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Meet some of Queen Mary’s inspiring environment experts

As people around the world unite to mark Earth Day (22 April) and call for a greener future, learn about some of the Queen Mary academics working to protect our planet. 

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Governments around the globe have implemented many major green policy initiatives in the past year – and yet we’re not on track to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) neutrality, or keep global warming below 1.5C, without significant and immediate action. At the same time, Earth’s wildlife populations have been depleted by an average of 69% in just under 50 years. 

Since 1970, billions of people from more than 190 countries have united on Earth Day to champion a more eco-friendly world. This year’s event follows a theme of investment, urging not only concerned citizens but governments and institutions to invest in the health of our planet. 

Faculty of Science and Engineering at Queen Mary

The Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) agreed by 196 countries in 2022 puts a strong emphasis on the needs for integrating considerations of Nature and biodiversity into decision making by businesses.   

To avoid a tendency towards ‘greenwashing’ and instead support these activities with strong science-based objectives and methods, observation data, forecasting models, and expert advice, there is an acute need for academic involvement in this area.    

In the UK, such work is funded through the Natural Environment Research Council’s £5m Nature Positive Futures research programme, in which Queen Mary has a coordinating role, alongside the £6.4m Economics of Biodiversity in collaboration with the Economic and Social Research Council. Queen Mary is also a part of the Forum of the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), which is developing standards for how businesses and financial institutions report their impacts and dependencies on Nature.   

Queen Mary’s Dr Axel Rossberg, who is an advisor to the TNFD, is also an expert on biodiversity credits. “Biodiversity credits are a way to quantify positive contributions by organisations to biodiversity conservation,” he said. “Typically, corporations will buy such credits from conservation practitioners and so contribute to the GBF target of mobilising US$200 billion per year of biodiversity-related funding. 

“At Queen Mary, we are developing the Biodiversity Impact Credits system, because it can be used by governments, organisations, landowners and communities to quantify both the negative impacts of their activities on biodiversity and the positive contributions they can make to rebuilding biodiversity.”  

Professor Andrew Leitch, who is Co-director of Queen Mary’s MSc Plant and Fungal Taxonomy Diversity and Conservation, and MSc Biodiversity and Conservation, added: “Biodiversity Impact Credits are designed to steer funding towards the protection of species from extinction. In a joint project with Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a global association of plant conservation organisations based in Kew, we’re selling Biodiversity Impact Credits that result from rebuilding populations of tree species which are close to extinction.”    

Dr Joanne Littlefair, Lecturer in Biological Sciences, focuses on the ecology of environmental DNA, with the aim of integrating better data into biodiversity surveys and bio-monitoring campaigns. She said: “Work on biodiversity monitoring schemes helps us to more efficiently collect information and preserve our endangered animals and plants in the UK. We need everybody to protect and conserve biodiversity, from individuals to big business.” 

Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry 

Queen Mary’s Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry’s 2021-2026 Research Strategy sets the ambitious aim to tackle health inequalities, promote equitable healthcare and enable our transformational research to deliver ‘better health for all’. Population growth, climate change and humans’ environmental impact are all contributing factors to widening health inequalities across the world as well as in our home boroughs in East London. The weight of the health problems we intend to address require multi-faceted approaches and research, so we have created multi-disciplinary themes.   

Queen Mary has been leading research on the negative health effects of air pollution which is the top environmental risk to human health in the UK, leading to around 40,000 premature adult deaths. Research from Professor Jonathan Grigg and Professor Chris Griffiths has shown the long-term damage that air pollution has on human health – from asthma to dementia, heart disease and cancer. Their research has helped inform the global understanding of, and response to, the health risks of air pollution and was instrumental in the introduction of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. 


Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences 

Queen Mary offers the UK’s first qualifying law degree with a climate justice specialism. This gives students not only the core legal expertise of an LLB but also teaches them how to apply this knowledge in the specific context of environmental and climate concerns. The programme is an ideal opportunity for bright minds who see law as an important part of social change and want to pursue an environmentally-focused career in the legal, policy or civil society sector. 

This course is just one aspect of the work in Queen Mary’s Centre for Climate Crime and Justice to tackle the deepening environmental crisis. A hub for activists and community groups as well as academics and students, the Centre works to highlight environmentally harmful practices and propose sustainable solutions. 

Led by Professor David Whyte, the Centre is at the cutting edge of research on the most pressing environmental issues of our time – emphasising legal, sociological and civil society approaches to the criminalisation of environmental harms underpinning the climate crisis. This builds on the experience of Queen Mary’s International State Crime Initiative, which has exposed the role that governments and industries play in global warming and other ecological harms. 

Professor of Law and Globalisation Penny Green said: "The Centre for Climate Crime and Justice is a timely and exciting development, extending the School’s already outstanding research and teaching on the crimes of the powerful. Bringing together academia and civil society to understand, challenge and redress the crimes that fuel the climate emergency is a mission the School is very proud to lead."

One of the key actions for Earth Day this year is a petition calling for legislation to make the fashion industry more eco-friendly. Staff and students at Queen Mary’s Legal Advice Centre have also been working to challenge ‘fast fashion’ issues, recently holding a pop-up ‘swap shop’ offering advice to help others make more informed and ethical decisions about what they wear. 

Queen Mary is dedicated to informing the world’s transition to a sustainable, low-carbon and climate resilient future. You can find out more about Queen Mary research related to sustainability, environment and energy on our Research Highways pages.

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