Negotiating on behalf of the UK

Alumni news

Acting on behalf of the UK in climate negotiations, Leeds alum Kate Fearnyough travelled to COP27 hoping the conference would accelerate mitigation action around the world.

As a Science Negotiator at the Cabinet Office, Kate Fearnyough (MSc Climate Change and Environment 2019) is directly involved in UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations – the international treaty adopted by countries all around the world to address the climate crisis.

With responsibility for ensuring decisions are based on the best available science, we found out how her work is making a difference. 

How are you helping to tackle the climate crisis? 

I’m currently seconded from my role in the international climate science team in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to work on science items in the UNFCCC negotiations.  

I negotiate on behalf of the UK to ensure that the decisions made in the UNFCCC process are based on the best available science, which is especially important following the release of the three reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the past 18 months. Aside from the negotiations, I work across government departments to communicate the latest climate science to inform policymaking. 

That’s quite impactful work, then? 

The decisions made at the UNFCCC negotiations are truly global in impact as they are agreed by almost all nations around the world – which is hugely rewarding but also challenging! It’s great to be able to play a part in this process and work collaboratively with counterparts from other countries to accelerate climate action globally. 

Take us back to your time at Leeds. How did it help you to enter your career in climate action? 

My Masters gave me a really strong grounding in physical climate science, impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, and climate mitigation. That’s all essential for my current role as I can confidently communicate the latest science from across the climate world to policymakers.  

I also gained a really important overview of global environmental policy, particularly the UNFCCC processes and the UK’s domestic policy. 

What motivates you to do this work? 

Climate change is the biggest threat we face globally and is already having devastating consequences across the globe. I firmly believe that in order to effectively tackle climate change, both in the UK and globally, policy and decision-making needs to be informed by the best available science.  

What is your proudest achievement in this field? 

I feel incredibly proud to be part of the UK COP26 Presidency team that worked so hard to make COP26 and its legacy a success, and are continuing to work hard to build on the Glasgow Climate Pact and all other COP26 outcomes. 

What does COP27 mean to you?  

I think the COP conferences are arguably the most important international summits not only in the climate world, but globally across all issues. It’s a privilege to be part of, and for me COP27 was an opportunity to make connections and work together towards a better future for people and planet. 

What was your role at COP27?

I was there for the full two weeks covering negotiations and various side events. It was my first ever COP so I was equal parts nervous and excited! 

What three things can people do to make a difference? 

Tackling climate change requires systemic change, especially action by governments and big businesses. Three actions that I try my best to stick to myself are i) reducing food waste, ii) travelling less and avoiding flying where possible and iii) reducing my consumption of material things like clothes. 

Further information

Discover more about the University’s role at COP27.

For further details, email University of Leeds Digital Communications Officer Ed Newbould at