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GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

GeoPolicy: COP23 – key updates and outcomes

What is COP23?

Anthropogenic climate change is threatening life on this planet as we know it. It’s a global issue… and not one that is easily solved. The Conference of the Parties (COP) provides world leaders, policy workers, scientists and industry leaders with the space to share ideas and decide on how to tackle climate change and generate global transformative change. COP23 will predominantly focus on increasing involvement from non-state actors (such as cities and businesses), how to minimise the climate impacts on vulnerable countries and the steps that are needed to implement the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Hold on – what’s the Paris Climate Change Agreement…?

You’ve probably heard about the Paris Climate Change Agreement (often shortened to just Paris Agreement) before, but what exactly does it refer to?

During the COP21, held in Paris during 2015, 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) reached a historic agreement in response to the current climate crisis. This Paris Agreement builds on previous UN frameworks and agreements. It acknowledges climate change as a global threat and that preventing the Earth’s temperature from rising more than 2°C should be a global priority. The only nations not to sign the agreement were Syria, due to their involvement in a civil war and their inability to send a delegation, and Nicaragua, who stated that the agreement was insufficiently ambitious. Both of these countries have since signed the agreement while the US has unfortunately made headlines by leaving it.

The Paris Agreement states that there should be a thorough action plan that details how the Paris Agreement should be implemented by COP24 in 2018. There is still a long way to go before this action plan is finalised but COP23 was able to make a strong headway.

You can learn more about the UN climate frameworks and Paris Climate Change Agreement here or read more about COP21 here.

What did the COP23 achieve?

Today is the last official day of the COP23 and while it is often difficult to determine whether large scale political events are successful until after the dust has settled, there are some positive signs.

1. Making progress on the Paris Agreement action plan

The COP23 has been described as an implementation and ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ kind of COP. While the COP21 resulted in a milestone agreement, the COP23 was about determining what staying below 2°C actually entails – what needs to be done and when. Some of the measures discussed to keep us under 2°C included: halving global CO2 emissions from energy and industry each decade, scrapping the $500 billion per year in global fossil fuel subsidies and scaling up carbon capture and storage technology. Simple, right?

These actions are all feeding into the detailed “rulebook” on how the Paris Agreement should be implemented which will be finalised at COP24.

2. Cities have stepped up to the plate

Mayors from 25 cities around the world have pledged to produce net zero emissions by 2050 through ambitious climate action plans which will be developed with the help of the C40 Cities network. Having tangible examples of what net zero emissions looks like and how it can be achieved will hopefully encourage other cities to follow suit. For this reason “think global, act local” initiatives are also picking up steam.

A new global standard for reporting cities’ greenhouse gas emissions has also been announced by the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The system will allow cities to track their contributions and impacts using a quantifiable method. This will not only allow the UNFCCC to track the progress of cities more effectively but it may also result in a friendly competition with cities around the globe. It is also expected that all cities will have a decarbonisation strategy in place by 2020.

3. Phasing out coal by 2030?

19 Countries (ranging from Angola to the UK) have committed to phasing out unabated coal generation by 2030. Unabated coal-powered energy generation refers to the generation of electricity from a coal plant without the use of treatment or carbon capture storage technology (which generally reduces emissions from between 85-90%). With 40% of the world’s electricity currently being generated from coal, this commitment is clearly a huge step in the right direction that will hopefully put pressure on other nations and steer energy investment towards lower-emission sources.

4. There is the will to change… and the funding is there too!

One of the key features of the Paris Agreement was the amount of financial aid committed, 100 billion USD annually by 2020, from developed countries to support developing states mitigate their emissions. While this level of funding is still far from being reached, the aim to jointly mobilise 100 billion USD annually by 2020 was reiterated.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, also announced that Europe will fill the funding gap in the IPCC budget that was left by the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

 

The Green Climate Fund booth at the COP23 exhibition area. Credit: Jonathan Bamber

 

Other outcomes

Not only do COPs generally result in solid outcomes and agreements being made but they also go a long way to strengthen global unity and the belief that we are able to tackle climate change despite it being a huge and often daunting problem. This was also highlighted by Jonathan Bamber, the EGU President, who attended the event, “It was so impressive to see politicians, policy makers and scientists all striving hard to ensure that the world’s economies achieve the goals laid out in COP21 in Paris. There was a lot of energy for change and action and much less cynicism than I have witnessed at previous COP events. I really hope it helps steer us towards a more sustainable future“.

While these are just a few of the immediately obvious results from the COP23, I am sure that there will be more agreements and outcomes announced within the next few days. Keep tuned to the GeoPolicy Blog for more updates!

Further reading

 

GeoPolicy: The importance of scientific foresight

GeoPolicy: The importance of scientific foresight

Many of the issues that society currently faces are complex and research on just one angle or area does not provide sufficient information to address the problem. These challenges are compounded when more than one region (or even the entire planet) is impacted. Many of the decisions and legislations passed by governments today will go on to impact how these issues either develop or are resolved years into the future.

How do governments ensure that the decisions they make are sustainable – that they will not only produce short-term benefits but will also go onto benefit our children and grandchildren to come?

Scientific foresight

Scientific foresight informs policymakers about future challenges and opportunities, allowing them to follow a systematic approach to determine where actions and changes in policy are required.

While this may sound simple, it is actually far from it! Foresight requires a comprehensive understanding of what the potential consequences of the decision (or lack thereof) are. This may include: the potential benefits, how severe the issue is likely to be in a business-as-usual scenario, what steps can be taken to minimise the issue, which regions or areas are more likely to be heavily impacted and what the environmental, social and economic costs are likely to be over various time scales.

The information and likely future scenarios that foresight studies provide allow policymakers to:

    • better evaluate current policy priorities
    • assess the impact of upcoming policy decisions in combination with other possible developments or challenges
    • take actions that are able to pre-emptively minimise risks or expand opportunities
    • identify new partners and create new connections (both internally and internationally)
    • anticipate new technologies and societal demands and implement policy that helps to facilitate them

One example of where foresight is particularly useful is climate change. Foresight helps policymakers to understand what the impacts of climate change will be, where they will be the most severe and what legislation can be passed to minimise the risk and long-term costs without burdening the present generation.

What sort of issues do foresight studies research?

The issues that are research in foresight studies are extremely far reaching. Below are just a few examples of themes that have been previously researched.

Just of a few of the areas considered in scientific foresight studies

 

How to get involved with foresight research?

At a European level, foresight processes are integrated with other EU scientific advice processes such as: informal expert groups, the Research, Innovation and Science Expert Group (RISE), the Horizon 2020 Programme, the EU’s Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM). While it is possible for scientists to become involved through each of these platforms, the most researcher-friendly option is likely to be the Horizon 2020 Programme. You can find out more about Horizon 2020 and how its projects are advertised in our July GeoPolicy blog.

If you are living outside of the EU, knowing which organisations are working on foresight studies in your area is a good start. Almost every national government undertakes some form of foresight research. Not only this, but there are also larger regional or global initiatives undertaken by international organisations, such as the UNDP and ASEAN, as well as a large number of consultancies that undertake foresight studies and develop prioritised action plans.


Why aren’t foresight studies publicised?

Actually, they are! Governments, particularly the EU Commission, love to highlight the various foresight studies that are being used to guide policy decisions because they are generally of interest to the public and demonstrate that much of the legislation enacted is based on research.  The links in the further reading section below will lead you to some of these studies.

Being a policy related blog, this post has naturally focused on the governmental and legislative use of foresight research. However, foresight can and should be used to steer both business and personal decisions. From financial investments to our education, having a greater understanding about what the future holds enables us to make more informed decisions that are more likely to have the outcome we desire! Perhaps this is just another reason to support scientific foresight and its distribution in formats more people are able to read.

Further reading 

EU Commission, Research & Innovation – Foresight

European value changes – Signals, drivers, and impact on EU research and innovation policies

 

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

GeoPolicy: How can geoscientists make the most of the Horizon 2020 programme?

As a geoscientist, I’m sure that you have heard of Horizon 2020, an EU programme that is allocating almost €80 billion to research and innovation over 7 years (from 2014 to 2020). This money is distributed throughout various scientific divisions and provides a plethora of opportunities for scientists, not only within the EU but also throughout the world.

Unfortunately, the magnitude of the Horizon 2020 programme has resulted in all the potential opportunities and openings offered to scientists, research institutes and innovators being difficult to navigate.

Luckily for you, this blog will outline some of the most relevant Horizon 2020 geoscience opportunities so that you don’t have to spend hours trying to map out the many existing options!

Horizon 2020: a summary

The Horizon 2020 programme follows the seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), which ran from 2007 until 2013 with a budget of just over €50 billion. Research framework programmes were initially established by the EU to coordinate national research, pool research funding, increase knowledge sharing and reduce duplication.

Horizon 2020 aims to generate world-class science and technology to drive economic growth within the EU and be bigger, simpler and smarter than previous programmes. It consists of three primary research and innovation pillars:

In addition to these three pillars, there are two horizontal and three smaller programmes. These pillars and programmes are depicted in the figure below.

 

Horizon 2020 Structure. Credit: http://cerneu.web.cern.ch/horizon2020/structure

 

Each pillar and programme offers funding and opportunities that you may be able to access depending on the focus of your research. This blog will focus on Excellent Science as this is believed to be the most relevant pillar to the geoscience community.

Excellent Science

As you can see in the figure above, the Excellent Science Pillar has four primary components, all of which offer opportunities to researchers.

  1. European Research Council’s frontier research encourages high-risk, high-reward proposals in an attempt to generate revolutionary science and innovation by providing a number of different grants, including:

 

    • ERC Starting Grants: support talented early-career scientists (with 2 – 7 years of experience) who have already shown potential as a research leader
    • ERC Consolidator grants: fund researchers with 7 – 12 years of experience who would like to consolidate their independence or who would like to strengthen a recently established, independent research team
    • ERC Advanced Grants: empower individual researchers who have already established themselves as independent research leaders
    • Proof of Concept Grants: are secondary sources of funding for researchers who have already received an ERC grant for the frontier research project and now want to explore the commercial or societal potential of their work

2. Future and emerging technologies supports the following collaborative research initiatives that aim to extend Europe’s capacity for advanced innovation:

    • FET Open: funds projects that focus on new technologies and that are in the early stages of development
    • FET Proactive: seeks to establish a critical mass of European researchers on emerging, exploratory themes and ultimately build-up a new interdisciplinary research community
    • FET Flagships: fund 10-year initiatives that involve hundreds of European researchers who focus on solving an ambitious scientific and technological challenge e.g. developing uses for new materials such as Graphene

3. Marie-Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowships provide innovative research training, attractive career options and knowledge-exchange opportunities to scientists across all disciplines. Key opportunities within this fellowship that may appeal to geoscientists include:

    • Innovative Training Networks (ITN): provide up to four years of funding for a joint doctoral-level research training programme that is implemented by at least three partners from in and outside academia
    • European Researchers’ Night (NIGHT): is a Europe-wide public event dedicated to the sharing of science and engaging the public. The next NIGHT will take place on the 29thof December 2017 in over 300 EU cities. Find a NIGHT near you!

For information about science-policy fellowships and training opportunities you can also visit last month’s GeoPolicy blog on science-policy placements.

4. Research infrastructure (including e-infrastructures) aims to further European research infrastructure for 2020 and beyond. The primary geoscience related outcome of this Excellent Science component is:

As well as the opportunities within the Excellent Science pillar of the Horizon 2020 programme, there are numerous overarching initiatives, tenders and training courses which may be of interest to some geoscientists

  • Researchers are able to join the Horizon 2020 Database by creating a profile outlining their relevant fields and experience. Once registered, researchers may be called upon to provide expert advice and contribute to various projects, evaluations and policy designs
  • Scientists can also play a more active role by submitting a proposal through the Horizon 2020’s Call for Proposals. These calls are continually updated and require a collaborative approach with at least 3 organisations from different EU Member States or associated countries. Various EU partner search services are available for researchers who want to contribute to a project but who are lacking collaborators
  • The Horizon 2020 programme runs innovation competitions. These competitions revolve around prominent societal problems and offer cash prizes to whoever can find the most effective solution or best meet the defined challenge
  • Research institutes within widening countries may find the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation scheme particularly beneficial. Primarily focused on Eastern Europe, it has several initiates that aim to ensure the equal division of innovation and subsequent social and economic benefits across the EU

Despite offering so many opportunities to researchers, the Horizon 2020 programme is not without criticism. Like almost all funding programmes, it is highly competitive.

The proposals submitted during the first 100 Calls for Proposals within the Horizon 2020 programme only had a 14% success rate. While not a surprising percentage, it is approximately 6% lower than the overall proposal submission rate success for the previous research Framework Programme (FP7). The grant and proposal style of funding has also been said to fuel the propagation of casual academic contracts. These casual contracts often result in high competition for positions and increased pressure on researchers due to the continuous tendering and application process.

The Horizon 2020 programme has released an Interim Evaluation Report which despite not mentioning the proliferation of casual contracts, did acknowledge the need for additional funding, intensified international cooperation and greater data accessibility. The Interim Report also highlighted the Horizon 2020’s successes including increased efficiency compared with its FP7 predecessor, scientific breakthroughs, the generation of economic growth within the EU and the strengthening of research infrastructure.

Research and innovation funding post 2020 is yet to be secured but potential for continued growth within the sector was discussed during the Research & Innovation – Shaping our Future conference and in the Investing in the European Future We Want publication.

For further information regarding the Horizon 2020 programme and other EU funding instruments, you can email the Research Enquiry Service or Horizon 2020 National Contact Points.

References 

Academia is now incompatible with family life, thanks to casual contracts: https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2016/dec/02/short-term-contracts-university-academia-family

European research funding: it’s like Robin Hood in reversehttps://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2014/nov/07/european-research-funding-horizon-2020

Horizon 2020 statistics: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/horizon-2020-statistics

Science and Innovation Strategic Policy Plans for the 2020s (EU, AU, UK): Will They Prepare Us for the World in 2050?: http://redfame.com/journal/index.php/aef/article/viewFile/909/851

GeoPolicy: Conquering conferences – how scientists can make an impact at a policy driven event

GeoPolicy: Conquering conferences – how scientists can make an impact at a policy driven event

Last week I was in Brussels for the EU Green Week, an annual event that discusses European environmental policy. The event was jam-packed with policy-makers, entrepreneurs, innovators and a handful of researchers. Green Week allowed me to network and gain a better understanding of upcoming political issues while enabling the EGU to show-off some specialist knowledge with Nick Arndt, the Chair of the EGU Outreach Committee, participating in a panel discussion.

Green Week’s high level of participant diversity and focus on success stories and political cooperation is commonplace in policy driven events. However, it is a stark comparison to the academic focus and technical presentations that embody scientific conferences. These differences also permeated into the social aspects of the event with each participant seemly at the event for a specific promotional, networking or policy related purpose. The limited number of researchers present at Green Week was also quite noticeable but unfortunately rather typical of a policy focused event. And I say unfortunate because while these events tend to have a very different focus from academic conferences or meetings, the presence of scientists is vital.

Although it may seem a little contrived, the networking aspect of these politically orientated events is absolutely essential for collaboration, intersectoral coordination and, of course, science-policy communication.  Attending events such as Green Week allows scientists to communicate their research to a non-academic audience while also: introducing scientists to formerly unknown organisations, demonstrating alternative methods of communication and highlighting issues that need greater research.

So, by now I’m assuming that I’ve convinced of the importance of scientific presence at policy driven events. Great! But how can researchers make the most of their resources and energy during the relatively short period of time that they have to network during the event?

  1. Be prepared: Investigate which organisations, companies and policy-makers will be attending and presenting. This can help you work out which presentations you should attend, potential connections you can establish and which components of your research are most relevant for you to showcase. Researching the websites or LinkedIn profiles of key participants may also give you additional talking points.
  2. Know your message: Conversations flow fast at policy driven events. This was particularly evident at Green Week with participants trying to network with as many people as possible during the short coffee breaks. It is important that you can present your research or convey a particular message within 60 seconds. Remember that policy-makers are interested in research that is relevant for their sector, identifies practical solutions and that can be used to identify policy options.1 For more tips on presenting information to policy-makers see the policy section of the EGU website.
  3. Find a conference buddy: Making a strong connection with someone who works in a similar field but different sector can be a diving block into a pool of new contacts. Determine the types of people your new buddy is interested in and try to introduce them to relevant people within your own network. Not only will this help your conference buddy and strengthen your connection, there’s a good chance that they will return the favour. While this is generally more beneficial during the event, introductions can be made afterwards via email.
  4. Aim for a two-way conversation: Although it can be tempting to talk non-stop about your own research (you are probably there to share it after all!), listening to other participants can be a valuable skill. Being an active listener helps you to understand the needs of the policy-makers, innovators and organisations that you are speaking with, subsequently allowing you to link the most relevant aspects of your research to their work. This may increase their interest in your research, provide you with insights into where further research might be needed and establish a foundation for continued cooperation.
  5. Remember that it’s a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand: The fast pace of policy events means that following up afterwards is essential. Building a non-academic database of these contacts can be a good method of keeping track of the people, where you met them and what components of your research they showed interest in.2 Methods of following up after the event can range from simply adding your new connection on social media to sending them a short summary of the research you discussed with them during the event.
  6. You can also ease yourself into fully fledged policy events by attending science-policy events that are relevant to your research. Many of these events are advertised and regularly updated on the EGU Science Policy Events page.

     

    References:

    [1] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1442-8903.2008.00416.x/full

    [2] https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2013/mar/25/academics-policy-engagement-ten-tips