The ICSU Executive Director Deliang Chen was invited to a workshop on Global Challenges for Environmental Research Funders on 10–12 June in Belmont, Maryland, USA. The workshop was initiated by Timothy Killeen, Assistant Director, Directorate for Geosciences, National Science Foundation, USA and Alan Thorpe, Chief Executive, Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK. Representatives of funders from USA, UK, Japan, Germany, France, Canada, and Australia presented current strategies from their countries and discussed future funding strategy at the international level.
Participants at the Belmont meeting agreed on the need for an improved forum for dialogue between research funding agencies and scientific community represented by ICSU, and for a coordinated process for early phase engagement on global environmental change research strategies and priorities.
During the Belmont meeting, a strategic focus for future funding was agreed among the funders, namely ‘Regional Environmental Change: Human Action and Adaptation.’ It aims at delivering knowledge to support human action and adaptation to regional environmental change and was named ‘The Belmont Challenge.’ Such a challenge requires regional and decadal prediction (e.g. climate prediction), advanced observing systems, and inclusion of social sciences.
The Belmont Challenge has many commonalities with the Grand Challenges identified through the Visioning Process. While funders are engaged in the Visioning Process, the overlap was not co-ordinated and it underlines the importance the funders attach to the challenges identified in the Belmont Challenge.
To respond to the Belmont Challenge, participants agreed on the need to conduct an analysis of international research capability, with a focus on solvability of problems and infrastructure and personnel needed. The context for this need is the fact that the landscape in which the community of funders, programme leaders, and scientists operates is facing intensifying and changing challenges, and the science is advancing quickly. ICSU was asked if it could be charged by the funders to conduct such an analysis.
In response to this request, ICSU decided in August 2009 to take on the project, with the understanding that financial resources would be provided by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). The project will be developed and managed by the ICSU secretariat, and the funds are now in place to cover supporting staff time, meetings, and report publication.