The Belmont Forum: Sustainability in the face of global change
What is the Belmont Forum and its objectives?
Anne-Hélène Prieur Richard: The Belmont Forum is an international partnership bringing together around thirty research funding agencies, along with international scientific advisory boards, ministries, or regional consortia. It aims to accelerate research by securing and sharing financial resources. All its actions are transnational and must involve members from at least three different countries.
The Belmont Forum specifically supports research on global change and Sustainable Science. This naturally includes climate change, but also the social and economic changes it causes, as well as, for instance, the change brought about by entering the digital age.
Transdisciplinarity is particularly encouraged. The Belmont Forum builds bridges between disciplines, whether they come from Natural Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, Health, or Engineering. Non-academic partners or stakeholders, such as private structures, NGOs, local authorities, or UN agencies, are also involved in research projects.
How does the Belmont Forum fulfil its missions?
Anne-Hélène Prieur Richard: The Belmont Forum regularly launches calls for proposals through its highly adaptable governance. The agencies agree on how to conduct these calls, and then commission experts to select the projects, without any conflict of interests. The projects selected are supported for three years on average. In total, 130 organisations, including the ANR, have funded various projects.
How is the ANR involved in the Belmont Forum?
Anne-Hélène Prieur Richard: The ANR has been playing a significant part since the forum was established in 2009. It has been involved in the governance of the Belmont Forum, which it co-chaired from 2012 to 2015 and for which it hosted the international secretariat from 2015 to 2018. The agency still contributes to its daily management, including the Steering Committee.
Most importantly, we were involved in 15 of the 17 calls for proposals that were conducted by the forum. The ANR coordinated several of them, focusing on themes that are popular within the French scientific community. We combine the interests of the other members of the Belmont Forum and its non-member partners.
In addition to our project funding contribution, which is the ANR’s primary purpose, we create a leverage effect encouraging other structures to provide funds. Thus, we helped fund sixty research consortia that were selected through calls for proposals, for which we allocated 15.5 million euros and pulled for a total of 110 million euros.
Thirty-one of these sixty consortia were coordinated by French teams, which is a good sign as to our researchers’ ability to hold leadership positions in international projects and to respond to these calls appropriately and efficiently. In total, 36% of French projects were selected, while the global average is 24%.
Within the Belmont Forum, the ANR is working closely with the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, and various partners such as the French National Alliance for Research on the Environment (AllEnvi), to jointly structure and support French research as a precursor in Global Change and Sustainability Sciences.
What type of projects are funded by the Belmont Forum?
Anne-Hélène Prieur Richard: Three rather recent examples seem to stand out.
CLIMAX, which was part of a 2015 call for proposals, focused on climate predictability in Latin America. This included improving the preparation and adaptation of Argentine family farming to climate change. This project was successful in three major ways. From a purely scientific perspective, it helped to better understand regional climate variability. CLIMAX also set up a Centre for Climate Studies in the South of Latin America by mobilising various national meteorological agencies. Finally, it strengthened the involvment of local communities and stakeholders in the production of climate services for small farmers. These actions on various scales are in line with the commitment of the Belmont Forum.
As part of our first Arctic-focused call for proposals, Pan-Arctic Options studied new maritime routes opened by the melting of the ice caps. The knowledge was acquired with the purpose of supporting decision making, including both local governments and indigenous people. Geospatial maps were created, including various comments to help the sustainable creation of new waterways.
Finally, the COAST project, which is still underway, explores the relationship between the impacts of climate change on coastlines and an increased human activity in the same regions. They must adapt to rising sea levels, and researchers are monitoring the effects on coastal infrastructures and the socio-economic uses of these areas.
The Belmont Forum is hosting the SRI event. What’s it all about?
Anne-Hélène Prieur Richard: This Sustainability Research and Innovation Congress is a joint initiative of the Belmont Forum and Future Earth, a global research network. For over a decade, scientific journals have specialised in Sustainability Science, but researchers were in need of a congress dedicated entirely to these issues. The SRI was founded to meet such a need. The first edition was scheduled for 2020, but was cancelled due to the pandemic. It was then held last year in Brisbane, mainly online, except for Australian researchers already on-site. This year, the SRI will be held from 20 to 24 June in Pretoria, South Africa, in a hybrid format that combines virtual and face-to-face meetings.
The purpose is to develop relationships between researchers from different disciplines and working in Sustainability Science, and academia and socio-economic stakeholders. The sessions will give the opportunity to learn about transdisciplinarity and participatory science. The knowledge and skills acquired as part of the Belmont Forum will be shared to engage the community on new ideas. It will also be an opportunity to frame future calls for proposals, identify future themes and check how current projects are unfolding.
The latter are each the subject of three events throughout their lifecycle, focusing on disseminating their results to other projects involved in the same call. We will review the status of projects stemming from the SEI (Science-driven e-infrastructure innovation) call coordinated by France and dedicated to contributions in Digital Sciences and data to sustainable development. Projects are therefore devoted to identifying the tipping point of ecosystems using data, or setting up open image databases to monitor the various types of plankton.
It is our hope that the SRI Congress will reach the largest audience possible. 2,000 participants are expected to attend, both from the scientific community and civil society.
1 Climate services through knowledge co-production: a Euro-South American initiative for strengthening societal adaptation response to extreme events.
2 Holistic integration for arctic coastal-marine sustainability.
3 Coastal ocean sustainability in changing climate.
Interview conducted by Martin Koppe