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An early career perspective on the science-policy interface in the decade of climate action following COP26

Two early-career researchers reflect on their experiences of COP26, and the bright spots for science-based decision-making in climate policy.

This article is part of the ISC’s Transform21 series, which features resources from our network of scientists and change-makers to help inform the urgent transformations needed to achieve climate and biodiversity goals.

By Faten Attig Bahar and Gaby Langendijk

This piece reflects the personal opinion of the authors, and does not express the views or opinions of the affiliated institutions.

Increased heat, drought, floodings, increased wildfires, together with declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields and health impacts in cities due to heat, are all linked to human-induced climate change. Global warming is one of the greatest threats to human existence. The IPCC’s recent Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of Working Group I made the role of humans on the climate unequivocal, and emphasized that there is still time to act, but time is running out quickly.

Five years ago, the Paris Agreement united almost all the world’s nations for the first time in a single agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming to well below 2 °C, preferably to 1.5 °C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

This year, the 26th edition of the Conference of Parties (COP26) brought parties together with the aim of accelerating actions towards the goals and implementation of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

We attended the second week of the COP26. The first day at the conference was exciting. Inside the building, we were under the same roof as governmental officials, decision-makers, scientists, NGOs, and UNFCCC staff members, where big decisions that will affect people’s livelihoods for the next decades were made. In the vicinity of the conference center, an overwhelming amount of peaceful demonstrators were on the streets, calling for leaders to make effective climate policy decisions, and enhance ambition to mitigate climate change. Moreover, there were pavilions from many different countries, NGOs, and intergovernmental organizations providing a multitude of presentations, panels, and briefings throughout the COP. The COP26 was a great opportunity for us to witness the climate policy process.

The bright spot during the negotiations of the COP26 was that the crucial role of science and science-based decisions was at the forefront, more than ever.

Countries’ delegates frequently used “IPCC wording” in their interventions, reflecting the importance of science in the science-policy process. The first section of the Glasgow Climate Package, one of the main outcomes of COP26, is dedicated to “science and urgency”, and explicitly welcomes the AR6 IPCC WG I report. For instance, the specific IPCC estimate of a reduction of 45% of GHG by 2030 is included in the mitigation section.

This increased inclusion and acceptance of climate science at the COP26 is inspiring and promising for early career researchers. It forms a great motivation to pursue a research career and to seek further impact on the policy processes by delivering high-quality, useful scientific knowledge about climate change.

Simultaneously, we also recognize that the COP26 outcomes and pledges are not enough to reach the 1.5°C target. Urgent actions are needed to implement the promises, and to enhance ambition towards stronger emission reductions.

The next decade will be critical for emissions reductions and to speed up adaptation to unavoidable climate change impacts and science can further guide this decade of action, and beyond. Climate science will continue to lay out our different futures under different emission scenarios following different levels of political and societal actions, reflecting the range of choices we have. Furthermore, climate research can and should underpin mitigation actions and mitigation target setting, as well as the evaluation of emission reduction progress. In addition, science offers knowledge-based approaches to adapt to climate change, as well as develop different futures for transforming our societies towards sustainable, equitable, and liveable futures for all. Early career researchers need to be at the forefront of these science goals, and to pioneer new methods and innovative science directions in response to COP26, as well as to find novel ways to interact with policymakers to infuse new knowledge into the policy process. COP26 sets the Earth and humanity on a new course, but only if science-based actions are actually taken. This decade is decisive.

Gaby Langendijk

Gaby Langendijk

Gaby Langendijk is a research scientist with a profound interest in climate change, and specifically its impact on urban areas. Currently Gaby is working at the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS), an institute of Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon. She has knowledge on climate and weather extremes, their impacts, and how to increase resilience through integrated, co-developed services, particularly focused on climate impacts and risks in urban areas. Previously Gaby worked at the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Joint Planning Staff in Geneva, Switzerland, co-sponsored and hosted by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). After completing a Bachelor’s degree in Earth Science at the University of Amsterdam, Gaby obtained her Master’s degree in Climate Studies at the Wageningen University and Research Center (WUR) in the Netherlands. She conducted her master thesis research at the ETH in Zurich, studying climate change impacts on ecosystem services in a mountainous region.

Faten Bahar

Faten Attig Bahar

Dr.-ing Faten Attig Bahar is an environmental research scientist from the University of Carthage,Tunisia Polytechnic School. She has been an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow for the International Climate Protection Program hosted at the University of Rostock, Germany (2019/2020). She was a visiting scholar at the University of Oldenburg, Germany (2016/2017). Faten serves on several continental committees including the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Research Board on Weather, Climate, Water and the Environment, Future Earth: Steering committee of the FE Nexus KAN, the FE African community, and the FE Governing council . She is also an Executive Committee member of the Young Earth System Scientists (YESS-community). Faten has rich expertise in renewable energy technologies and implementation, energy systems modeling, climate mitigation and climate finance, green transition with a focus on emerging markets. Faten led many initiatives for young researchers and co-hosted several (online) seminars and workshops. Faten was also a reviewer of the IPCC report SOD-WGI-AR6 and SOD-WGII-AR6 and supported the work of the ECR group review of the IPCC report organized by APECS, MRI, PAGES ECN, PYRN, and YESS-community. The author of several published children’s books, Faten has received several awards as an outstanding youth author.

Photo: World Meteorological Organization via Flickr.

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