The Future Earth Townhall meeting gathered over 60 participants to discuss global change research priorities in Finland on May 26 at Eurooppasali, Helsinki. The participants represented different fields of science from universities and research institutes and stakeholders from ministries, private companies, and interest group organizations and NGOs. You can read below key insights from the discussions. The complete discussion summary as well as the presentations can be found at event webpage.
Integrated approach to interlinked challenges: Understanding the big picture of global challenges is of utmost importance. Global environmental and societal challenges are systemic and interlinked and should be approached from an integrated perspective. Global-local dynamics are also a key aspect since local actions have global consequences and vice versa.
Finland should be positioned in a global context:The global change challenges we face are global in nature and their effects in different parts of the world can be unpredictable. Thinking about the challenges solely from a Finnish perspective is not fruitful in the long run. In addition to national interests, we should embrace global responsibility: part of Finnish research efforts should be allocated where problems are the most pressing, often outside our own borders.
Topical global change challenges from Finnish perspective: Baltic Sea, sustainable energy policy and urban-rural dynamics:Future conditions of the Baltic Sea (e.g. storms, coastal erosion, future ice-free Baltic Sea, phosphorus cycle) and the challenge to find economically viable solutions for its management will affect Finland in many ways. Finland is also lagging behind in the transition towards renewable energy sources. Finland’s target to become carbon neutral by 2050 requires substantial changes to energy policy and to production and transfer systems.This is linked to the strong urbanization that is changing Finnish lifestyles, work, and mobility, and a pressing question is whether to develop the urban way of life further or take steps to keep the whole country populated. Finally, other challenges recognized were related to the Arctic, sustainable consumption, aging societies, and transforming the aging Finnish society into one more sympathetic toward global immigration.
“Gatekeepers” of sustainable development in Finland: Civil society, scientific community, governance, regional actors, private sector, and media are among the most important ‘gatekeepers’ of global change adaptation/mitigation: phenomena or groups in key positions to enable or inhibit sustainable development in Finland. In particular, many sustainability questions are linked to cities.
How to manage complexity? Understanding the phenomenon of global change as a whole should always be the starting point. Although scientific excellence in different fields lays the basis for interdisciplinary understanding, too deep a specialisation can lead to problems when people from different disciplines and from different backgrounds cannot properly communicate with each other and do not have sufficient incentives to do so.
From understanding to solutions: Research should be co-designed with the stakeholders of scientific knowledge. Involvement of private, public and civic sectors from all levels (local, regional and national) is crucial in order to ensure maximum societal impact. However, scientists need support and guidance in co-design methods from fields that already have more experience. Moreover, effective research co-design requires more understanding and training on participatory methods.
Funding directs and supports global change research: Global change research requires a new, long-term funding strategy and a strong institutional setting. We need both funding for basic research and novel risky ideas as well as funding for strategic (government-driven) research. National funding programs should collaborate and frame research questions and funding programs together to support international global change research following the example of, for instance, JPIs and ERA-NETs. In Finland, the biggest research councils and private foundations should look for opportunities to collaborate. Collaboration with business and industry is also an important way to seek for new ways of funding global change research.
Community for global change researchers and stakeholders. Developing a grass-root community of global change researchers and users of research for sharing ideas, insights, and results is crucial. Joint platforms for information and data sharing would be a great step forward.
Future Earth Townhal was supported by University of Helsinki (Department of Physics, Division of Atmospheric Sciences), Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation, Council of Finnish Academies, and PE2020 Public Engagement Innovations for Horizon 2020.