Decarbonize research through funding rules
Increasing pressures to make the academic sector consistent with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement and experiences of new ways of conducting research developed during the current sanitary crisis (e.g.,
;) have led us to write a letter suggesting the establishment of new rules that coordinate the decarbonization of research activities.
We want to submit this letter to an academic journal, but we think that our petition will be stronger if supported by scientists from several disciplines and academic fields. We are thus, requesting you to read this short letter and, if in agreement, sign it by providing the information requested.
Research activities often entail high per individual carbon emissions mainly due -but not limited- to air travel (1–3). The Covid-19 crisis has forced a change in researchers’ work and travel habits, with the spread of virtual meetings. Some conferences planned before the Covid-19 confinement have even been reorganized to be celebrated online (e.g.,
), reducing associated carbon emissions. This generalized habit discontinuity provides governments and funding agencies a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity to change the way we do science (4) by establishing new rules oriented at making the academic sector consistent with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.
Some researchers have already advocated a serious reduction of academia’s carbon footprint5 while certain universities have implemented related institutional measures (6). Measures include allowing compensation of carbon emissions associated with flights, incentivizing train travel, avoidance of layovers, limiting reimbursement of short-distance flights, reducing conference attendance, or allocating individual carbon budgets (1,3).
Coordination of such actions is urgently needed to avoid reliance on voluntary action by researchers or institutions. Governments and funding agencies are best capable of assuring harmonization and compliance of rules for universities and other research bodies. For example, funding agencies could assess the potential carbon impact of proposed research activities and condition funding to the proposition of strategies to minimize and mitigate carbon emissions. This will allow adjusting emissions to scientific needs and individual career stages, while taking into account the added personal costs of some of these rules on researchers. Researchers can set an example by requesting structural changes in funding opportunities so that they align with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement.
1. Ciers, J., Mandic, A., Toth, L. D. & Veld, G. O. t. Carbon footprint of academic air travel: A case study in Switzerland. Sustain. 11, (2018).
2. Achten, W. M. J., Almeida, J. & Muys, B. Carbon footprint of science: More than flying. Ecol. Indic. 34, 352–355 (2013).
3. Waring, T., Teisl, M., Manandhar, E. & Anderson, M. On the Travel Emissions of Sustainability Science Research. Sustainability 6, 2718–2735 (2014).
4. Haggar, P., Whitmarsh, L. & Skippon, S. M. Habit discontinuity and student travel mode choice. Transp. Res. Part F Traffic Psychol. Behav. 64, 1–13 (2019).
5. Kjellman, S. E. As a climate researcher, should I change my air-travel habits? Nature (2019). doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01652-2
6. Climate Action | Yale Sustainability. Available at:
. (Accessed: 18th May 2020)
Victoria Reyes-García, ICREA and ICTA-UAB, Spain
André B. Junqueira, ICTA-UAB, Spain
Patrizia Ziveri, ICREA and ICTA-UAB, Spain
Jeroen van den Bergh, ICREA and ICTA-UAB, Spain and VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands
First Name SURNAME (e.g., Victoria REYES-GARCIA)
First Stage Researcher (up to the point of PhD)
Recognised Researcher (PhD holders or equivalent who are not yet fully independent)
Established Researcher (researchers who have developed a level of independence)
Leading Researcher (researchers leading their research area or field).
E-mail (not to be disseminated)
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