By James Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security & Research Associate, Center for Governance and Sustainability
While news reports dramatize US-China relations as prickly at best, an unsung story of cooperation moves steadily forward. Science is helping to build bridges while diplomacy struggles.
Indeed, climate change, with its disdain for national boundaries, will often require international responses, and may therefore be a key driver of global collaboration, led by scientists.
One example: GOA-ON (Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network) — a global effort to measure the increasing acid content of the ocean includes a large number of organizations – governmental and NGOs worldwide, with the U.S. and China taking leading roles. U.S. organizations include Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Carnegie Institution for Science, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The state Oceanic Administration of China is also involved, as are Tianjin University and the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute.
As news outlets give the impression that trade negotiations between the U.S. and China are perpetually on the brink either of success or collapse, scientists from both countries – and many others — are working together steadily to measure acidification in a variety of marine environments, and limit its potentially disastrous effects on organisms small and large.
The focus of my own research is on wetlands, including coasts, which also often require collaborative approaches. Strategies for bringing this about were explored earlier this year at a workshop organized by McCormack Graduate School, Tufts, B.U. and MIT. The workshop looked in part at science diplomacy and the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. Dean David Cash and Associate Professor Maria Ivanova were among the lead presenters.
GOA-ON, the collaborative looking at ocean acidification, is a perfect case study of mostly non-governmental actors – namely scientific actors — setting and shaping research agendas, standards, and international cooperation through novel partnerships and communities of practice. Such efforts are on the rise, and that is good news.