The importance of international collaboration in tackling climate change

“We are building international collaborations and working with experts/mentors to influence issues related to climate and environment”

The pandemic has shone a light on the vital role of higher education in providing solutions to society’s greatest challenges, thrusting the contribution of universities to the fore. And so, as we stare what is undoubtedly the most significant issue of our time in the face – climate change – there has never been a more critical time for global collaboration between institutions and faculty to find the answers and influence change.

The ACU Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort, a partnership between the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and The British Council, was formed with this notion in mind. Scott J. Davidson, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo in Canada, explains.

Supporting 26 rising-star researchers to bring local knowledge to a global stage in the lead-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), the cohort brings together a diverse set of researchers from across the Commonwealth with expertise in a range of disciplines including ecosystem management, food security and water quality. I was honoured to be chosen as one of those 26 researchers.

And so, throughout 2021, we are building international collaborations and working with experts/mentors to influence issues related to climate and environment both in our own communities and beyond.

A key goal of this cohort is to develop skills to identify ways in which we can improve discussions centred on climate change between researchers and policy makers and how to engage and approach differing stakeholders.

The effects of climate change are manifold and diverse in nature, with certain communities and regions facing more severe challenges because of it. So it’s critical that any collaborative initiatives reflect that diversity. We need university-led partnerships that plug gaps in knowledge and create breakthroughs that will actively benefit the individuals of even the most remote communities on this planet.

With that in mind, the broad range of researchers included in this cohort from across the Commonwealth will also help bridge the North/South divide, ensuring that sustainable research developments could be made.

On a personal note, being part of this cohort is hugely beneficial to me as I grow my research career. I am soon to be starting as a Lecturer in Ecosystem Resilience at the University of Plymouth, UK.

It is important for me to develop a research agenda focused on understanding how we can mitigate against climate change that is as multi-disciplinary as possible. By participating in this project, it has opened up incredible opportunities for me to meet like-minded individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and is encouraging me to develop collaborations for future research beyond my existing networks.

My own research goals are focused on understanding both the impacts of climate and land-use change on wetland ecosystems and carbon cycling. I believe understanding the effects of global change on wetland ecosystems will be one of the most pressing issues in the next 50 years.

The role of wetlands can either mitigate or exacerbate climate change depending on whether we use science-based evidence to produce better management or continue business-as-usual development.

My goal as a scientist is to gather the evidence that will allow us to achieve a future of wetland management that preserves and enhances the ecosystem functions of these essential systems.

Being part of this cohort now allows me to move beyond just the research and helps me refine my engagement with stakeholders and provide me an opportunity to work on policy-relevant projects.

But ultimately, as mentioned above, the value of sector-wide collaboration like this lies in the sheer diversity of researchers within the cohort. This is incredibly important, not only in terms of research but also lived experience and it is key that these voices be heard when decisions are made regarding climate change impacts.

I am passionate about ensuring that we have a diverse range of leaders both in the field of climate change and international higher education as a whole. As an openly LGBTQ+ research scientist, I did not have many role models in the early stages of my career, and I want to make sure I can be this person for others, while making a difference to the planet at the same time. Initiatives like ACU Commonwealth Futures Climate Research Cohort provide an avenue for me to do so.


About the author: Scott J. Davidson is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo, ON Canada. His research is focused on the resilience of wetland ecosystems to both climate change and disturbance regimes, as well as the roles these ecosystems can play as natural climate solutions.