Nature and Biodiversity

Care, share and dare: why open science is vital for saving the planet

Climate innovation must be supported by open science policy.

Climate innovation must be supported by open science policy. Image: Unsplash/NOAA

Frederick Fenter
Chief Executive Editor, Frontiers Media
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  • Open science is needed to catalyze innovation in the face of climate change.
  • Sharing knowledge will be indispensable to allowing COP28 to successfully promote a climate mitigation agenda.
  • Governments and universities play an especially important role in ensuring dissemination of publicly funded research.

With climate change being the most pressing challenge of our time, securing a sustainable future depends on aligning core human needs with sustainable climate solutions. Despite growing awareness and international commitments, progress in climate action has been slow and at times inadequate. In the face of this challenge, open science as a catalyst for innovation and an accelerator of transformative solutions is essential and can provide a crucial contribution to overcome the deadlock.

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What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

The climate emergency poses an existential threat, demanding immediate and far-reaching actions. Our planet is edging closer to several irreversible tipping points, with dire consequences for all life. Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, stresses the urgency, highlighting that we have a mere six years before depleting the global carbon budget. To limit the rise of the average global temperature to 1.5°C, drastic annual reductions of -5 to -10% in emissions are essential.

The upcoming COP28 in Dubai will be a pivotal moment for a serious mitigation agenda. “Now we need to deliver. We need to be accountable, we need to align with science, we need to put the money on the table, and we have to do it in an equitable way. COP28 must be the mitigation COP. It must be the meeting when we start really showing credible pathways to phase out fossil fuels,” said Rockström during a panel dedicated to climate action, at the Falling Walls summit in November 2023.

Echoing the need for mitigation, accountability and equitable action during the Summit, Massamba Thioye of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change advocates for a paradigm shift. “Caring, sharing and daring” must underscore our approach. Genuine care for both people and the planet, sharing knowledge through open science, and setting ambitious targets based on necessity, not convenience, form the core principles. The time has arrived to align actions with scientific insight and allocate resources equitably.

Unrestricted knowledge for all

The way towards mitigation of the climate crisis hinges significantly on the unrestricted access to scientific knowledge. The current system, with almost two-thirds of scientific research hidden behind subscription paywalls (including most of the research related to climate change), impedes progress. Unlocking science through open access models of knowledge dissemination fosters the dissemination of critical research to all stakeholders. The rapid development and global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines serve as a testament to the power of open collaboration and accessible research.

To promote open science and universal access to knowledge, the Frontiers Research Foundation has launched The Open Science Charter. This initiative is a call from the scientific community and concerned citizens to governments, research institutions and funders, to support mandatory universal access to publicly funded knowledge by 2030. The charter champions advocacy for more equitable access to scientific research and transparency in the allocation of public funds to support the open dissemination of results. By doing so, it aims to restore public faith and trust in science. The Charter will be presented to COP28 participants during the panel Open Science for Inclusive and Transformative Climate and Sustainability Innovation on 2 December in Dubai. Read and sign The Charter here.

Open science and the application of the solutions it helps accelerate are key components of the path towards a sustainable future. The converging efforts of the scientific community have been embodied in the Frontiers Planet Prize (FPP) initiative. Launched on Earth Day 2022, the FPP is a global competition that challenges scientists and research institutions to propose solutions to help the planet remain within the safe operating space, with a reward of 1 million Swiss francs for three winners. “The prize really is about creating a butterfly effect, that is, accelerating the application of transformational science to take us back within the boundaries of our planet's operating systems,” says the prize’s director, Jean-Claude Burgelman.

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Public sector responsibility

The shift toward net-zero clean economies hinges on universal access to scientific knowledge and political willingness to take evidence-based action. Governments and universities hold significant responsibility in empowering innovators to deliver practical solutions by ensuring the immediate and unrestricted sharing of research findings funded by taxpayers. Such mandates will significantly accelerate science-based solutions. Research funders including the European Commission are leading the way through initiatives such as Plan S, which mandates that research funded by public funds must be openly accessible to all.

Funders such as UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the European Research Council (ERC) and Wellcome apply these policies for the research outputs they fund. In 2022, the US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued similar guidelines mandating public access to taxpayer-funded research findings by 2025. As of 2023, NASA is championing the Open-Source Science Initiative (OSSI) to promote transparency, inclusivity, accessibility and reproducibility in publicly funded scientific research, fostering a culture of open science. Such practices must become universal and apply to all research funded anywhere in the world.

The climate emergency demands immediate action, and science plays a pivotal role in finding sustainable solutions. Open science, with its commitment to knowledge-sharing, can accelerate our response to the climate crisis and offer solutions. As we approach COP28, the time for rhetoric is over; the time for action is now. Our planet’s survival hinges on our ability to care, share and dare.

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