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Joining forces with other global environmental research organisations and networks… towards an ILTER network of networks


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"I endorse ILTER's 'partnership' ethic, which is so emphatically embraced in this conference by the inclusion of partnership conversations with several important global change research and policy initiatives."
Phil Mjwara in his opening address

Day 2 of the Open Science Meeting* (OSM) focused on exploring opportunities for collaboration and investigating global environmental data requirements with representatives of the following global research organisations: Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES); Global Land Project (GLP); Global Collaboration Engine (GLOBE); International Nitrogen Initiative (INI); Future Earth (International & South Africa); National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON; GEO ECO); Group on Earth Observation (GEO)/ GEOBON/ Global Carbon Observation System (GCOS); World Network of Biosphere Reserves (UNESCO WNBRs), and Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (ICSU-PECS). 

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Representatives of key global research organisations participated in a lively roundtable with OSM delegates. Here Antonello Provenzale (GEO ECO), Bob Scholes (ICSU-PECS), Erle Ellis (GLOBE) and Josef Settele (IPBES) respond to questions from the floor.

Several key issues emerged from the discussions and a lively interactive roundtable with OSM delegates, among other things that all organisations should make a concerted effort to improve communication and collaboration between the different programmes; work towards encompassing network science; pay attention to the interoperability of their data; combine efforts in sourcing funding; and focus on conducting their research in situ over larger scales in an effort to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of climate change on ecosystems.

These programmes share many objectives, but each of them is focused on a specific key outcome. Although  delegates considered the diversity of organisations to be a strength rather than a threat, it was argued that working towards an integrative approach would result in many benefits and would serve to enhance the science-policy interface.

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ILTER Chair Michael Mirtl described the session as the "first big step" towards cementing ILTER's status as a network of networks.

A move towards "actionable science" was mooted, citing recent catastrophic events as an example. What do we learn from such events and how do we model them? If scientists representing various programmes were to join forces, valuable input would be added to the global body of knowledge with regard to forecasting and mitigation of these events.

Bob Scholes suggested that ways should be explored to "reduce the clutter" of the global network of organisations. One way would be to group the organisations according to their main function into research bodies (such as Future Earth), assessment bodies (such as the IPCC) and organisational bodies (such as ILTER).

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The delegates and speakers, committed scientists from five continents, had ample opportunity to network, to compare the results of their long-term observations and modelling, and to discuss potential partnerships.

In response to a question whether global research organisations should be focusing more on policy and education, it was suggested that better use be made of new channels of communication that are opening up. People are increasingly turning to the Internet and social media to explore and learn and the recent resurgence of citizen science provides an excellent opportunity to inform and educate the general public.

In conclusion, ILTER Chair Michael Mirtl described the session as the "first big step" towards cementing ILTER's status as a network of networks.

* The ILTER Open Science Meeting was initiated and hosted by SAEON with sponsorship from the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and National Research Foundation (NRF).

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