Is European R&I equipped to take climate action?

On 4 September, The Guild and SwissCore held a joint event on climate change that brought together leading climatologists and EU policymakers to discuss the politics that hinder and enable climate action and mitigation.

The causes and the fallout of anthropogenic climate change are global and complex. Mitigation “requires sustained and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” stated Professor Thomas Stocker, a renowned climate scientist based at the University of Bern. Mitigation also requires a multiplicity of approaches, from fostering different types of innovation to understanding the sources of scepticism and environmentally-unfriendly behaviour.

Breaking disciplinary and institutional silos

Climate modelling is a testing and predictive method that simulates climate systems based on different interactions (i.e., matter, atmospheric elements, chemical reactions, ocean temperatures, time, etc.). It has contributed to the strong body of evidence that has built the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. As Stocker stated, “[the] strategy must be to bring the best science to the table, to explain that science in ways that are understandable to [a] non-expert, and to only present robust findings.”

This strategy does not define ‘science’ solely as a ‘natural science’, it encompasses the research other disciplines produce. In fact, climate models themselves are stronger when they are coupled with resource management and impact models.

Disciplinary and institutional silos could threaten climate action, however, which is why speakers stressed the importance of interdisciplinarity and of broadening our definition of innovation.

In his introductory remarks, Rector Christian Leumann described how the University of Bern has integrated sustainability across all its faculties, teaching curricula and administrative offices. Researchers and students are encouraged to pose questions about sustainability and climate change from their different disciplinary perspectives.

Bas Eickhout, Green Party MEP, underlined that policies should be based on the scientific evidence for climate change and the knowledge of how to overcome resistance and scepticism. This approach links fields in the natural sciences, exact sciences, social sciences and humanities. It also illustrates the complexities of climate change. Prof. Bram Bregman, for example, explained how gender inequalities, and “cultural differences and poverty, are often underestimated in climate action.”

Global challenges

Climate change does not adhere to borders and neither should climate action and mitigation. Today’s global challenges require social, political and academic collaboration: for example, the data on greenhouse emissions from Antarctica, which precipitated the current scientific consensus on climate change, was gathered by a multinational research team.

The ice coring project in Antarctica is also a prime example of the far-reaching effects of fundamental research. Scientists were studying the history of environmental variation and the data they gathered provided evidence that helped prove anthropogenic climate change is a fact and that its impact is significant. All panellists underscored the importance of increasing the funding for European fundamental research.

The EU’s commitment to climate action in Horizon Europe is strong. Deputy Director-General at DG RTD, Patrick Child, stressed that climate change will be a well-funded cross-cutting element in Horizon Europe. This forms an important part of the multiplicity of approaches required to take climate action, and it can help ensure that Europe remains at the forefront of climate science.

Published Sep. 6, 2018 6:28 PM - Last modified Sep. 6, 2018 6:28 PM