National Meeting on Climate Change Research – Lisboa Green Capital 2020
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National Meeting on Climate Change Research

The National Meeting on Climate Change Research brought together, for the first time, national research units to present their research results on climate change. The unprecedented event took place in the Grand Auditorium of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon on 17 and 18 February.

The meeting, held in the context of the Lisboa European Green Capital 2020, was based on round tables and presentations of research results on topics such as oceans, energy, cities, agriculture and biodiversity, health and economics and politics, always in the context of climate change.

The first day began shortly after 9am with a welcoming session with Luís Carriço, Director of Science at the University of Lisbon, José Sá Fernandes, Councillor for the Environment, Climate and Energy and Green Structure of the Lisbon City Council, Inês Santos Costa, Secretary of State for the Environment, and Manuel Heitor, Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education.

The Secretary of State for the Environment opened her speech with the preamble that she had been a researcher for eight years, a career she abandoned because she was dissatisfied with her role: “Not because the subject was not interesting, quite the contrary, but because I often wondered what is expected of scientific research”. In her inaugural speech, the former Industrial Ecology researcher launched a challenge for the audience of scientists to have more communication with society outside the academy: “I was part of that group that thought we had to adapt our communication to entrepreneurs, economists or politicians if we really wanted to make a difference. I confess that it was strange for me that this knowledge remained only within the walls of a conference or in the pages of a scientific journal”.

For his part, the Minister of Science drew attention to “the critical need for new knowledge” as well as institutional innovation and new observation methods. Manuel Heitor also drew attention to the need for debates such as this to be open to the public, as the Secretary of State for the Environment had stressed: “We must all have the humility to know what we know and what we do not know, but above all to ensure ever more and better knowledge but also its dissemination”. The Minister of Science concluded with emphasis on that same point: “There is, therefore, an intrinsic need for these debates not to be closed but to be open to all, to citizens in general and certainly to those with decision-making capacities and responsibilities, but, in general, to the effort to mobilise everyone”.

The Councillor for the Environment of Lisbon City Hall welcomed this which is one of the key events of Lisboa European Green Capital 2020: “One of the goals of Lisboa European Green Capital is, besides allowing information, to spread the best possible information to everyone, by the best possible means. Another is to allow everyone to participate. And another is to value: what we have done and what others do”. For these three reasons, José Sá Fernandes considers this National Meeting to be of the utmost importance: “If we want to better inform, better participate and better value, nothing better than to debate. That’s what we want with this kind of conferences, and this first big Portuguese research centre meeting aims at exactly that: to debate, exchange ideas, understand and learn what we have to do”.

Precisely because he is aware of the importance of presenting scientific results, the Councillor promised to attend the two days of the conference: “I will make sure that, in this year with Lisbon as Green Capital, I will be present at all conferences from beginning to end. What for? Precisely for that: to be able to learn and to understand how I can better decide what is done in Lisbon or in the country”.

The morning of the first day of this national meeting was characterised by a round table on climate change, in which aerosols and climate modelling were discussed, and a second on the oceans. In the afternoon, the debates generated discussions on water resources and the energy transition.

At the end of each presentation session, an open debate was initiated for the whole room, which contributed to important discussions on the major challenges that will arise in the coming decades and what approaches we will take to face them.

The second and final day of the National Meeting on Climate Change Research began at nine o’clock in the morning with a round table dedicated to cities and land use. After another coffee-break, the conversation focused on agriculture, forestry and biodiversity, where we heard about the changes in the living part of our planet, i.e. the relations between animals and the impact that climate change has on these relations (in 2019 there were 30,000 species at risk of extinction). It was also presented research on genetic diversity and how it can be used to combat climate change.

In the afternoon, the debates turned to health, economics and politics. The round table on health and economics ended with a hook for the final debate, given by ISEG’s Professor Manuel Coelho: “We are facing a problem that needs action, as individuals, researchers and politicians”.

“Political decision in the context of climate change” brought once again the Councillor for the Environment of the Lisbon City Hall to the stage of FCUL’s Great Auditorium and at his side were Filipe Duarte Santos (cE3c-Ciências ULisboa), Helena Freitas (CEF-U. Coimbra), Helena Pereira (FCT) and Júlia Seixas (CENSE-UNL). In this panel, the Councillor appealed to the role of science and the importance of giving scientists a voice: “I have been seeking knowledge throughout my life. The ’67 floods were my first experience with ‘climate variability’, because then there was still no talk of climate change, but my reaction was: ‘How can this happen?’. It was this event, which marked his childhood, that raised in José Sá Fernandes his environmental awareness and, since then, he has always tried to understand what he can do through knowledge. “We have to use this knowledge to do the common good”, was the challenge launched by the Councillor for the Environment. “We have to listen to science, decide which way to go and make choices. And choices must always be based on scientific facts.”

Finally, the closing ceremony was held by the Minister of the Sea, Ricardo Serrão Santos, who dedicated much of his final speech to the oceans: “The problem of the oceans goes far beyond that of fishing, pollution and plastics. Today they are subject to acidification, an increase in the average temperature, a decrease in oxygen levels and warm marine currents, with very large consequences on the issue of biodiversity loss. The fish we access today on our coasts will be different in a few years time – we are in a process of tropicalization”. As with the round table before his speech, the Minister of the Sea left a challenge for policy makers to listen more to scientists: “What is striking is that the scientific evidence is not new but has been limited in its decision making in politics – scientists have for many years alerted politicians to the need to come up with new policies to combat climate change”.

At the end, Ricardo Serrão Santos concluded with a note of hope: “The orientation towards good governance requires an informed society. Portugal has, in its government program, an ambitious climate action that has constituted one of the four cross-cutting axes. The intention is to play, even as a small country, an important role in global politics and to face this immense challenge that is climate change”.