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Global challenges and global collaborations - lessons learnt from global change

2nd ESF Science Policy Conference held in Stockholm, Sweden

Global challenges need global solutions. The 2nd ESF Science Policy conference held in Stockholm, Sweden on 26 and 27 November 2008, brought together heads and senior representatives of ESF's 80 Member Organisations in 30 countries, representatives of ESF's international partner organisations and others for a discussion on the big global scientific challenges and how to best collaborate in addressing them.

Issues were discussed both on a European and global level and a variety of speakers ranging from science, science policy, politics and the industry contributed to the discussion. "There is a clear and pressing need for European action and international cooperations" stated Anneli Paul, Deputy Director General, DG Research of the European Commission, in the opening session.

The topic of global change was used throughout the conference as an example to illustrate the need for cooperation across a wide range of topics and showcase some successful collaborations in the field. Global change can no longer be ignored and denied, at the same time, it cannot be reversed anymore on a short-term basis. It is, however, possible, to reduce its impacts by future-oriented political, institutional and personal actions. "We are in a no-analogue state and far outside of a 700,000 year range of natural variability" said Jill Jäger from the Sustainable Europe Research Institute in Vienna, Austria, and former Executive Director of the International Human Dimension Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP). "It's important to find the common questions and a conceptual framework for interdisciplinary research" continued Jaeger.

The Descartes prize-winning research project EPICA (European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica) was created in one of the ESF's most successful and longest running Research Networking Programmes and exemplified the necessity and benefits of large scale collaborations. The EPICA project - carried out by 12 partners from 10 European nations - pooled expertise in different branches of ice core research and glaciology and balanced European, national and laboratory pride enormously well. EPICA was successful in retrieving past climate records of great impact for the assessment of our current climate change. Temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations over up to the last 800,000 years could be measured. The results have shown that the recent rise in greenhouse gas concentration is beyond any historical comparison, leading to climate change at an unprecedented rate. One of the main goals for the future is to get a 1.5 million year record. "We started European, but now it's a world adventure with a common objective" explained Jean Jouzel, former Director of EPICA and Director of the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace in Paris, France. "In all fields of science, the grand challenges need to be identified and then the objectives set accordingly" said Jouzel.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recipient of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, was also on the agenda of the conference in order to illustrate the relation between science and society. The IPCC is working very close to the science and science policy interface and the IPCC report's summary for policy makers is produced in interaction with the user community. "IPCC is an institutional blueprint, yet the policy interface needs further lubrification" said Jean-Pascal van Ypserle, vice-chair of Working Group II of the IPCC and professor of climatology and environmental sciences at Université catholique de Louvain.

Other experiences gained in collaborations in the fields of sustainable energy, health, astronomy and food were also presented, complementing the picture.

In order to tackle the grand challenges ahead of us, science needs to team up with partners outside academia such as politics and the industry. In doing so, an atmosphere of mutual understanding needs to be created that requires a specific set of communication skills not yet common in academia. "The scientific community has to accept that its core business, knowledge generation, is a prerequisite for solving global challenges but not sufficient as a stand-alone" said Horst Soboll, former Director for Research Policy and Communications at Daimler-Chrysler AG. "Communication, understanding and joining forces with research oriented industry are needed" was Soboll's piece of advice.

The League of European Research Universities (LERU) is already responding to the global research challenges and calls for educating and inspiring the next generation of researchers as well as the rising generation of citizens. LERU is in the process of collaborating with other groups worldwide. "We want to create a clear and succinct university voice on global futures that would have an impact in the international political and scientific arena" said Geoffrey Boulton, chair of LERU's Research Policy Committee and Vice Principal of the University of Edinburgh.

More research opportunities for young people, a better facilitation of transdisciplinary research, the importance of science communication, new perspectives due to new geopolitical maps - these were the main messages to be taken home. Global challenges require global solutions indeed - and ESF needs to be part of the solution. "The autonomy of the individual investigator in choosing the topics and methods needs to be respected" said ESF's Chief Executive Professor Marja Makarow. "However, overarching structures are needed. Especially when global challenges such as global change are tackled, no national or continental effort is sufficient, but the research has to be conducted in a global manner" concluded Makarow.

Angela Michiko Hama | alfa
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