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Politicians must act on the available knowledge

Researchers need to become involved with society and to communicate their insights clearly to decision-makers - who, in turn, need to act on the available knowledge. These were the main points at DCE’s and PEER’s international conference hosted in Aarhus, Denmark by Aarhus University.

Anne Glover
Anne Glover, Professor and Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission: ”Speak up. Stand up. Gang up.” Photo: Lise Balsby, Aarhus University

Aarhus University’s Lakeside Lecture Theatres resounded with a multitude of English language variants during the conference ”Science for the Environment”, which brought together 150 researchers and decision-makers from a total of 26 countries on 3-4 October. In the course of the two days, 100 talks were given on the most recent advances in research into climate change and climate adaptation, resource optimisation and green economics.

The conference also served as a matchmaking forum where leading researchers could meet to find project partners for joint EU projects under EU’s upcoming research programme, Horizon 2020, with a budget of just over €70 billion for research and development projects.

In her opening speech, Professor Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Adviser to the President of the European Commission, encouraged researchers to help build bridges between research and politicians and administrators to ensure that society’s decision-making is based on knowledge.

'Speak up. Stand up. Gang up," sounded her blunt message. It was a request to researchers to talk about their results in straight terms, to stand by their messages, raise their voice when they are misunderstood and organise themselves so that politicians get a clear-cut message, the International Panel on Climate Change IPCC being a shining example.

Glover encouraged researchers to communicate uncertainty and say whether they are rather making an "informed guess" or are certain about an issue as is the case of man-made climate change.

 “Climate change clearly belongs in the latter category. Here, we really cannot allow ourselves the luxury of postponing the decisions,” she explained.


Many uncertainties


Another keynote speaker was Anil Markandya, who is director of the Basque Centre for Climate Change in Bilbao and one of the main authors of the IPCC’s reports. He is an economist specialising in climate change.  

Markandya specifically addressed the issue of climate change and presented the considerable body of research data documenting that the climate is changing, and that the main cause of this is - in all probability - human emission of greenhouse gasses. Nevertheless, many uncertainties remain, Markandya explained:

Research results are associated with scientific uncertainty, which increases in the chain from expected emissions to possible temperature increases to effects on nature, which then finally need to be expressed in monetary terms.

  • Nature’s changeability
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Complex advantages are difficult to estimate in monetary terms
  • The effects of climate change will depend on the extent to which we succeed in mitigating them.
  • Politicians must act on the available knowledge

Markandya emphasized that many of the measures needed to adapt to climate change carry additional advantages, for instance because they might reduce vulnerability to other risks or limit local pollution.

He also stressed that ordinary people often find it unacceptable when researchers try to put a price on loss of human life, biodiversity or cultural values.

The researchers need to convince politicians that they will be getting good value for their money. On the other hand, politicians must act on the available knowledge, just as they do when facing a financial crisis, for example:

“It would be a mistake to wait until we have enough knowledge – because we never will!” Anil Markandya summed up.


About the conference  

The conference ”Science for the Environment” was arranged by the DCE - Danish Centre for Environment and Energy at Aarhus University in cooperation with PEER, Partnership for European Environmental Research.

The news service of Aarhus University focuses on three of the presentations made at the conference:  

Largest knowledge base on climate adaptation in Europe to date  

Senior Researcher Hans Sanderson, Aarhus University explained that Europe’s decision-makers will soon have access to the most comprehensive and thorough knowledge base on climate adaptation experiences to date. This will make it much easier to make long-term decisions in the area. The knowledge base is prepared in the context of BASE, a large EU project headed by Sanderson.  

Natural disasters of the past inform solutions of the future  

Associate Professor of Archaeology Felix Riede, Aarhus University, explained how knowledge of past natural disasters may provide input for future solutions. As we all know, you cannot see into the future, but you can look back at the past, and that can help researchers specialising in natural disasters gain a much better understanding of how natural catastrophes affect the various levels of society.  

Companies to impose CO2 requirements on their suppliers  

PhD student Katarina Peterkova made the case that companies should impose CO2 requirements on their suppliers. As the world’s leaders are unable to agree on joint global climate policies, we should shift our focus to the agreements that companies in Europe and the US enter into with their suppliers in developing countries if we really want to reduce global CO2 emissions. Her study shows that large CO2 emissions can be avoided.

Text by Jens Christian Pedersen  

Contact: Director Hanne Bach, DCE - Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, tel: +45 87151348, mobile +45 25541465, hba@dmu.dk

Science for the Environment (incl. programme and presentation abstracts)