Interview with Tereza Cavazos, member of the Science Advisory Committee of the IAI since 2017

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Tereza Cavazos is the coordinator of the graduate program in physical oceanography at CICESE, which is the Centro de Investigación Científica y de Educación Superior de Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico.

What is CICESE's mission?

At CICESE, the main mission is to generate scientific and technological knowledge to solve regional, national and global problems. And we do this through basic, applied and transdisciplinary research, and by training human resources at the master's and doctoral levels.

What are you working on in terms of climate change scenarios or climate trend analysis?

In the last four years, we have been working on climate change scenarios for Mexico, Central America and Southern United States, because we choose a wider region to see what is happening around Mexico. We started with the scenarios of the [Coupled Model Intercomparison Project] CMIP 5 models and, as we know, a new group of global models has come out, which is CMIP 6, which is the intercomparison of models. We first made scenarios with the previous ones, which were the ones used for the sixth IPCC report (the one related to adaptation, impacts and vulnerability is of great interest to us). We have been working on those scenarios and also studies of different physical processes that impact Mexico. Because it is one thing to make temperature and precipitation scenarios, but another to also study physical phenomena that affect Mexico, such as tropical cyclones, monsoon rains, how the jet stream moves, and to see what are their trends. I have been doing this with my group of master's and doctoral students, it is of great help to have young people interested in these topics. Because we cannot advance so fast alone, but having a team, and of course, collaborations with researchers from different parts of Mexico and other parts of the world, we can advance faster.

“We have to work with younger generations to conduct analyses because they use new tools and methods”

Where do you see these new scientists working in Mexico? What can Mexico do to take advantage of this talent?

We always have to think that there are three specific areas that we would like our young people to fill. One is to educate new young people in universities, in research centers. Another area is to continue doing research; we need these young people who know new techniques, new computational analysis, and statistics, because I am stuck with the methods of the past, young people have more tools. So, we have to take advantage of these young people so that they can help us to do more analyses. And the third is the bridge between academia and research, and decision makers. We would also like some of these students to go to institutions that make decisions, such as the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change in Mexico or SEMARNAT, which is the Ministry of Environment. We know that our students when they obtain their master's and doctoral degrees, can help to do research and work in decision making.

What models do you work with?

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports are made, they are based on global model scenarios, and lately, they are taking into account regional model scenarios to see the impacts and scenarios at more local scales. So, in this last report, which was the sixth report, almost everything was based on the group of models that we know as CMIP 5, which was the group of intercomparison models’ phase 5. In other words, the models are still the same and some are new, but now there are many. Before there were 31, now there are about 70 global models, from which one can obtain information, but it is too much information. So, we know this series of simulation bases as CMIP 6 models, phase 6 of these global models.

“We created a listed with the best models for Mexico and Central America that can be useful to teams with limited computational capacities”

We have produced the first report for Mexico and Central America with these new models. We only used 31 models. Since there is so much information, it is very important to make an initial analysis and say "these are the best ones because we know that not all models simulate the climate of our region adequately". We have to know whether some models overestimate too much, are too dry, or something of the sort. So, we say "well, these do not capture the phenomena of our region well", we put them aside, and we keep those that better simulate, better capture the variability of our region. And that information is very important to give to other groups, which have less computational capacity. Because they only have the capacity for 2, 3 models, so they choose some from the list where we have said these are the ones which best capture certain things.

How do you work with the IAI or IAI-supported networks?

I became involved with the IAI in 2017, and I have participated in the different committees that are convened to assess projects, to develop the 25-year strategic plan, which was defined a couple of years ago, to generate metrics on how to measure the progress of the strategic plan, and to apply the regional evaluation. I try to be part of the different committees that are created within the IAI, to know a little bit of everything that is being done. I also participated in the special issue of the results of the Scientific Collaboration Network of the Americas in the journal Environment and Development, for which I acted as guest editor. I try to get involved in different activities to be aware of the needs we have in the Americas related to global change.

What does the IAI bring to the region and what would you say is the most important thing to take advantage of?

A lot, especially when there is support for projects (generally these projects are interdisciplinary, with several countries collaborating in a co-production of knowledge, and also capacity building), that is extremely important for our countries. Because strengthening collaboration with different groups, not only from our country but also from other countries, opens up possibilities to improve what we are doing in our country.

“We must establish bridges between scientists and decision makers so that actions can be undertaken with a long-term vision, not only a government vision”

Is there a specific IAI strategy that is an example for others?

I think there is something extremely important: the bridge between the scientists (those of us who generate the information) and the decision makers. Because many times we develop information, we have the climate change scenarios, we have the publications, but if that information is not taken into account, for example, by the IAI focal points and the governments, then that information stays on our desk. For example, here in Baja California (which is a very dry state, it is the driest state in Mexico, in the north of Mexico), we had a meeting with the Secretary of the Environment of Baja California who is very open to take into account everything we are doing on climate and global change in general. I told her that one of the problems we have in Mexico, which she recognized, is the change of government. We defined the state action program on climate change for Baja California about 8 years ago, for which we created a list of strategies and actions. For example, after that program, vehicle control was established in Baja California for all types of transportation, because we know that transportation is one of the most important air pollutants, it has very important impacts on the greenhouse effect. However, when there was a change of government, they closed down all the control centers. Then you say "how is it possible that something that was already working well was eliminated because it belonged to the previous government". This new secretary wants to recover all this, and she is very open to communication. So, what we want is that there are government representatives who are open to receive our information. And, of course, we need to somehow establish that bridge so that actions can be taken with a long-term vision, not with a government vision.

What was the communication strategy? How did you make this happen?

We work in Baja California with several universities. In addition to CICESE, there are other CONACYT (National Council of Science and Technology, which has about 30 centers) centers. Another center that we have here is the Colegio de la Frontera Norte and they work a lot in social topics. So, we collaborate together and there is an expert in public policy. They do a lot of what the IAI does; they have the scientists, but they have policy experts, and that communication between the two. She liaised with us to do scientific workshops and invited decision makers from different parts of the government from different areas. Because many times we can have an action in mind, but if that action does not fit into what is being done in the government, they cannot apply it. So, it is very important to know what the government has so that some of these actions can be carried out jointly, at the municipal or state level.

In these workshops (which is a co-production of knowledge with sectors) we also invited experts in the wine area (the region of Baja California is the most important wine region in Mexico), specialists in fisheries, experts in different sectors, to share their vision of what is important for them. For example, in the latest IPCC report on adaptation, impacts and vulnerability, they highlight this a lot, that is, you can have the physical data, but you have to know the sectors and their needs to understand what is the risk regarding which factors and what is the degree of vulnerability of different groups. So, from that point of view, a while ago I was asked "well, what should be done? I would say that something very important is to be able to have an atlas of dangers and risks in many parts of the country, and in other parts of Latin America, because having that you know which are the most vulnerable areas, and to which phenomena. And then you can take preventive actions. In our countries, many of the policies we have are reactive, and what we want is for them to be preventive in the long term, that is, to see that these areas have problems, and in some way establish some policies that can help us to improve, to adapt better to these changes.

“Droughts and heatwaves are a red spotlight in all of Northern Mexico and Southern United States”

What scientific knowledge is of most interest to civil society or decision makers where you work?

In the case of Baja California and at a national level there is the problem of water, droughts, and heat waves. Having droughts and heat waves at the same time affects many sectors, from the general population, health, children, the elderly, or those who work outdoors in agricultural areas, to livestock, the availability of energy, and the availability of water. It is a red-hot spot that we have especially in all of northern Mexico and the southern United States. I do not like to talk only about one country, but rather about the climatic zone in which we are, which is affected by this phenomenon. Because we all depend on the water of the Colorado River, for example, a transnational and binational body of water. One aspect that the IAI has taken into account is binational governance, within the strategic plan, as a priority. There are many things, not only water, there are other things that are binational, such as forests. So, I think that being able to have scenarios and forecasts of droughts and water availability is something very important. We are making the scenarios, we are working on it, but having this information reach the decision-makers, the different sectors, is extremely important to make decisions regarding changes, for example, in grape varieties or agricultural products. This communication between the different sectors is important, as is always emphasized in the IAI.

As we come near the end of the interview, what is your favorite word?

My favorite word is "dream", I love to dream.

What is your favorite being from the natural world?

Among animals, is the cat. And from the natural world, the tree. Here in my house, I have trees of different kinds.

What is your favorite sound?

The sound of the waves. I live in front of the sea, I have a view of the sea. There is another one that I like and is the sound of thunder. I'm from Monterrey, in Northeast Mexico, where there are big clouds, and storms, and I miss those summer sounds.

Finally, how would you describe yourself in three words?

I'm extroverted and cheerful.


The video recording of the interview is available here: