The Early Career Researcher Net Zero Conference

20 Mar 2024

Author: Harry Barton, Manchester Tyndall Centre

After a drizzly morning commute into Birmingham New Street, I quickly made my way to the Birmingham Conference Centre, eagerly anticipating the Early Career Researcher (ECR) Net Zero Conference. This multi-day event aimed to enhance academic connectivity and share discussions in our collective quest to reach Net Zero, and I was excited to see what was in store.

Context and institutional landscape

The opening plenary kicked off with an engaging talk by Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University. He comprehensively covered the concepts for geological net zero, laying the groundwork for much of the discussions throughout the conference. During the Q&A session and other discussions, questions were raised about the real-world practicalities and political hurdles of these topics, emphasising the fact that very few countries currently plan to use permanent carbon removal within national net zero plans. Some attendees suggested the talk may have benefited from greater consideration of the political realities of these scientific methods when applied to reach Net Zero. Overall, this was a great start to the event – providing context for the conference theme and stimulating interesting conversations.

The next session provided time for each research group on the organising committee to present their work. This broad overview was helpful for interdisciplinary researchers like me to gain an understanding of the organisational landscape and the collaborative efforts that make events like this possible.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion

After lunch came a session on Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI). It was great to have an EDI session so prominently included in this year’s ECR Net Zero conference. Having been pre-warned of the interactive nature of the session, it was an excellent way to get people talking about the issues of EDI that are prevalent in research. Most participants engaged respectfully and positively with the sensitive topics discussed. However, there was one moment when a couple of attendees submitted disrespectful answers during an anonymous quiz, undermining the spirit of open and inclusive dialogue that the session aimed to foster. While disappointing, it highlighted the importance of robust moderation practices when providing space for discussion. Overall, the session spotlighted important ideas and issues that impact academia, encouraging us all to think more mindfully when conducting our work, and in day-to-day life.

Parallel sessions and networking

The parallel session that I attended on day 1 focused on public engagement and Net Zero. A range of speakers outlined key strategies on engaging public audiences with science-based research. This was interesting and useful, although perhaps more creative delivery could have driven home the importance of diverse communication styles in this field. Nevertheless, the session covered a range of valuable ideas and techniques.

A poster session and networking reception was a fantastic way to see the diverse and interdisciplinary nature of all the ECR projects represented. It provided me with an opportunity to get to know new people and discover new topics, alongside discussing my own work. With conversations continuing over a conference dinner, and prizes awarded for winning poster presentations.

Day two began with coffee and more parallel sessions, where I attended the Net Zero and the Built Environment talks which covered a range of interesting projects. The session on “Global Net Zero Ambitions” provided an interesting contrast between Richard Simon’s approach to Net Zero which focused on innovation and technological learning, and Dr Imogen Rattle’s emphasis on the social and political influences of  industrial policy. The day was rounded out with an engaging talk from Adam Goater, covering the UK’s ambitious Net Zero roadmap and drawing insights from his experience at the Climate Change Committee.


Overall, the conference was well organised and a pleasure to attend, covering a range of intersecting topics in an engaging manner, the excellent integration of feedback from previous years led to an agenda shaped by participants. Of course, no event goes without minor hiccups along the way, but the overall atmosphere was positive and hopeful – a mindset which will be key in our collective research effort to reach net zero.

About the author: 

You can view Harry Barton’s profile on the Tyndall Manchester website here.

More information:

You can find out more about the ECR conference on the UKCCSRC website here.