In 2022 we saw some of the visible effects of climate change - floods in Pakistan, hurricanes in the Caribbean, heatwaves across Europe, and droughts in the US and China. While at COP27 there was little progress towards the goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Despite the obvious signs, the international community is falling short of the Paris Agreement goals, according to the UN environment programme.

But there was also hope in 2022. COP27 ended with a historic agreement to set up a fund for “loss and damage,” – a fund for the unavoidable effects of climate change that disproportionately impacts the developing world. And around the world, individuals and organisations are radically re-imagining what it means to be a responsible 21st-century business, and innovators are a critical part of this movement to transition to a clean green future.

With this in mind, we asked our Directors of Theme to share their forecasts for the coming year. Their predictions for water, energy and sustainability, and environment and agrifood provide a glimpse of what progress could look like.


Water: Getting to grips with resilience, carbon neutrality, and affordability

Professor Paul Jeffrey, Professor of Water Management, Director of the Water Theme

The last 12 months have been something of a tempestuous time for the UK water sector. Hosepipe bans, combined sewer discharges into rivers and coastal areas, and rising bills have all made the headlines. The debate over the management of our natural water bodies has also reached new heights. Water service providers have arguably not been under such scrutiny by the public and the press since the early days of privatisation.

So what lies in store for 2023? Importantly, there will be a slew of significant planning documents issued. The water companies will release both their Drainage & Wastewater Management Plans and their Water Resource Management Plans. These are important precursors to the 2024 Price Review (PR24) and will report not only on the challenges facing the sector but also on initiatives by which solutions might be co-created with partners and stakeholders. Later in the year, the final versions of the Regional Water Resources Plans (currently out for consultation) will also be published. If we are to build on recent advances that have been made in getting to grips with resilience, carbon neutrality, and affordability then these documents will, in one sense, be hugely influential statements of intent.

The coming year is also likely to see major initiatives around combatting pollution from combined sewer overflows and wider attention on protecting riverine environments. Be prepared to see more public debate about water recycling, large-scale transfers/storage, and perhaps variable tariffs. These and other topics will, I am sure, be reflected in the National Debate on Resilience in the Water Sector which is being hosted at Cranfield on 22 February 2023.


Energy and Sustainability: A critical year for energy security

Professor Phil Hart, Professor and Director of Energy and Sustainability

What will 2023 look like for the Energy industry… now there's a question! 2022 has got to be seen as one of the most volatile years within modern energy, and as ever within our sector, the turbulence was mostly driven by politics. Russia’s ongoing “special operation” will continue to mess up the markets until it concludes, which makes forecasting extremely difficult.

Gas prices have fallen away from their peak but remain stubbornly high. The best guess is that they will stay high through next summer and then slowly fall further towards their ‘normal’ values over multiple years. The impact of this and the energy security concerns that it has raised will be wide-ranging. We could compellingly argue that the biggest impact will be that ‘energy independence’ will emerge as the number one energy priority - certainly in the UK and Europe.

Energy security would see additional strategic spending on renewable energy sources, and primarily in the UK that would be offshore wind. Onshore solar is attractive but low on the priority list of the UK Government for some reason, however, I don’t think it should be discounted as it has a useful part to play. Maybe onshore wind will make a resurgence (as it should) if we can cure the NIMBE arguments. The current noises about nuclear are interesting and it’s likely Sizewell C will be supported, and we could see the emergence of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) for city-level supply, although these will all take many years to become operational. We might even see the UK Government investing in our Oil and Gas industry in the North Sea - but that will take a level of political bravado that might not be attainable in the current climate.

We need to cure the problem of variability in renewable generation, so I’d expect to see large investments in energy storage over the coming few years as the renewable sector grows. This will be battery dominated for short-term storage, but inter-month or inter-seasonal storage is an unanswered question. Will this be by compressed gas, chemical (hydrogen, ammonia?) or more hydro or another source – the jury is out on the technology but for sure a solution will be necessary.

The only thing certain about energy in 2023 is that it is all about change, nationally and internationally. That’s great for jobs for our graduates, and I hope will spur lots more students to come to study what I think is one of the most challenging and interesting subjects available.


Environment and Agrifood: Profound changes ahead driven by the geopolitical situation?

Professor Angel Medina Vaya, Professor in Applied Mycology and Director of Environment and Agrifood

Environment and agrifood issues will remain high on the agenda of industry and government this year. In both sectors, we may see profound changes driven by the geopolitical situation we are currently suffering. At the UK level, some food production sectors will suffer from mounting pressure due to post-Brexit trading difficulties and negotiations, while globally we expect to see the escalation of protectionism due to the lack of raw materials we have seen in the past associated with the Ukrainian war and the reduced production in China. However, likewise, we will be able to see how both big and small companies are making every effort to adapt, and are coming up with original solutions, products, and services to address these global challenges. We are extremely proud to see some of our recent graduates taking part in these new advances.

When we look at the environment surrounding us, clearly our main challenge will still be climate change and how we can be more resilient to the expected changes that are sadly becoming unavoidable. Food security will also continue to be an important consideration in relation to the impact of climate change on food. 

Cranfield is continuing to make important contributions to our science in relation to sustainable aviation, farming and agriculture, air pollution, and infrastructure, among others and we look forward to helping both industry and government on taking the right decisions based on scientific knowledge to shield the future of generations to come.

Join Professor Angel Medina Vaya's informative webinar on 24 January 2023 to discover how the environmental fluctuations caused by climate change are impacting the way some fungal pathogens grow and what the next 50 years could reveal for food safety.


At Cranfield, we’re committed to working together to make the world a better place

We know that delivering a Net Zero future and preserving our planet requires us all to take bold, immediate steps to find and develop the solutions that will help repair and replenish our planet.

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Despite all the challenges we are optimists, but change is not yet happening fast enough or at the scale we need. Join us in action to maximise impact, take solutions to scale, and inspire people all over the world to work together to repair and replenish Planet Earth.