Annual Report 2016

The Annual Report for the year 2016 sums up our key achievements in the year.

3. International Research Collaboration

3.1 Future Earth

Future Earth Days Paris
Scenes from the Future Earth Days in Paris, France, held from 30 November to 1 December 2016.
Scenes from the Future Earth Days in Paris, France, held from 30 November to 1 December 2016.
Scenes from the Future Earth Days in Paris, France, held from 30 November to 1 December 2016.
Scenes from the Future Earth Days in Paris, France, held from 30 November to 1 December 2016.
1 / 4 — Scenes from the Future Earth Days in Paris, France, held from 30 November to 1 December 2016.

Last year, Future Earth launched its flagship Knowledge-Action Networks (KANs) to catalyse new research and partnerships around the key challenges to sustainability. These networks are a key mechanism that Future Earth employs to generate solutions-focused and societally-relevant research. Since the inception of these KANs, ICSU has collaborated with Future Earth to not only foster their development, but to uniquely place these at the interface with policy. Over the course of the year, ICSU has helped develop KANs on Health, Cities, SDGs and Oceans.

In February 2016, ICSU hosted a discussion meeting on Planetary Health in Paris to discuss the direction of the Health KAN and its collaboration with stakeholders such as ICSU’s Urban Health and Wellbeing programme, the United Nations University International Institute of Global Health, and the World Health Organization (see also item on Habitat III below). Following a scoping workshop held later in the year at the Rockefeller Foundation, Bellagio, Italy, an action agenda of potential priorities was developed. ICSU and many other stakeholders including representatives from the World Bank, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and other Future Earth Core Projects such as EcoHealth Alliance and the Earth Systems Governance Project are co-designing the research agenda for the KAN.

ICSU co-sponsored a workshop on the Development of an Integrative Ocean Research Network (Future Earth Ocean KAN) in Kiel, Germany in December. A range of stakeholders and partners took part, including ICSU’s Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), ICSU’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and representatives of its SIMSEA project. The workshop sought to scope new international transdisciplinary ocean research activities that could be pursued within an integrative ocean research network in the coming years. Next steps are to appoint a Steering Committee for the Ocean KAN, which will develop a Research and Engagement Plan based on the scoping activities of the workshop, and to engage in the UN Ocean Conference in June 2017 in New York in support of the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14

ICSU also helps strengthen the links between Future Earth and local research communities, and co-organized with the Future Earth Paris Global Hub the first Future Earth Days in Paris on 30 November – 1 December. The meeting aimed to raise awareness of Future Earth among the French global sustainability research community, and find ways to help them get involved.

The Future Earth Early Career Network of Networks was a direct result of ICSU and ISSC’s Villa Vigoni conferences for early career researchers (see Annual Reports 2013-15). In December, ICSU hosted the inaugural meeting of the network, bringing together various early career networks such as the Global Young Academy, IPBES Young Fellows, the Earth System Governance Project, the Young Earth System Scientists Community (YESS), INNGE, NESSE, and the Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation capacity building committee, with the goal of seeing and fostering more early career involvement in Future Earth’s internal structures and across the KANs.

3. International Research Collaboration

3.2 World Climate Research Programme (WCRP)

The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) has facilitated climate research for over 35 years. Unprecedented changes in weather and environmental indicators during 2016 have led to a sense of urgency throughout the research community. What do warmer mean surface temperatures, high atmospheric CO2 levels and low sea-ice conditions – to name just a few indicators – mean for our future? WCRP’s collaborative international research focuses on skilful climate modelling and reliable observations, a combination necessary to answer critical questions.

Throughout 2016 WCRP’s Core Projects – on atmosphere, land, ocean and ice – Advisory Councils, Working Groups and various activities stimulated, coordinated and promoted climate science through a wide range of projects, events and activities. One success of the programme emerges through the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP), which provides a fundamental basis for international climate research and contributes to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments. Phase 5 of CMIP represented a remarkable technical and scientific coordination effort across dozens of climate modelling centres involving more than 1,000 researchers. Phase 6 includes 21 endorsed model intercomparison projects that span the fields of climate research.

WCRP’s Grand Challenges (GCs) address high-priority research requiring international partnership and coordination. In 2016 WCRP introduced two new GCs, on Carbon Feedbacks in the Climate System and on Near-Term Climate Prediction, addressing key questions about how the carbon cycle interacts with climate and how climate predictions between a year and decade ahead can be improved and made operational. In terms of new initiatives, WCRP and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation jointly promoted a Polar Challenge, offering a reward of 400,000 CHF to the first team to complete a 2,000 km autonomous vehicle mission under Arctic or Antarctic sea ice.

WCRP recognizes that many of the challenges ahead must be addressed by future generations of scientists. To stimulate involvement of Early Career Researchers (ECRs), WCRP supported several ECR events and activities during 2016, including workshops, symposia and competitions. WCRP encourages the engagement of ECRs across the full scope of the programme. To strengthen links with ECRs and to foster future leaders, the WCRP Joint Scientific Committee endorsed partnership with the Young Earth System Scientists community.

In 2017 WCRP will continue to build new partnerships and deliver fundamental climate research, looking at innovative ways to meet the research challenges of a fast-changing climate. A strategy document outlining the direction of the programme from 2017-2022 will be available later this year.

3. International Research Collaboration

3.3 Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR)

The earthquake in Ecuador in April 2016 caused widespread damage. Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
The earthquake in Ecuador in April 2016 caused widespread damage. Photo: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent

Following the adoption by UN member states of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015, IRDR continued its efforts to bring science to the forefront in delivering the Framework. IRDR, together with ICSU and other partners, co-organized the UNISDR Science and Technology Conference on the implementation of the Sendai Framework in Geneva in January. At the conference,  a global Science and Technology Partnership was launched and a roadmap for science until 2030 discussed. At the conference, IRDR presented a recent publication “Forensic Investigations of Disasters (FORIN): a conceptual framework and guide to research”, which lays out a set of methodological principles to identify and analyse processes of risk construction.

IRDR co-organized the first Asian Science and Technology Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction (ASTCDRR) in August in Bangkok that also recognized the need for better understanding of risks in all their dimensions to reduce exposure and vulnerability. It was followed by a workshop to strengthen advisory capacities for DRR co-organized with ICSU ROAP with the support of the IRDR International Centre of Excellence located in Taipei. The event brought together scientists and policy-makers from across the region to share experiences and best practices on the mobilization of scientific evidence in DRR policy-making, and support the elaboration of national DRR science plans. IRDR jointly published, together with the Future Earth Integrated Risk Governance project, a report assessing the current status of science and technology capacities in 11 Asian countries and their capacity to mobilise S&T for the implementation of the Sendai Framework. The report proposes a set of indicators to assess a country’s S&T readiness including data availability, endogenous research on disaster-related issues, collaboration with civil society and the private sector, science advisory structures in government, etc.

IRDR also welcomed four new International Centres of Excellence (ICoE) into the IRDR network:

  • ICoE on Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response (Hong Kong SAR, China) supported by Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response (CCOUC)
  • ICoE on Disaster Risk and Climate Extremes (Malaysia) supported by the Southeast Asia Disaster Prevention Research Initiative, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (SEADPRI-UKM)
  • ICoE on Earthquake Technology (Nepal) supported by the National Society for Earthquake Technology-NEPAL (NSET)
  • ICoE on Spatial decision support for integrated DRR (the Netherlands), supported by the University of Twente.

Finally and importantly, IRDR was the subject of an independent review commissioned by the three co-sponsors of the programme, namely ICSU, the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and the United Nations Office on Disaster Risk (UNISDR). The seven-member review panel came up with important findings regarding the programme’s achievements over the past six years, and made key recommendations for the future. The review pointed to the importance of IRDR’s initial vision and high ambition to catalyse and demonstrate the value of integrated research for disaster risk reduction. Important achievements include putting the science agenda forward in the context of the Sendai Framework, and mobilizing an international community of outstanding scientists. However, the review highlighted shortcomings that require corrective action, including a lack of stable leadership, little involvement of the co-sponsors in oversight of the programme and a lack of funding to support dedicated scientific projects and activities. The review concluded by recommending that the programme move towards collective impact by operating as a global action network and by undertaking context-sensitive, innovative comparative work that can strengthen science for policy and practice. ICSU is working with the IRDR leadership and partners to address the challenges and opportunities raised in the review.

3. International Research Collaboration

3.4 Urban Health and Wellbeing

A woman selling grilled corn in Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Omar Hikal/CC BY-NC 2.0
A woman selling grilled corn in Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Omar Hikal/CC BY-NC 2.0

In its second year of operations, the international programme office of the Urban Health and Wellbeing (UHWB) programme continued to support the development of the programme’s science framework, promoted systems science generally and continued to develop the network of the programme.

In April the office of the UHWB programme organized a milestone science-policy dialogue on “Modeling urban health and wellbeing for policy and action: Algorithms vs. Institutions”. Participants from different parts of the world addressed the issue of rising health risks and inequality. The science–policy dialogue brought together mathematical, agent-based, systems dynamics and participatory modelers from science with societal decision-makers who are concerned with implementing policies and actions to make cities healthier and more sustainable places for their citizens and the surrounding ecosystem.

The UHWB programme continued its work on mainstreaming the systems approach. The members of the scientific committee published a book on a systems approach to Urban Health and Wellbeing with Zhejiang University Press and Springer. The book contains a foreword by ICSU President Gordon McBean and a detailed theoretical as well as conceptual framework and description of the systems approach. The programme’s systems approach has also been published in a peer-reviewed journal together with colleagues from Future Earth and is gaining acceptance and popularity in the science community as an innovative and transdisciplinary approach to science.

In September the office supported the ICSU Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) in organizing its first science workshop in San Salvador in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Technology of El Salvador. The aim of the workshop was to assess the conditions of urban health and to identify current challenges of the country and the region as well as to identify knowledge gaps and research needs.

Ahead of of the UN’s Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador in October, the programme participated in the Health & Wellbeing Urban Thinkers Campus, organized by the United Nations University Institute for Global Health (IIGH) in Kuching, Malaysia and co-produced the Kuching statement on Healthy, Just and Sustainable Urban Development.

The programme was also active at Habitat III, where it convened a panel discussion on urban health at Habitat X Change, an exhibition space co-organized by ICSU. The Habitat III conference adopted the New Urban Agenda (NUA), a document that is intended to guide urban development for the coming decades. Significantly, ‘health’ is referred to 29 times in the Agenda, indicating a recognition of health as a common and integrating concept for the NUA and the Sustainable Development Goals (see also Science for Policy section below).

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