Solving the world’s biggest problems requires collaboration. As the devastating impact of climate change intensifies, there is a growing recognition that researchers working on the issue from diverse angles need to quickly and freely share knowledge in order to make progress. Also, funders and policymakers should support – and incentivize – the global, open sharing of knowledge.
The intersection of open practices and climate action has spurred an emerging “open climate” movement that is gaining traction and attracting investment.
The Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet and Peter Baldwin, announced on August 30 a $4 million grant in support of a new initiative – the Open Climate Campaign. Over the next four years, the campaign’s goal is to make it the norm to share research outputs and accelerate progress to address climate change.
Creative Commons, SPARC and EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries) are the primary recipients of the grant. Together, the partners intend to work with global climate change and open communities to develop information and resources aimed at researchers, funders, environmental organizations, and national governments.
“This is really urgent. We need a hub of knowledge on climate change and biodiversity research that is open and downloadable en masse,” says Ross Mounce, director of open access programmes at Arcadia.
The initiative builds on the example of free sharing of research during the COVID-19 crisis when paywalls were lifted for coronavirus articles. Allowing scientists and physicians to access the latest research without delay led to the quick sharing of knowledge globally, and more rapid development of treatments, therapeutics and vaccines. Advocates see promise in applying lessons learned from open practices in the pandemic to speeding up advances on the environmental front.
“Climate change is real. It has very serious downstream effects that will likely leave no one in the world untouched, very much like COVID-19,” says Monica Granados, the Open Climate Campaign manager, who has a doctorate in ecology and was involved with climate policy in Canada. “Opening knowledge allows us to find solutions that can mitigate some of these effects, to help us prioritize areas for conservation, and to catalyze technical innovation–which is one of the tools that will help.”
The idea for the campaign originated in early 2020 in a series conservations between Melissa Hagemann, senior program officers at the Open Society Foundation (OSF); Frances Pinter, executive director of Knowledge Unlatched; Cable Green, director of open knowledge at Creative Commons; Peter Suber, a founder of the Open Access movement; EIFL’s Iryna Kuchma, and SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph.
“Many funders are in it for the right reasons, trying to help the environment and the planet,” Hagemann says, “but they don’t know their research could be leveraged to such a greater extent if it was made open to provide an opportunity for great collaboration.”
This led to the development of a Steering Group, supported with $450,000 in seed money from OSF, to create an initial plan that would become the Open Climate Campaign. Creative Commons volunteered to take the lead on the project. (See Creative Commons Aug. 30 story here.)
Just as a Steering Group was formed, the global pandemic demonstrated the power of open.
“There was a global push to open up COVID-19 research,” Green says. “Everybody was worried about covid. Every government was focused on it. To allow COVID research and data to be tied up behind paywalls was offensive. There was this sense that in a global emergency, you break the rules and do what is needed to make things work. It was an all-hands-on-deck situation.”
If the argument for opening up knowledge could be made for covid, Green says, the group proposed: Why not for climate change?
At the same time, in the fall of 2020, an eclectic group of scientists, community organizers, activists and academics came together in regular “open climate community calls” to explore applying openness to climate action. In an article about those initial discussions in the Branch Magazine (see Open Climate Now!), Shannon Dosemagen and her coauthors laid out opportunities that they saw were ripe for collaboration between the open and environmental movements.
“These movements share similar values and their activists envision similar horizons of humanity and planetary well-being, yet actions are being organized and conducted separately,” the paper notes.
Dosemagen, an environmental health advocate who works with the Open Environmental Data Project, focuses on infrastructure to improve how environmental and climate data moves between different sectors. When the data that supports research is inaccessible, she says, scientists are unable to fully assess or replicate results.
“The idea is to harness all of the work, power and the momentum of the open community and apply it to climate action,” Dosemagen says. “Open, we feel, can be a vast accelerator.”
In a subsequent paper just published, Open Climate Then and Now!, the authors reflect further on the 12 community calls that involved over 175 people from Latin America, Africa, Europe, North American and South Asia.
“Through our community calls, we have seen a multiplicity of ways in which the open movement could help take climate action: from research to policy, from digital infrastructures to community organizing, from public campaigning to knowledge creation and sharing and academic training,” the authors note.
The article also mentioned the formation of a new fellowship program funded by the Wikimedia Alliances Fund designed to expand Open Climate activities by supporting activists, researchers and others working at the intersection of open and the climate. (Details to be announced in October.) It calls for a shared ecological vision in the open community to respond to the climate crisis and invites broader participation.
Dosemagen says to solve climate issues at the local and international level, there must be a focus on transparency and access to materials in languages beyond English in order to effectively engage diverse partners.
“One challenge of the open movement is that it is still very white, male and North American based,” says Evelin Heidel, a coauthor with Dosemagen, who works as the lead manager for Wikimedistas de Uruguay. “I think there is a desire to move away from that, but unfortunately, there has been more aspirational than anything. For the climate movement, this has been at the core of their political action. You cannot do things without the voices of those most affected by the climate crisis leading the conversation.”
This means leveraging working openly and recognizing that climate activists can learn from each other as they begin to work together, Heidel says. With more stable open-source platforms, climate scientists can access materials to help with critical activities such as creating data visualizations to make compelling arguments for policy change, she adds.
In the new Open Climate Campaign funded by Arcadia, content will be available in different languages and culturally tailored to audiences. EIFL brings to the project experience working with a range of countries in Africa and Asia, says Kuchma. Much of the research in the Global South is published in local outlets, rather than in international journals, she notes, and regional perspectives need to be taken into account when promoting the default to open in climate work.
“Ideally, it would be great to see national open science policies — not only specific to climate change and biodiversity funding streams, but covering all science and research,” Kuchma says. She also points out that there needs to be training in how to implement the policies for researchers and funders.
Granados says the campaign will work to highlight voices traditionally excluded in scholarship, recognizing the value of broad contributions to climate solutions. When only some people are able to contribute to that knowledge, the opportunity for new insights and possible solutions is lost.
Over the four years of the grant, intermediate target goals have been set for a variety of audiences. Advocates say linking open with climate justice may just be the beginning. Looking at the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there are other pressing problems – from poverty to marine ecology – that could benefit from greater research transparency and collaboration.
“The potential is huge,” says OSF’s Hagemann. “When you look at other fields, there are so many issues that could be served by making all of their research open.”