High ambitions for Norwegian climate research

There is no longer any doubt that human activity is contributing substantially to global climate change. What is needed now is knowledge – about causal relationships and effects, potential measures, and how to adapt to a new reality.

Siri Hatlen, Chair of the Klima21 forum. (Photo: Thea Tønnessen)

Siri Hatlen, Chair of the Klima21 forum. (Photo: Thea Tønnessen)

This is where climate researchers enter the picture. “Norway has climate researchers with top-level international standing in many areas,” states Siri Hatlen, who is heading the Government-appointed Klima 21 forum.

Tackling Norwegian climate challenges

Norwegian climate research faces some major challenges with respect to both its organisation and its access to resources. The Klima21 forum will directly address these issues. Established as part of the follow-up of the broad-based political agreement on climate policy reached in the Norwegian Storting in 2008, Klima21 is a forum with with broad-based representation from research institutions, environmental organisations, public agencies and business and industry.

Siri Hatlen, Chair of the Klima21 forum. (Photo: Thea Tønnessen)“We need to know more about climate change,” asserts Ms Hatlen. “It is important that the research community is equipped to provide society, business and industry with the highest level of predictability possible in terms of climate challenges.”

New era in Norwegian climate policy

The parliamentary climate policy agreement marks the start of a new era. For the first time, a broad majority in the Storting has given its support to new and binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions, CO2 management and climate research. What the policy agreement does not provide, however, is a clear definition of is meant by “climate research”.

As a result of the policy agreement there has been a large increase in allocations of public funding to research on renewable energy and carbon management. For years, Norway lagged far behind the other Nordic countries in research on renewable energy sources. Now the prospects are brighter, especially with the establishment of eight new Centres for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FMEs).

Klima21 forum takes on the challenge

The Klima21 logoHowever, there has been no boost to allocations to pure climate research – defined as the acquisition of new knowledge about climate systems, climate-policy solutions and society’s adaptation to a new climate – in the wake of the climate-policy agreement, even though the need for more research was clearly pinpointed by a number of scientific and academic institutions.

Which is why the issue of funding was the first order of business for the Klima21 forum – and its initiative has already had an impact. The Government’s budget proposal for 2010 calls for an increase of NOK 50 million, of which NOK 20 million would be allocated to establishing a climate centre in Bergen. The remainder would be divided between the Research Council’s NORKLIMA programme, the Top-level Research Initiative (under the auspices of the Nordic research organisation NordForsk), and the strategic activities under the Klima21 forum.

“We are pleased about the budget growth,” says Klima21 forum chair Ms Hatlen, “but it is far below the NOK 300 million recommended by the Research Council and endorsed by the Klima21 forum. Hopefully the budget increase for 2010 is only the first step toward more substantial increases in the years ahead.”

Permanent climate forum

The Klima21 forum was appointed to develop a cohesive strategy for Norwegian climate research and facilitate the practical application of research findings. The forum will submit its final report to the Ministry of Education and Research in January 2010.

In its budget proposal the Government emphasises that the Klima21 strategy will play an important role in determining climate research priorities in the years ahead. The forum will be made permanent in 2010 to facilitate the implementation of the strategy and to ensure the continuation of climate-related efforts in general.

Four specialised groups to strengthen research

The term climate research can be defined as the acquisition of new knowledge about climate systems, climate-policy solutions and society’s adaption to a new climate. (Photo: Shutterstock)The forum’s members themselves represent expertise from a wide range of areas. In addition, four working groups have been established to submit recommendations within their respective areas: the climate system, adaptation measures, framework conditions for reducing emissions, and the structure of Norwegian climate research.

Each group incorporates a long-term approach to climate research. From the natural sciences perspective, the focus is on the need to know more about regional models for climate development, about the expected incidence of extreme weather events, and about future climate in the Arctic.

The working group on climate systems believes that the need for calculation infrastructure will be roughly 50 per cent higher than currently set out in national plans. One possible measure is to establish a service centre for adaptation to climate which would develop and maintain a national model calculation system. The group also suggests formalising a scientific leadership for national climate research.

Regional scenarios and effective management instruments

The working group on the issue of adaptation to climate change is working to achieve downscaled climate scenarios that can be used at the regional level. Such scenarios must be capable of interpreting data for a more extreme climate development than current consensus models can. At the least, assessments must take into account that the global temperature increase will probably exceed two degrees.

The objective of the working group examining climate policy research is to ensure that research contributes to the development of effective management instruments. The group is particularly concerned with factors that hinder the implementation of measures, pointing to the need for national as well as international studies of instruments. Furthermore, the group seeks ways to solve the specific needs within the transport and agricultural sectors.

New thinking about structure

According to the working group studying the structure of Norway’s climate research, consideration should be given to placing overall responsibility for all Norwegian climate research under a single ministry. The working group also seeks to introduce a more long-term perspective into the structure and funding of key research areas, and views the current funding system as based too greatly on competition. Measures that need to be introduced include enhanced funding solutions linked to the Research Council’s programmes and the establishment of a top-level centre for climate research.

The working group recommends the establishment of two research centres: one for understanding international conditions related to climate change negotiations, and one for measures for adapting to climate change. In addition a centre for climate services should be established with a view to strengthening the dialogue between researchers and society at large.

Source: The Research Council of Norway

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