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Responding to Climate Change 2011

Home | Education & Research | IE University A new role for science
 

A new role for science

IE University

Not only is the future behaviour of the climate is difficult to predict, but also the response of natural ecosystems, agriculture and cities are far from easy to determine
Not only is the future behaviour of the climate is difficult to predict, but also the
response of natural ecosystems, agriculture and cities are far from easy to determine

How can science be relevant in dealing with climate change? Responding to climate change – both mitigation and adaptation – should be based on the best available evidence. Education and research at IE University around climate change focuses on how to translate scientific insights into government and business decisions. Hard decisions about priorities and potential impact of response measures should be based on the latest scientific insights.

Decision-Making

To inject scientific insights into decision-making processes, some hurdles must be overcome. Governments, companies and organisations have to answer complex problems with multiple dimensions, looming deadlines, divergent stakeholder expectations and uncertain information. Science, on the other hand, is mainly about the slow, but steady accumulation of insight. It is therefore not obvious that the latest scientific insights are immediately included in decision-making processes.

IE University

Also, the climate change challenge has changed the way science is done. Historically, trust in science was mainly based on the experimental method, which ensures results are replicable. But climate change is a moving target and too big to fit in a lab. The problems are very complex. Not only is the future behaviour of the climate is difficult to predict, but also the response of natural ecosystems, agriculture and cities are far from easy to determine. To put this enormous jigsaw together, mathematical modelling approaches have become prominent. Climate science is at the forefront of using fast computers to run highly complex models. Building and executing a new model is as complex as designing a new aeroplane. However, unlike replicable experiments, climate models require us to trust the modeller and the data. Communicating scientific results is therefore a major challenge.

New Professionals & Tools

Bridging these two worlds of decision-makers and scientists is a major challenge for education and research. Decision-makers need to be able to flexibly and interactively evaluate different future scenarios, tailored to the specific conditions of their domain and from the perspectives of different interest groups.

There is a widely perceived need for a new kind of professionals who are:

  • literate about the multiple dimensions of climate change impact (environmental, social, economic);
  • highly qualified to combine, analyse and draw conclusions from disparate kinds of data; and,
  • able to communicate complex insights and facilitate real-time decision making processes.

To respond to this need, IE University in 2010-2011 launched its Master in Global Environmental Change. This unique programme trains professionals with this profile and is taught by a mix of natural and social scientists, together with professionals working with companies, international organisations and think-tanks.

In terms of research, IE University is initiating a new research programme to develop new tools and methods for decision-making, using new information technology, smart design and the latest scientific models, collaborating with a leading company in this field, Madrid-based Vizzuality (www.vizzuality.com).

Jacob van Etten, Dean of IE School of Biology, says: “There is no fundamental difference between science and the back-of-the-envelope calculations of decision-makers. The biggest problem is perhaps the mystique that surrounds science. But in the end, science is human. With our research we will make it extremely easy to use advanced scientific tools with your own computer or even your mobile phone. We believe playing around with scientific data and tools will not only improve decision-making and communication about science. It can also enormously enrich science, as users come up with new questions or give the tools new, unexpected uses. We hope the new tools will give rise to a new sort of interaction between science and those who make decisions.”

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