Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Deliang Chen on BACC and Baltic Earth

During the BACC II presentation in Copenhagen, I took the opportunity to ask Deliang Chen of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, a few questions. Deliang has been an important figure in international research coordination for many years. From 2009 to 2012 he was Executive Director of ICSU, the International Council of Science (ICSU). This international organization has committed itself to strengthen international science and scientific collaboration on the global level for the benefit of society. The transition of the Earth System Science Partnership programmes and the birth of Future Earth fell into Deliang´s term at ICSU.

Q: What raised your interest in climate scienc

A: It was clouds. When I was a child, I was fascinated by the seemingly unlimited number of different forms of clouds. That trigged my interest in meteorology, and then climate science. I became really interested in climate science during my PhD work which dealt with global climate modeling. Since then I have a fairly broad interest in Earth System Science which has replied on advances in climate science, especially the creation of the concept climate system and climate models. 

Q: During your time at ICSU, how has the international research landscape changed (with respect to environmental change programmes) and how to you rate that change?

A: A lot of things happened during my tenure at ICSU (2009-2012). As you know, ICSU have many activities, but the leadership for global environmental change programmes (IGBP, IHDP, WCRP, Diversitas and their partnership ESSP) is probably the most important one. I would say that the most important change is the mindset of the global scientific community. Having realized the crucial role that human activity plays and the great need of society for scientific input to achieve sustainability, the community is more ready to move towards truly integrated Earth System Science and to take the responsibility to find new ways to co-design and co-create knowledge involving a broad range of social and engineering communities, as well as with other stakeholders. I think these changes are necessary and great since all scientists also have social responsibility through our basic and applied research activities. While fundamental research is often disciplinary and curiosity driven research is always needed, solution oriented research with in-depth disciplinary knowledge and transdisciplinary approach provide effective means to deliver useful and relevant knowledge to society.     

Q: The new BACC book has just now been finished. What are the main differences to the well-known IPCC reports?

A: To me there are two main differences with regard to government involvement and scope. IPCC is a UN body under influences of governments, while BACC represents a bottom-up process involving scientific communities in the region. The IPCC report focuses on climate change issues only, whereas BACC also dealt with non-climate issues such air pollution. Besides, IPCC has three separate working groups and reports, whereas BACC has integrated various aspects in one volume. The political aspects of IPCC are sometimes seen as something negative. But it is absolutely necessary as it is meant to serve as a common basis for interaction negotiations on climate change. BACC enjoys the full independence compared to IPCC. But it may need additional efforts to reach out to the policy and decision making communities afterwards, to make it more useful and accessible to the nonacademic readers. It is clear that the regional focus of BACC report offers a great potential to be useful for the region. However, nothing automatic should be expected. Finally, since the future scenarios of BACC depend on IPCC report, the two efforts are really complementary. 

Q: You are in the new Baltic Earth advisory committee. Where do you see Baltic Earth in the international research landscape?

A: I see Baltic Earth as a mutual community and network with a great potential for research development and service to society in the Baltic Sea region. It had some links to WCRP through GEWEX which focuses on water and energy balance. Now that both Baltic Earth and international research landscape have been changed and is changing, there is an opportunity for Baltic Earth to find its new role and its relation with global research programmes. In this regard, I am thinking specifically on a new framework towards regional Earth System Science for sustainability in the region, and the new global research program Future Earth which is becoming “the game of the town” for Earth system science for global sustainability.   

Q: What would be your advice for Baltic Earth in the long term?

A: I would say that the most important thing is to keep focusing on added value and synergy in the changing world and remain relevant and inspirational.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your current research activities.

A: At the national level, I am involved in two Swedish national strategic research programs BECC (Biodiversity and Ecosystem services in a Changing Climate) and MERGE (ModElling the Regional and Global Earth system). I am also leading a project to develop a framework to support climate-adaptation actions in Sweden with a focus on extremes such as flooding and drought. At the international level, I am involved in statistical downscaling activity for VALUE (a COST action) and CORDEX (a WCRP project). Overall, my main focus has been on a project looking at climate change and its impact on water balances in Tibet. I visited Tibet in 2011 and have since then developed a strong interest for the regional. Recently, I joined a group of more than 80 Chinese scientists in making an Environment Change Assessment for Tibet, which is similar to the BACC effort.  

Thank you, Deliang, for this interview!

BACC Book presented and discussed at ECCA 2015 in Copenhagen

 On 14 May the new book on climate change in the Baltic Sea basin and related impacts was presented and discussed at the 2nd European Climate Change Adaptation Conference (ECCA) in Copenhagen.  This event seemed perfect for this purpose as several hundred scientists, practitioners, politicians and other stakeholders gathered at the ECCA conference to discuss the state of the science and adaptation strategies regarding the challenge of climate change.

In the morning, Marcus Reckermann, coordinator of the book project, presented some core results on behalf of the authors. Then, in a midday plenary, BACC initiator and chairman Hans von Storch of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht and University of Hamburg, gave some background information on the BACC scope and process, followed by a vivid panel discussion. Members of the discussion panel next to Hans were (from left to right): Deliang Chen of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, renown climate scientists and former Executive Director of ICSU (International Council of Science), Lykke Leonardsen, co-organizer of the ECCA conference and head of the Climate Unit of the City of Copenhagen, and Maxi Nachtigall, Advisor at CBSS (Council of the Baltic Sea States), a political forum for regional intergovernmental cooperation between the Baltic Sea states. The midday session was chaired by Jürgen Kropp of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and the discussion was moderated by Marcus Reckermann of the International Baltic Earth Secretariat.

The discussion evolved around two questions: Firstly, what are the differences between BACC and the IPCC reports (and why are regional reports necessary), and secondly, specifically addressed to the two ladies, what is the use for stakeholders? Here is the attempt of a very brief summary:

Why a regional report?

The first question was taken up by Hans who pointed out that regional experts know the conditions in their region better than “global” experts. Also, regional decision makers require regional knowledge, as highly resolved as possible. Hans also stressed the aspect that knowledge is more important than authors, which is manifested by the fact that the new BACC report was authored by a completely new group of authors, who nevertheless confirmed the knowledge of the first report of 2008. Deliang mentioned the aspect that BACC is an independent “bottom-up” effort organized by scientists while IPCC is a political organization under governmental influence. Still both approaches have their justification and should be considered as complementary rather than competitive.

Is it any use?

The question whether the previous BACC material had been used by the stakeholder community was candidly discussed. Both representatives from the stakeholder community confirmed that the BACC material has been useful, but they also revealed potential for improvement. Maxi suggested that a cooperation with other stakeholders similar to the one with HELCOM would be desirable, so that the material could be better shaped for the specific stakeholder needs. Lykke pointed out that it is virtually impossible for a practitioner in a city administration to work through the whole book and find the gems which are relevant for their work. “Help us find the diamonds”, Lykke said, and Hans replied that scientists do not know what the true diamonds for specific stakeholder groups are. “You need to tell us what you need to know”, he said. Also the envisaged publication of small summary booklets in the many languages of the Baltic Sea region, may only partly solve this problem.

It seems that if we really want to provide useful information not only for the scientific community, we need to communicate on a par and in an open way. Maybe this resume has also relevance for the complete conference.