SBSTA 24: Research needs and priorities relating to the Convention

 Nairobi, 6–14 November 2006

Summary note by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) 

At its twenty-fourth session, the SBSTA invited climate change research programs to provide a short summary report identifying any gaps in their research programs with respect to research needs of the Convention, as viewed by Parties, for example in document FCCC/SBSTA/2006/INF.2 and considering options for addressing these needs.

The SBSTA noted the continued need to improve communication of scientific information on climate change to policy-makers and the general public. The SBSTA also noted the need for enhancing two-way communication and cooperation between the Parties and regional and international research programs to meet the research needs of the Convention.

Pursuant to that request and further to the participation of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) at the UNFCCC special side-event, held during SBSTA-24, this document introduces IAI´s new cooperative 5-year science program, the Second Round of Collaborative Research Network (CRN II). The CRN II program started in June 2006 and includes 12 international research consortia, involving at least 40 institutions across 18 countries in the Americas. It is designed to create networks of scientists throughout the region who will work collaboratively on global change problems of importance to the Americas. CRN II projects are expected to contribute to the development and strengthening of the regional capacity to deal with global environmental change issues and their socio-economic impacts. Using an integrative multidisciplinary approach, the program seeks to provide the best possible scientific basis for documenting, understanding and projecting changes in the Earth’s system and to facilitate full use of scientific information in policy and decision making.

As an intergovernmental organization with 19 member countries in the Americas, the IAI´s main objectives are to: augment the scientific capacity of the region; encourage research beyond the scope of national programs on scientific issues important to the region as a whole; provide informed action at all levels; and to provide information to policy makers in a useful and timely manner.

The IAI has a dynamic and evolving Science Agenda to ensure the incorporation of changing regional priorities and the needs of IAI member countries regarding global change research. With all past calls for proposals and subsequent project sponsorship, the IAI has implemented this agenda. This has resulted in a large number of successful projects on climate change and variability and other themes of the IAI Science Agenda including ecosystems, biodiversity, land use/cover and water resources; the composition of atmosphere, oceans and fresh waters and the human dimensions of global change.

In a survey circulated by the IAI among its member countries in late 2004, the following topics, among others, were identified as global change research priorities: climate change variability, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change; bridging mechanisms between science and policy; vulnerability of coastal zones; participation and equity in environmental-related decision making; mitigation of GHG emissions and impacts no global change (energy, forest); global carbon cycle; glaciers, water resources and landuse, land-cover change. Some of these topics are being addressed by CRN II projects (see table below).

Research needs still to be addressed include climate change and variability (human and political dimensions); integrated assessments of climate variability, its impacts, and scenarios of climate risks applied to health, agriculture, fisheries, water, tourism and energy; climate change effects on glaciers and water resources; use of general circulation models on a regional scale; vulnerability of coastal zones to climate change.

In most scientific investigations gaps exists between research, assessments and policy. It is essential that the different parts of science investigations be interconnected and linked to technical and societal decision processes, as in the CRN II and SGP-HD programs. The IAI is developing a regional program dealing with landuse, agriculture and renewable energy sources (biofuels). The topic of biofuels links to most topics of the IAI science agenda and is highly relevant in the regional and global context, namely in technological aspects of energy conversion and carbon off-sets, ecosystem function and biodiversity, agriculture, rural development, and regional risk evaluations that link agricultural development to climate change and variability.

The IAI is making significant efforts in engaging member nations in the science programs and in the translation of scientific information into policy relevant information. A workshop was held jointly with the Scientific Committee of the Environment (SCOPE) on “Linking the Sciences of Environmental Change to Society and Policy – lessons from 10 years of research networks in the Americas”. This workshop focused on the importance of links to society and policy in the research networks under the first round of CRN projects exploring the following themes: science policy, generating and steering science for policy relevance; making science credible, practical and operationally valuable to policy and society; stakeholders: identification and integration into the science process (and enhancing the northsouth dialogue) and articulating science for different sectors of society. Links were numerous, invariably guided by excellent research and science, and often had considerable policy impact. The analysis of the underlying process of linking global change science to society has yielded significant insights will be published in 2007 as part of the SCOPE series of science synthesis books.

Since its inception, the IAI has actively promoted, supported and facilitated global change research in the Americas through the planning and support of workshops, education and training and direct support of research. The IAI has contributed to several hundreds of workshops and conferences in the Americas and beyond, which have provided effective fora for the development of coordinated research strategies which have greatly enhanced scientific networking in the region. The IAI science programs have always been designed to complement each other, providing for longer-term core activities and also for flexible shortterm initiatives to address specific science issues and capacity building. The sequence of programs allowed the systematic creation of multinational and multidisciplinary research networks based on rigorous scientific planning and a competitive selection process. When the funded portfolio leaves gaps, either in the science or the development of regional opportunities, additional small grants have been successful to complement existing projects and bring under-represented regions or nations into the program.

To complement this research network program, the IAI will launch in late 2006 a Small Grants Program on Human Dimensions (SGP-HD) that will not only integrate a broad range of human science as an integral part of the new generation of projects under CRN II but will also build on the developing network synergies to further enhance the networking between the individual projects and provide the human dimensions research teams with a rich field of study and interdisciplinary interaction. The thematic priority will be on selected topics under the topic “human dimensions and policy implications” (IAI Science Agenda item 4) that is of strategic importance in complementing the existing CRN II global change portfolio, and for which synergies are expected with approved CRN II projects: urban centers & urbanization; current and future vulnerability and adaptability of socio-ecological systems to global environmental change; rural transformation and sustainability; capacity of institutions to respond to global environmental change related uncertainties and human health.

The table below lists CRN II project titles, their principal investigators (PIs) and countries involved and the subsequent paragraphs will briefly introduce those 12 projects.

  1. From Landscape to Ecosystem: Across-scales Functioning in Changing Environments
  2. Functional links between aboveground changes and belowground activity with land use in the Americas: Soil biodiversity and food security
  3. Functional Biodiversity Effects on Changing Ecosystem Processes and Services and Sustainability: Interdisciplinary Approach
  4. Land use change in the Rio de la Plata Basin: Linking biophysical and human factors to predict trends, assess impacts, and support viable land-use strategies for the future
  5. Documenting, understanding and projecting changes in the hydrological cycle in the American Cordillera
  6. Tropical cyclones: current characteristics and potential changes under a warmer climate
  7. Paleotempestology of the Caribbean Region: A Multi-proxy, Multi-site Study of the Spatial and Temporal Variability of Caribbean Hurricane Activity
  8. An International Consortium for the Study of Oceanic Related Global and Climate Changes in South America (SACC)
  9. Effective Adaptation Strategies and Risk Reduction towards Economic and Climatic Shocks: Lessons from the Coffee Crisis in Mesoamerica
  10. Understanding the human, biophysical and political dimensions of tropical primary and secondary dry forests in the Americas
  11. South American Emissions, Megacities, and Climate (SAEMC)
  12. Caribbean Coastal Scenarios