Boris Johnson's MP duties seem to have stopped him attending Pope Francis's climate change summit. Photos: Getty
Show Hide image

Has Boris Johnson snubbed the Pope?

The Mayor of London is missing a meeting of the world's mayors at the Vatican to discuss climate change with the Pope. Why?

The Pope has invited the world's mayors to a two-day meeting, beginning Tuesday this week, to discuss his new favourite subject: climate change.

Following his landmark encyclical on the environment last month, in which he warned us of “serious consequences for all” if humanity fails to act on climate change, Pope Francis has invited mayors of cities around the world to meet at the Vatican to discuss the fight against global warming.

There are over 60 attendees, including such high-profile figures as the mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, and the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. The full list of attendees and programme is available here.

The mayor of London Boris Johnson was invited to attend, specifically to participate in a workshop on modern slavery and climate change, and a Symposium on Cities and Sustainable Development, at the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Sciences on 21 and 22 July. But he isn't there, and nor has his office sent a GLA representative in his place.

A City Hall spokesperson explains his absence:

The Mayor was unable to attend the Vatican’s events this week due to diary constraints. He is however delighted that the Vatican is highlighting the issues of climate change and modern slavery, and congratulates Pope Francis on his initiatives in this area. Addressing the challenge of climate change is one of the Mayor’s key priorities and he has led the world in city-based efforts to reduce emissions, including his announcement of an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone in central London to be introduced in 2020.

Although it is unclear what Johnson's diary constraints were specifically, he was present at the late Welfare Bill vote in parliament the night before the conference, in his capacity as Tory MP for Uxbridge. And an insider tells me he also has Commons commitments on Tuesday, the first day of the conference.

His non-attendance at the Vatican, depriving London of a representative at a global mayoral meeting about tackling climate change, suggests two things. The first is that climate change is not a priority (as the comment from his spokesperson denies). And the second is that his duties as an MP are clashing with his mayoral commitments, and he has been compelled to pursue the former over the latter, which will only add to the characterisation of Johnson by his detractors as a "part-time mayor".

The only UK delegates at the conference are the Bristol mayor George Ferguson, and the Manchester mayor Tony Lloyd.

Ferguson, known for his green credentials, spoke at the conference this afternoon about what Bristol is doing to reduce carbon emissions. He wouldn't comment on Johnson's absence, but is clearly aware of how useful an event like this can be, and urges all city mayors to join the conversation:

I regard it as a great honour for Bristol to have been invited to address this vitally important conference, hosted by the Pope at the Vatican. Cities are at the frontline of climate change in terms of both problems and solutions, and I implored all city leaders to unite on the related issues of poverty, modern slavery and climate change.

De Blasio has used the Vatican summit to make a pledge to cut New York carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com