The weekly actions of the so-called ‘klimaatspijbelaars’ have put the issue of climate change and the lack policy measures proportionate to the problems at hand firmly on the table again. In this debate, we will look at the role that the universities can and should play in addressing the challenges posed by climate change.
The actions of the ‘klimaatspijbelaars’ gave rise to a public debate on climate change and the way it should be addressed. In several ways, the role of scientists was one of the topics under discussion. Some argued that scientists should stick to communicating the facts and that we should clearly separate science from politics. For others, the issue of climate change blurred the line between science and politics. The responsibility of scientists for them goes beyond merely ‘stating the facts’.
These facts have been around for a while now. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was founded in 1988 and published its first Assessment Report in 1990. Since then, it has kept publishing reports on the existence of climate change and the expected consequences. International climate summits have however been criticised as failing to result in effective international policy. Does this discrepancy between the urgency of the facts and the inertia of policy mean that scientists have not stated the facts clearly enough? Should they be more clear in their communication? Or does it indicate that there is a limit to the effectiveness of ‘just stating the facts’ in order to change things?
The relation between politics and science is also implicated in the debate on so-called ‘ecorealism’. According to ‘ecorealists’, the problem cannot be solved by ‘costly’ or ‘unpopular’ measures, but only through research, technology and innovation. This view is presented as a ‘rational’ or ‘realistic’ policy based on science. What is hidden beneath it, however, is the (political) decision as to what research should be deemed relevant. It also presupposes that the problem can be solved by a ‘more of the same’-formula, whereas questions can be asked about the way scientific research is organised, the relation between universities and industry, political decisions about what is deemed worthy of research, and the circulation of knowledge and innovations developed at universities.
Mohamed Al Marchohi is currently working for GO! as an energy and climate policy advisor. In the past he worked for the Social-Economic Council of Flanders (SERV), he also conducted research in the field of Energy- and Environmental Economics at the University of Antwerp.
Tom Cox is a civil engineer, he is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp, where he is affiliated to the Ecosystem Management research group. He joined the recent scientists4climate movement and has also been involved in other forms of climate activism (e.g. GroeNoord).
Anneleen Kenis is an interdisciplinary geographer, with a background in political/ human ecology, sustainable development and psychology. She’s currently based at King's College London, and a post-doctoral researcher for FWO-Vlaanderen.
Barbara Van Dyck is a bioengineer and currently works at the STEPS-Centre & the Science and Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex (UK). She has been active in networks that deal with issues of food sovereignty and that focus on the role of science in society.