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Climate crisis complexity
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Climate crisis complexity

The complexity of the climate crisis


The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties is held in the UK. This conference, also known as COP 26, brings together world leaders to accelerate actions towards the goals of the Paris Agreement (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change).

We asked Olivier Hamant (Editor-in-Chief of Quantitative plant Biology) to share his thoughts on how the community could work together to address the climate crisis.

“Earlier this year the Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report did not, in my opinion, teach us much new: human-caused changes to the climate are getting worse, and the impacts of this are accelerating.

However, the report’s tone has changed significantly. The IPCC no longer use the neutral language “future generations”, instead opting to employ more personal, even emotional, wording. Notably in the following quote: “The worst is yet to come, affecting our children’s and grandchildren’s lives much more than our own”.

Numerous studies and reports have shown that the effects of anthropogenic climate changes are worse than expected and worse than most people realize. There is an increasing need to act now. We are currently facing a climate crisis.

Climate change is complex. To understand it, quantitative approaches are required such as statistical insight, feedback dissection, computational modelling, and multi-scale emergent properties analysis. It is our responsibility as scientists to understand and address complexity and to find robust solutions.

There is a new trend in scientific disciplines, including plant and microbiological science, that encourages integrative approaches to whole systems over individual elements. Quantitative plant biology embraces this trend. It aims to understand the bigger picture rather than focusing on the immediate fix.

Complex systems are not simple to solve. Long-term solutions cannot be achieved by focusing only on efficiency. Instead, “robustness” becomes a much more important criteria with which we can assess and shape solutions to the climate crisis.

London is expected to have the same climate by 2050 as Barcelona. In such a scenario, Mediterranean species could soon inhabit the banks the Thames.

Drop-by-drop irrigation is a way to combat drought effects and still produce crops. This requires significant investment in top down technology and non-renewable resources such as energy and materials to set-up and operate. It also requires extensive maintenance. The technology may not be the best solution for farmers all over the world.

Another way to overcome water scarcity is to shift species and plant crops that are more suited to the new climate. This would require careful planning. The introduction of new species can mean that existing crops and natural environments could be threatened by new pests, diseases, and parasites.

Mixtures of varieties could be used to create a natural barrier against drought and other pathogens. This is a more systematic approach. This could be achieved by increasing awareness, autonomy, and education of farmers without the need to use any external technology.

Complexity of systems approaches increases and the interactions within them increase. Solutions become more complex. While the associated scientific questions are more complex, they also become more interesting.

This revolution requires a scientific community with a solid understanding of quantitative thinking and systems approaches.

The final piece of the system approach is to engage stakeholders, from farmers to breeders, who can help embed their knowledge, insights, and needs into the development and implementation of research and emerging technologies that will address their challenges.

It is crucial to embed citizen science at the beginning of any project. Quantitative Plant Biology supports the idea and has been the first plant journal that offers a dedicated article format to citizen science.

Citizen science in plant science is still in its infancy. As editor in chief, I look forward working with the research community in showcasing the field of quantitative methods and the use citizen and stakeholder participation to plant and microbial sciences through our collaborative journal.

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