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Less heat, more light

PLOS Climate Executive Editor Jamie Males reflects on lessons from recent meetings about the role of Open Science in delivering climate action.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet many researchers working across climate and energy science- both at conferences and during visits to leading research institutes- and to hear directly from them about how Open Science is helping transform not just the way they do their work, but also its impact.

At last week’s Sustainable Development of Energy, Water and Environment Systems (SDEWES) Conference in Dubrovnik, many presentations highlighted work that had been made possible through open research infrastructure, open data, and transparent approaches to research design and stakeholder engagement. This was notably the case for research on energy system design and analysis, the development and deployment of integrated assessment models, and work on integrative urban resilience to climate change. This last theme was for me a reminder of the European Conference on Climate Adaptation (ECCA) back in June of this year, where researchers, practitioners and stakeholders from across the continent came together in Dublin to discuss pathways to systemic climate resilience, and where many of the most exciting case studies focused on work happening in- and often by- cities. The SDEWES Conference widened the geographical scope, taking a global view and featuring some very interesting insights from South America, Africa, and Asia.

The broad remit of the SDEWES Conference provided plenty of space for research from many disciplines, as well as a strong showing of inherently interdisciplinary research, but the unifying thread running through the whole conference was the ambition to conduct research that could help deliver progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These were explicitly referred to in many of the presentations and not a few of the conversations I had with conference participants, and- putting two and two together- it was clear that the catalytic power of Open Science was helping to maximise these contributions to the SDGs. (Although overt references to ‘Open Science’ were not often made during the sessions I attended, there were numerous citations of preprints, descriptions of reused data, and examples of remixed content.) The potential synergy between Open Science and work on the SDGs is enormous but underexplored, and I am excited to be working on a number of initiatives to highlight this in the context of PLOS’s commitment to sustainability. From the perspective of PLOS Climate and the alignment of our scope with SDG 13 (Climate Action) in particular, we were delighted to have our Section Editor Kris Karnauskas feature as a panellist on a recent webinar on “Scholarly communication’s response to the climate crisis and the role of open Science”, co-organised by OASPA and the Open Climate Campaign. We will be sharing more updates on our work on the SDGs soon!

Before joining the SDEWES Conference, I made use of Central Europe’s excellent railway connections to visit a number of research institutions in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and France for conversations with scientists about their experiences in research, publishing, and research translation. These discussions were fascinating and invaluable for me and for PLOS Climate, and I am very grateful to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts with me. One of the key themes I was keen to discuss was how different Open Science practices are faring across the breadth of climate research, how they are perceived by researchers, and how a journal like PLOS Climate can help support engagement with Open Science. It seems clear that the climate community as a whole (there are of course differences among disciplines and fields) has come a long way in recent years in terms of the accessibility and maturity of open research infrastructure, co-ordination of efforts across geographical and disciplinary constituencies, and attitudes and expectations around Open Science. (The willingness of the community to engage with a practice like preprinting is demonstrated by the ongoing success of our partnership with EarthArXiv– see our recent PLOS Climate Editorial.) Many European research funding frameworks are now predicated, at least in part, around Open Science benefit-sharing principles, and there are particularly strong institutional and funder policies around Open Access publication. However, there is still a widespread sense that more institutional support is needed to train students and early-career researchers in Open Science practices, and to optimise Open Science platforms for accessibility and interoperability.

Despite the remaining challenges, my conversations made it clear that Open Science is now a cornerstone of many climate researchers’ work, playing a vital role in framing research questions, facilitating data collection and analysis, and disseminating actionable findings to decision-makers and stakeholders in society. This last point is for me particularly important: that there is widespread recognition that Open Science can be a catalyst not just for academic progress, but for the implementation of research findings in effective climate action. This is exactly what PLOS Climate has committed to supporting in our mission statement, and is a conviction shared by our growing community of authors, editors, reviewers, and readers.

To finish with a look to the near future: later in October, PLOS Climate will be hosting a side event at the WCRP Open Science Conference in Kigali, Rwanda. We will be focussing on “Open Science and Peer Review- Towards a Stronger Evidence Base”, and are really excited about this opportunity for members of the international climate community to exchange perspectives on maximising the potential of Open Science in climate research and publishing. Conference participants can pre-register for this workshop here. Please join us there!

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