“We need to address climate change from a systemic point of view”

An international summit and symposium will be held on 27-29 June 2023 in Paris to build new bridges between fundamental life science and environmental science communities, together with funders and science policy-making bodies, with the aim of discussing how basic research in the life sciences can help accelerate the sustainability transition. This event is organized by the International Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) with the support of several partners including the French National Research Agency (ANR)1. Interview with Pavel Kabat, Secretary General of the HFSP organization.

How can basic research in the life sciences help accelerate the sustainability transition?

Pavel Kabat: Climate change and living in an unsustainable manner are two of the greatest challenges humanity faces in the 21st century. We are tackling these two thematic areas in the international summit and symposium because this is where basic life science can make a substantial difference. For example, most of the climate science that has been done since the 1980s focused only on atmospheric science and ocean science. Forty years ago, scientists believed they could fully characterize the scope of the climate change threat by studying just these two realms.

But as scientists have progressed in their thinking, especially in the area of climate change risk management, it has become clear that many other scientific disciplines are essential to fully understanding how the Earth system works as a whole – for example, vegetation plays a key role in the climate cycle by regulating available water vapor in the atmosphere. We need to address climate change from a systemic point of view, which means we need to invite a diverse range of scientists to contribute their expertise and insight to the solutions. And that’s what our three-day event is intended to initiate. This is a scene-setting event that we anticipate will foster a long-term way of working that will be more productive in addressing global challenges.

Likewise, let’s consider sustainability. Currently, there are more than 7 billion people in our world. As climate change raises the heat in many regions to the point that farming becomes difficult or impossible, one of the threats will be food security. How will we manage to feed people if large areas of land are affected by torrential flooding and or extreme heat and drought? A core area of concern hinges on photosynthesis, the ability of plants to absorb sunlight and grow plant mass. As it turns out photosynthesis is an unbelievably inefficient process. Only 1% of the available sunlight is actually used in photosynthesis. Is there a way to make plant photosynthesis more productive? These are questions for molecular biologists to research and we need this new knowledge to make important decisions.

What are the expected outcomes of the event?

Pavel Kabat: We hope the International Science Summit and Scientific Symposium will catalyse a whole new approach that can help overcome the adverse effects of climate change, one that uses the full range of scientific expertise to develop a more thorough picture. We have to understand how living organisms contribute to Earth’s systems. To do this, we need a more transdisciplinary perspective to research that engages a diverse range of scientific disciplines. This is fundamental systems research that frankly hasn’t been done sufficiently, and the answers from these investigations will yield a much fuller picture of our world, one that can help policy-makers understand how the habits of plants, animals, people, and communities, affect the core systems that make planet Earth a liveable place.

What are the main objectives of the Human Frontier Science Program Organization?

Pavel Kabat: HFSPO is an international collaboration of 17 Member countries that work together to promote global cooperation in frontier life science research. Established in 1989, HFSPO funds high-risk, interdisciplinary, intercontinental, collaborative, fundamental life science research, with a philosophy of “science without borders.” It encourages innovative and novel thinking to support transformative and paradigm-shifting research.


Call for Abstracts!

Join a ground-breaking new kind of Science Summit and Scientific Symposium, “Fundamental Life Science Meets Climate, Environment and Sustainability” from 27-29 June 2023 at the Académie des Sciences in Paris.

Representing the broadest possible array of scientific disciplines, scientists, science funders, and government officials will present research and discuss how basic life science can play critical roles in advancing solutions for climate change and sustainability. If you are interested in presenting, submit your abstract for one of four transdisciplinary thematic areas:

  • Climate Change and Health; 
  • Ocean Biodiversity and Resources at Risk; 
  • Food Security in a Changing World; 
  • Individuals, Institutions, and Society – the Need for Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness Transformations

Abstracts should reflect research in progress (unpublished, late-breaking research) or previously published under the above topics. Anyone working in a related focus is welcome to submit an abstract and attend. Topics can span all levels of organization and can be research at the molecular level, the earth/sustainability level, bridging the two broad areas, or research on sustainability issues as applied to demography, diversity and inclusion.

For more information about the events

Abstract Submission Portal


Find out more:

Information and registration

The Letter of Invitation

The Summit program

The Symposium program

The International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development


1 The International Science Summit and Science Symposium are organized by HFSP in partnership with the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research, the ANR, the French National Council of Scientific Research, the French Academy of Sciences, the Institute Pasteur, the International Science Council, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, the UNESCO and the U.N. International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD).

Last updated on 27 April 2023
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