Challenges for climate change research: interdisciplinarity, evidence use & carbon footprint


Recently, on the occasion of the ambitious Franco-German Make Our Planet Great Again program, I was able to set up an international research team to try to understand the relationship between climate change, population mobilities and health systems. Our project will take place in two of the countries most affected by population mobility induced by climate events closely linked to climate change, Haiti and Bangladesh. Through this new collaborative project and by engaging in this new field of research, I was quickly struck by three major challenges about climate change research:

  1. Interdisciplinarity

Scientists have been working extensively in recent years on the link between climate change and population health. Health systems are an important determinant of health, particularly in fragile countries. But the link between climate change and health systems, and in particular their resilience to population movements and climate events, has been neglected. One of the reasons for this missing link is the scarcity of interdisciplinary work in that climate change research. And a major reasons why the world is not on track  to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the lack of interaction between the different SDGs and interdisciplinary action.

Research on climate change needs to focus more on humans being, their lives, perceptions, reactions and (in)actions. Our ability to work in interdisciplinarity faces age-old challenges: our universities and research centers are not organized for this purpose, university training remains siloed, the funding and publication system remains unfavorable to these approaches, etc. It is essential that climate change be studied from the perspective of the social sciences, and in terms of its impacts on human systems. In our project we have a team of researchers from public health, epidemiology, demography, anthropology, geography, knowledge transfer, etc

Climate Change : Image by <a href="">Tumisu</a> from <a href="">Pixabay</a>

  1. Evidence use

Science that is not only there to produce knowledge but also to influence public debate and decision-making. Yet the science of using science is still in its infancy – few researchers and decision-makers are trained in knowledge transfer strategies and tools (like policy briefs, deliberative workshops) and interaction with decision-makers. Few research funders accept that a significant portion of our research budgets is devoted to it. Few projects involve knowledge brokers who go beyond the work of research communication and dissemination.

Improving the use of the evidence produced by climate change experts is an emergency, not only for the planet, but also for the efficient use of public funding and for the mental health of researchers who are often desperate to see even little political change. In our team, we have decided to involve a research expert in knowledge transfer research, who will help us produce a knowledge transfer plan and train teams in knowledge transfer tools.

  1. Carbon footprint

The third challenge is the carbon footprint of our own research projects and practices, especially as I travel far too much for this project. The environmental impact of every research project varies, but it exists for each. From email exchange to air travel to the collection of survey data; everything, no matter how small, has an impact. We need to think about how we organize our meetings, sending email during the weekend, carbon footprint of conferences, etc.

The fight against climate change is also a question of scale and if we are desperate for little progress on a global or national scale, we can also act on a more local and micro level. In our team we are in the process of designing an internal policy to try to act at our very small level. It would be great if all our colleagues in our laboratories and elsewhere tried to do the same without waiting for our institutions to decide to act and formulate institutional policies.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Sofia Meister, Maeva Belloiseau and Brittany Cobb for comments that improved the blog. This text was presented at the kickoff meeting Make Our Planet Great Again in Paris, October 1st, 2019.

About the Author:

Valéry Ridde is works at the IRD (French Institute for Research on Sustainable Development), CEPED (IRD-Université de Paris), ERL INSERM SAGESUD and is a Fellow, Institut Français des Migrations, Paris, France. He is also an Associate Editor in BMJ Global Health.

Competing Interest:

I have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: paid consultations for WHO and UNAIDS.


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