Automatgenererad bild.

Mistra’s expert panel for climate research, assembled in Stockholm in January 2016. From left: Pauline M. Midgley, Harald Dovland, Annela Anger-Kraavi, Peter Taylor, Doreen Stabinsky, Werner Kurz, Markus Amann and Rob Swart.

Published

14 March 2016

‘Goal of climate-neutral Sweden a perfect problem for Mistra’

Mistra should invest in programmes that will help to bring about a climate-neutral Sweden. This is the message in the new report from an international expert panel appointed by Mistra. After examining the impact of Mistra’s climate programme, the experts identify some potential future climate initiatives.

Mistra has launched numerous research programmes that have contributed in differing ways to knowledge needed for the world’s efforts to combat climate change. But what should the next step be and what form should future initiatives take — especially in the light of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris?

The new report on Mistra’s climate research contains recommendations on how this research can have an even greater impact, and proposals on the focus of new funding calls and research programmes in the field of climate change. The report comes from an expert panel who have been working in top gear since the autumn.

The panel, comprising eight senior researchers and experts from various countries, was headed by the Norwegian Harald Dovland. His roles have included Chief Negotiator for Norway on international climate issues and he has also held leading UN assignments. Together, the panel have analysed a handful of climate-related Mistra programmes and put forward proposals for future climate initiatives.

‘They looked at the research we have and did a kind of evaluation of our climate theme — how successful Mistra has been and what impact our climate programmes have had,’ says Thomas Nilsson, Programmes Director at Mistra.

Mistra’s Board will discuss the report and then decide which funding calls and changed ways of working will result from the expert panel’s proposals.

Good research with better outreach

The overall impression from the panel is highly favourable, Dovland says.

‘Mistra has an unusual, if not unique, approach — both in the way the programmes are oriented towards the good of society and in the fact that the research can be done on a long-term basis.’

Moreover, he considers that the research is of very high quality, but that there is also room for improvement. Dovland thinks, for example, that communication of the results could be even better. It could be more accessible to those who really need it: agencies, politicians, other researchers and stakeholders of various kinds.

‘Research results have an increased potential when they reach the right people, the right decision-makers and other researchers. Here, there’s best practice to build further on.’

 The forest programmes have influenced the big forest companies. Programmes like Mistra Indigo have been crucially important in Sweden’s discussions with the EU, and also aroused interest in the US. But doing even more might be possible, in Dovland’s view.

‘Whether it should be done in more popular-science publications or more meetings, I’ll leave unsaid. Perhaps both.’

Collaborating more would help

In addition, he thinks linkages among the programmes can be improved. Sometimes their work overlaps, and this could be avoided. The programmes could learn more from one another.

‘They haven’t done anything wrong, but they could lay more emphasis on collaboration among the programmes. And it wouldn’t mean the secretariat exerting too much control.’

Dovland cites Mistra-SWECIA and Future Forests, which both do research on forests and climate change, as examples. In both, collaboration has taken place but could have been more extensive.

‘We don’t think Mistra should change everything but, instead, build on what it has — make it a bit better still, and get even more benefit from what emerges from the programmes,’ Dovland says.

Programmes of the right length

He and the panel think that eight years is an optimal period for a research programme: they have no objections that it is too short or long.

On the other hand, Dovland thinks that, once the programmes are completed, the baby is sometimes thrown out with the bathwater.

‘When they end, it might be good to try and get the best bits into academia,’ he says.

Another positive observation is that the Mistra Fellows initiative, in which promising researchers get a chance to spend time at a foreign institute, is beneficial. The expert panel recommend trying the opposite — inviting international researchers to Sweden — as well.

 What should not, on the hand, change is the relatively heavy burden of administration and the reporting obligation associated with a Mistra programme. In previous evaluations, Mistra has received mixed reactions on these aspects from the researchers themselves. The expert panel’s main impression is that the administration exerts positive pressure on the programmes to maintain discipline and focus on the right issues.

‘An eight-year programme can otherwise end up in all kinds of ways,’ Dovland says.

Climate neutrality in focus

As for future climate initiatives, the expert panel see several openings. Sweden’s commitment to become carbon-neutral by 2050, to mention one, should trigger active research efforts. In Dovland’s view this is something of a perfect problem for Mistra to tackle, and one covering many sectors of society.

‘The expert panel was tasked with reflecting on the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris and seeing what research may be needed after that. The 2050 goal is a good pointer.’

 He would like to see further research on adaptation, not only in forest management but also in agriculture, urban environments and other areas.

Dovland can conceive of a programme on bioeconomics that might take a comprehensive look at what forest land could contribute to a carbon-neutral society.

In conclusion, he comments on Mistra’s development from its formation to the active research foundation it is today.

‘I’m so old that I remember the discussions that preceded Mistra’s formation, and the hopes people had. I’m glad they’ve come to fruition and things have turned out so well.’

Text: Thomas Heldmark

Mistra Webbredaktör