SDG Perspectives from Japan: Insights from Tomoko Hasegawa, a climate scientist”Pathways to achieving the SDGs through environmental systems engineering”
Please tell us about your research in relation to the SDGs.
In my research, I study climate change and other problems related to the global environment by means of integrated assessment models, which are computer simulation models for the comprehensive analysis of factors such as economy, energy and food systems and land dynamics. In the area of climate change, I am conducting research particularly focused on forecasting the future amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, studying ways to reduce those emissions, and performing analysis of the impacts of climate change and the effects of adaptation and mitigation measures. In terms of the 17 SDGs, my research relates especially to SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 13 (climate action), and SDG 15 (life on land), but parts of my research also relate to problems concerning poverty, health, and sustainable production and consumption. I use the results of computer analyses to do research for the development of policy proposals for solutions at the national and regional levels in Asia and the rest of the world.
The SDGs relate to each other in a variety of ways. For example, producing more biomass energy is useful as a climate mitigation measure, but land is used to produce biomass, and that could result in less land area being available for food production and high risk of hunger in vulnerable regions.
Since nearly 700 million people around the world lack adequate food, this trade-off is a problem. In addition, ecosystems are damaged by monocultures and the cultivation of new land for greater agricultural production and biomass energy. I take various measures into consideration within the computer simulation models as I seek to discover ways to harmoniously achieve the diverse goals of the SDGs.
I participate in an international research community that recently performed case studies to examine the effects that various measures to conserve and restore ecosystems and transform food systems would have on global diversity, and the results were published online in Nature in September 2020 (Leclère et al., 2020). We found a possible future pathway to reduce future biodiversity losses and even reverse the declines by expanding measures for nature conservation and restoration, such as restoring degraded land and bringing more land under conservation management on a global scale, while also pursuing measures to transform food systems – improving crop yields, reducing food loss, and reducing meat consumption.
In research related to the SDGs, how important is transdisciplinary (beyond interdisciplinary) collaboration? And what is needed in order to accomplish that effectively?
My field of research is itself cross-disciplinary, as indicated by the term “integrated” which is part of the name of my research tool, the integrated assessment model. The role of the integrated assessment model is to comprehensively express a range of knowledge, from engineering to economics, agriculture, ecology, and climate science, through computer modeling.
However, in order to identify future pathways to achieving the SDGs, it is necessary to evaluate the effects and impacts of multiple measures in combination, because the SDGs include goals that involve multiple fields. That means this research requires the integration of an even broader range of fields.
For example, the study I just mentioned (Leclère et al., 2020) was the result of joint model comparison studies that were conducted on an equal footing by the biodiversity modeling community and the research community that engages in integrated assessment modeling in the field of climate change. I believe that developing more points of contact and promoting collaboration among communities in different fields in this way will contribute to the development of research related to the SDGs.
What should be done to encourage more younger researchers to get involved in research related to the SDGs?
Researchers become involved in the research in different ways, depending on factors such as the stage of their own career and the environment in which they work; however, I think that the first thing is to advance in their own area of specialization and develop research on themes related to the SDGs within that research area. I think it is also important to present findings of their research to related research community, expand network, and join an influential community in research on the SDGs. Research related to the SDGs is related to real society. By joining such a community, it may become easier to do outreach on their research and communicate with people outside the research and to contribute to transform and build a better society to achieve the SDGs.
Why is it important for researchers to address the SDGs in ways that can be understood by the general public?
To achieve the SDGs will require transformations in society and in people’s behavior; so although some measures might not necessarily require the understanding of the general public, the proposals that we will make for changing society and changing people’s behavior may be more persuasive if there is a general understanding of the background and basis of research findings.
In my field, the importance of transparency has been stressed in recent years, and there is a move toward publishing model sources and manuals in the field of integrated assessment modeling. Sharing about research methods and techniques in ways that other people can understand may be important for achieving broader understanding and promoting social change not only with regard to the SDGs, but in any research result related to society. I myself try to issue a press release whenever a paper is published. I want the general public to learn about our research findings through newspapers and other media.
Tomoko Hasegawa is an Associate Professor at Ritsumeikan University’s College of Science and Engineering, having joined it in April 2019. Her main research focuses on food- and land-related topics in global integrated assessment modeling, including food system, land use change and dynamics, greenhouse gases emissions, climate mitigation options, climate impacts and adaptation for agriculture and food security. Her research attempts to inform short- and mid-term national environmental policy on national emission reduction targets and mitigation options in the agricultural and land use sectors. She is involved in the development and application of the integrated assessment model AIM (Asian-Pacific Integrated Model). Through its application she has been involved in many international projects and interdisciplinary activities related to the above-mentioned topics. She has been selected as a highly cited researcher 2019 and a Lead Author of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
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