In the wake of the 2023 Lancet Countdown on health and climate change, we explore the report’s key themes, and how publications…
From the 23rd to the 27th of October, climate scientists from around the world gathered in Kigali, Rwanda, for the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Open Science Conference. Rwanda was a striking choice for the venue, since it enabled strong representation of scientists from the continent of Africa, as well as a fairly high percentage of students and early career researchers. By contrast, conferences held in the Global North are sometimes prohibitively expensive for early career researchers and/or scientists from the continent of Africa to attend – and visa issues can also be discouraging. We will have to wait and see whether what this conference achieved by way of global representation can be harnessed to deliver lasting transformative change in the way the climate research community works together.
The conference struck a clear note of urgency, in light of the scientific findings presented. Dr Valérie Masson-Delmotte (CEA Paris-Saclay), former IPCC WG1 co-chair, provided striking insights from IPCC AR6, and looked at the road ahead. Clearly, the pace of climate action is slow, and, as a result, the window of opportunity for intervention to effect real change is closing. Throughout the conference, key themes included the attribution of extreme events to human influence (discussed in some very dynamic sessions), as well as considering what the incoming generation of climate scientists might look like and the nature of the global research community going into IPCC AR7. Dr Masson-Delmotte’s talk reflected on how AR7 will take place in a swiftly changing context (for example, emerging global conflicts and possibly increased pandemic risk). As a result, for the scientific community, international collaboration must be a key priority – and we have to be strategic and supportive in bringing on board the next generation of climate scientists. At the conference, some of the best presentations came from students and early career researchers, some of which we hope to highlight in forthcoming PLOS Climate Mini Collections.
Despite the title of the conference, Open Science was not often brought to the fore. When it was addressed, it was notable that attitudes were rather ambivalent among some participants. For example, concerns were raised about the uneven distribution of resources and training for making use of Open Science opportunities, while there were also questions about the benefits of engaging with Open Science for individual researchers. At PLOS Climate, we view Open Science as an essential component of progress on climate action, and we take these comments as an indicator of the importance of our work to build a positive vision of the value of Open Science in the climate research community, and to help improve the accessibility and utility of every part of the Open Science toolkit. Alongside these observations about Open Science, we noticed that there was rather limited representation of social scientists at the conference, and from discussions with other participants there was clearly a widespread feeling that this was something of a missed opportunity to exchange interdisciplinary perspectives and make new connections across the traditional silos.
During the week, comments were also frequently raised about some of the barriers to participation in global scientific publishing, including journal publication fees, Global North-dominated editorial boards, and the impacts of helicopter research. Whilst we recognise that there is much we can (and must!) still do, we are proud that PLOS Climate has been specifically designed to show that a more inclusive and equitable model is possible. Our Global Equity financial model provides fairer routes to publication, our editorial community is intentionally diverse and representative of a wide range of regional perspectives, and we have implemented policies to promote more inclusive research design and publication.
Jamie had the opportunity to attend a post-conference workshop for early and mid career researchers, hosted at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), which provided space for fascinating group discussions that dissected the outcomes of the conference and reflected on the role of some of the unique challenges and opportunities for early career climate researchers. Many participants felt that early career researchers, who are likely to be familiar with emerging technologies and social trends, are well-positioned to contribute to the public discourse around evidence-based climate action, and perhaps even to act as ‘reverse mentors’ for more senior members of the research community. Another theme that emerged was the need for more research that is explicitly co-designed with policy- and decision-makers (without squeezing out vital curiosity-driven research). There was also a call for continued support from WCRP (including through its new WCRP Academy programme) to maintain and foster connections among early career climate researchers across the world. With our connections to an increasing number of early career researcher networks and our firmly-held values, we hope that PLOS Climate can also act as a trusted partner to early career researchers across the breadth of climate science.
The week-long conference was physically rather tiring, with long and jam-packed days, but we came away feeling energised about the importance of PLOS Climate‘s mission and the opportunities for continued collaboration with friends and connections new and old. To learn more about the journal and the important research we’re publishing, please visit our homepage.