COP15, 2 days in: a health researchers perspective

Guest blog by Stig Wall, Professor of Epidemiology, Umeå University and Editor of Global Health Action

Two days have passed at the COP 15 conference, which promises to change history or rather the future of humankind by convincing policy makers that they have a window of opportunity in which to act. We have met many people during these two days with these expectations. We as researchers have a platform to achieve what we are not very used to or skilled at – to help by presenting data and enabling politicians to read and understand how facts are linked and how they can act upon this evidence. The evidence is not absolutely conclusive but certainly convincing enough and there seems to be consensus that not acting now would be irresponsible to an extent that we could not justify to our children or grandchildren.

Rumours are circulating in the conference hall that many negotiators are not playing their cards until late next week when the bids from the big fish will become more transparent. Let’s hope that this is not a generic tactic since the issues are far too important for such politics.

Never before have I seen this many computers in one place – imagine an airport kind of building filled with meeting rooms, market booths and lots of informal meeting places. And by virtually all tables and on every knee – a laptop, all of them linked up to the wireless network, communicating with someone on the other side of the globe or with someone at a neighbouring table. And meanwhile, in the gigantic plenary halls, called Tycho Brahe and Karen Blixen, the political servants’ preparations for meetings on the protocol are ongoing. They are tirelessly chewing their way through endless agendas labelled in a typical UN manner, for example FCCC/SBSTA/2009/MISC.12 which happens to be one of the few research oriented sessions today, called “Research and systematic observation”.

When reflecting on the research field “Climate Change”, it seems to me to be an exceptionally concrete area despite results which depend to a large extent on models and predictions. Maybe that is what it takes to make politicians understand and dare to act. Or is it dangerous to stick one’s nose out, by suggesting that temperature rise will far exceed the two degrees target if nothing is done, with “business as usual”? Three well-established researchers presented coherent prognoses for the Arctic which, at the present official action bid from the EU, will only reach two thirds of the distance by 2020. Most probably we will end up with a temperature rise in the range 2.8 – 3.8 °C by 2100 and far more so in the Arctic.

The first question from the audience, not unexpectedly, relates to “Climate Gate”, the recent accusations about fraud within a research group supplying data to the UN Climate Panel. The answer is that evidence of fraud is unlikely to be presented and should it come, many other research groups can come up with similar data. But, the US Senate may of course use it as a reason for keeping down ambition, they said. Another aspect of research dissemination is illustrated by the presentations – the art of explaining natural variation across time. Do we not need data from as early as the Dinosaur era to make reliable predictions, asks one of the attending journalists.

Despite the consequences of climate changes being man-made, it is remarkable how few sessions address health consequences such as outbreaks of viral diseases in northern Sweden during mild winters or emergent tropical diseases in Africa. And where are the analyses of the consequences for economics, work environments and equality in developing countries?

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One Response to COP15, 2 days in: a health researchers perspective

  1. Is anyone raising the importance of sharing research findings by adopting open access policies for all publicly funded research publications? This is something that everyone can agree to and implement readily – and at low cost. See http://www openoasis.org for all information on open access. It is very important for all developing country researchers to have access to publications they need.

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