyond.”

Professor Marcel Jaspars FRSE ScD (Cantab), Vice-President International at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, said: “This is a fantastic project led by an international team of scientists tackling climate research into sustainability and coastal wetland habitats. We’re pleased to see Scotland’s research excellence at the forefront and the continued partnership building with India. The RSE looks forward to hearing more about this project along with the others funded through the SAPHIRE scheme.”

“The project Sustainable Coastal Habitats, Blue Carbon and the Challenges of Net Zero aligns well with Ahmedabad University’s focus on interdisciplinary research as it brings together experts from diverse disciplines. This would help build research links between Ahmedabad University, the University of St Andrews and the University of Aberdeen and open up new opportunities for future research collaborations,” added Pankaj Chandra, Vice-Chancellor, Ahmedabad University, India.

Professor Jo Smith, from the University of Aberdeen, continued: “Focus on these mangrove forests is particularly timely as there is considerable global interest in the protection and restoration of these highly vulnerable habitats. Our use of nature-based solutions aims to provide sustainable futures for mangrove forests in India by demonstrating their ability to contribute to reducing national greenhouse gas emissions, while also benefitting local people and the economy.”

The SAPHIRE fund is open to universities to expand existing research partnerships, develop a practical application for the research; widen the scope of the existing partnership; and enable research to include a focus on economic and/or social recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic where appropriate. The project will involve new partnerships to be built with India’s national remote sensing (space) agency and national/state government departments that hold regional habitat data.


Photo caption: Professor William Austin sampling mangrove forests in southern India, January 2019.

To find out more about SAPHIRE visit the website.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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