Warming waters, evolution, and the future for fisheries policy

By Neema Tavakolian, 2021 IIASA Science Communication Fellow 

Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP) participant Lyndsie Wszola explores how human interactions with warming freshwater systems have affected the evolution of fish species through the lens of the North American walleye. 

© Justinhoffmanoutdoors | Dreamstime.com

The effects of climate change have intensified over the past few years, especially in our oceans, and human based activities contributing to it are now being taken more seriously. While the warming of our oceans is indeed troubling, many forget that freshwater systems are also being influenced, and that this is affecting the growth and evolution of the species that reside in them.

2021 YSSP participant Lyndsie Wszola wants to explore changes in freshwater systems using human-natural modeling systems at IIASA.

© Lyndsie Wszola

Growing up with a conservation officer father, Wszola is a second-generation conservationist. Knowing she wanted to enter this field at an early age, she realized that she had to get into research and academia first. Her main interests while studying at the University of Nebraska have been the interactions between humans and wildlife.

While researching the relationships between hunters and ring-necked pheasants, she discovered an affinity for quantitative research. This curiosity went even further after she discovered literature on harvest induced evolution and mathematical ecology specifically pertaining to fish populations. Together, this initial desire to explore human and wildlife interactions and her newfound interest in mathematical ecology, led Wszola to take a closer look at North American freshwater systems and how we as humans are influencing its ecology. Her research specifically delves into the growth and evolutionary changes seen in the North American walleye (Sander vitreus) – a popular fish in Canada and the United States. The reason for its fame is its palatable taste as a freshwater fish and its status among anglers, making it both a commercially and recreationally fished species.

Walleye was chosen as the subject of Wszola’s research for many reasons. First, walleye, like many fish, are ectotherms meaning that their body processes and behaviors are directly linked to their body temperature, which is in turn directly linked to the temperature of the water. Unlike other fish however, there is already plenty of research and data on the relationship between the walleye’s growth and temperature. This information makes it much easier to simulate the walleye’s eco-evolutionary growth dynamics in the context of human driven harvests in warming waters. Wszola will also be working with very large datasets spanning multiple latitudes ranging from Ontario, Canada down to Nebraska, USA. The datasets include up to six million fish with four million of those being walleye.

“My goal is to model the influence of temperature on fish harvests based on size. Due to their ectotherm nature, we can observe the changes in body size in annual harvests. As waters warm, walleye grow much faster. We also know that intensely harvested fish often evolve to reach maturation at smaller sizes. When coupled with rising temperatures, this relationship between harvest induced and temperature induced evolution can be fascinating, as we now have two sources working together to change the growth evolution of this fish,” she explains.

Due to warming temperatures, many natural resources are at stake with some of the most sensitive being aquatic in nature. Research like this is important as it allows us to look at our relationships with the environment to be able to react accordingly.

“I hope that the research I do yields fascinating enough results so that from a practical standpoint, future fisheries policies can include climate change dynamics in addition to fish and human dynamics,” Wszola concludes.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

The gender dimension in my research

By Raquel Guimaraes, guest research scholar in the IIASA Migration and Sustainable Development and Equity and Justice research groups and assistant professor at the Federal University of Parana in Brazil

IIASA Network and Alumni Officer, Monika Bauer, recently invited me to participate in a genuinely important event hosted on IIASA Connect with the aim of gathering the IIASA community to discuss the gender dimension in research. As a gender researcher, this topic is part of my daily activities, and I decided to focus on the most important findings of my research: gender, disasters, and climate change.

© Raquel Guimaraes

In my talk, I gave an overview of the data relating to gender and disasters. According to the United Nations Development Programme, disasters lower women’s life expectancy more than men’s; moreover, women and children are 14 times more likely to die during a disaster. For example, most of the victims trapped in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were African-American women and their children.

Given these facts, it becomes clear that gender is an important dimension of disaster and climate change research. Why is that? First, because gender and natural disasters are socially constructed under different geographic, cultural, political-economic, and social conditions and it has complex social consequences for both women and men. They therefore highlight societal, cultural, and religious norms and values, and shape the needs and risks of the affected individuals. Second, because disasters often affect women, girls, men, and boys differently due to gender inequalities caused not only by socioeconomic conditions, but also by cultural beliefs and traditional practices.

In addition to the above, climate change is connected to an increase in the frequency and/or severity of natural disasters such as flooding, heat waves, and cyclones. Disasters will therefore exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities in communities, since, as already mentioned, they have a wide range of effects for men and women, as well as for youth and children in both developing and developed countries.

Interestingly, the discussion on the intersection between gender and disasters is not new. References to gender as an issue in climate change debates and international protocols on disaster management have been made since at least the 1994 Yokohama World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction. Since then, the international community has repeatedly called for gender-responsive disaster risk management.

To ensure gender equality and to overcome problems of marginalization, invisibility, and under-representation, gender concerns and women’s issues has been included into mainstream disaster risk reduction policies. Hence, understanding different gender roles, responsibilities, needs, and capacities to identify, reduce, prepare, and respond to disasters, is crucial to promoting effective disaster risk management.

Given the gender dimension of climate change and disaster research, some important questions that come to mind are: Do women really lack power in disasters? Are they really the fragile gender? The answer is: not always. Evidence shows that, despite gender-differentiated vulnerabilities, women and girls are also powerful agents of positive change before, during, and after disasters.

My research on floods, for instance, shows that in Brazil and Thailand, women can be agents of change. Preparedness to natural disasters have been recognized as key in disaster risk management to the extent that local and international actors emphasize the importance of saving lives and avoiding losses, even before the onset of a disaster. If there are different strategies for disaster prevention according to gender, then emergency management agencies and policymakers should account for these differences, ensuring that men and women combine their strengths to maximize preparedness for floods. Through data from two surveys, I evaluated preparedness by assessing several indicators that accounts for the provision of protective items, emergency plans, and the availability of insurance or information. Using econometric models, I found that women play an active role in disasters, being resourceful actresses in times of crises.

Therefore, during the IIASA Connect Coffee Talk I asserted that gender should be integrated as the basis of a complex and dynamic set of social relations in disaster and climate change research. I appreciate the opportunity IIASA Connect gave me to reflect on this issue with colleagues.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the urban poor?

By Benigna Boza-Kiss, Shonali Pachauri, and Caroline Zimm from the IIASA Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions Research Group

Benigna Boza-Kiss, Shonali Pachauri, and Caroline Zimm explain how COVID-19 has impacted the poor in cities and what can be done to increase the future resilience of vulnerable populations.

© Manoej Paateel | Dreamstime.com

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a halt to life as we knew it. We have been restrained in our activities and freedoms, forced to stay indoors at home, to cancel travel plans, and to transfer meetings to an online space, where most of us have also celebrated birthdays and other important life events that should have been in person with our loved ones. These changes have impacted many aspects of our comfort, our social wellbeing, as well as our financial situations, but it has also brought existing inequalities and poverty into the spotlight.

The risks of the pandemic and restrictions following containment measures have been felt most acutely by the poor, the vulnerable, those in the informal sector, and those without savings and safety nets. The suffering of women in the health sector, school children in households without electricity and internet, workers in the informal sector that don’t have the option to telework, crowds living in slums – to name just a few examples of vulnerable groups – have become glaringly visible to all. These people have had to adapt to new rules and conditions when they were living on the edge even before the pandemic.

In a new perspective piece published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, we explored how aspects related to access to shelter/housing, modern energy, and digital services in cities have influenced the poor and what can be done to increase the future resilience of vulnerable populations.

We described three ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic and related containment measures have exacerbated urban inequalities, and identified how subsequent recovery measures and policy responses could redress these.

First, lockdowns amplified urban energy poverty. Staying at home has meant increased energy use at home. For the poor, who already struggle with utility costs, and typically live in low energy quality buildings, these services have become even more unaffordable. These populations also shoulder a higher burden of poor health, for example, higher incidence of respiratory problems, with poor or inadequate ventilation and insulation increasing their risk of infection even more.

Second, preexisting digital divides have surfaced, even within well-connected cities. Multiple barriers limit digital inclusion: access to digital technologies due to high costs (for devices, internet access, and electricity connections), and unreliable services (again both for electricity and internet), as well as low digital literacy and support. This lack of adequate digital service access is contributing to these populations falling further behind during lockdowns as they miss out on education and income.

Third, slum dwellers in the world’s cities have been particularly hard hit, because of precarious and overcrowded housing conditions, lack of basic infrastructure and amenities, and a high concentration of the socioeconomically disadvantaged, resulting in even more negative consequences of lockdown measures. With many slum inhabitants working in the informal sector, many have been left either without jobs and income, or have been compelled to work in precarious and unsafe conditions to survive. The loss of income has also had knock-on effects, making payments of regular expenditures for rent, water, electricity, and other utility services difficult. Women within these settlements have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, as they are over represented in the informal economy, and more likely to be engaged in invisible work, such as home-based or domestic and care work.

Recovery measures need to ensure immediate relief, but also point towards long-term solutions that contribute to the redistribution of wealth and new urban development, while also increasing resilience to the current and future pandemics or other disasters. There are tested measures that should be reemphasized.

Urban green recovery plans that include large-scale home renovation programs could ensure warm, healthy homes, and affordable energy bills for all. In the shorter-term, alleviation of payment defaults on the rents and utility bills of the energy poor should continue. In parallel, urban digital preparedness, more equal access to the virtual delivery of essential services, and provision of opportunities for virtual working and education for all in the future, need attention.

COVID-19 can be a wake up call to increase efforts to close the digital divide and push for structural change. The crisis has increased the urgency to redesign and improve informal settlements and provide adequate and efficient services that address the diverse needs of poor urban residents. This requires partnerships between urban municipalities, planners, and stakeholders, as well as strengthening local communities for inclusive planning strategies. More immediately, it is necessary to provide direct support to slum and informal settlement populations in terms of income support, adequate nutrition, energy, water, and other basic infrastructure and services.

All in all, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a “test of societies, of governments, of communities, and of individuals”. Digital technologies, home renovation, and slum rehabilitation are the means, rather than the end to improve conditions for all, but if specifically targeted to the poor and most deprived, such measures can reduce inequalities and increase resilience.

Reference:

Boza-Kiss, B., Pachauri, S., & Zimm, C. (2021). Deprivations and Inequities in Cities Viewed Through a Pandemic Lens. Frontiers in Sustainable Cities 3 e645914. [pure.iiasa.ac.at/17121]

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

A story of new beginnings

By Marie Franquin, External Relations Officer in the IIASA Communications and External Relations Department

Marie Franquin writes about her first six months as part of the IIASA Communications and External Relations team.

This year has certainly been a great challenge for all of us, migrating our lives online and our offices to the living-room. Last summer, I finished my PhD and was ecstatic to have found a job at IIASA that encompassed day-to-day work on my favorite skills: international stakeholder engagement, policy interface, and interacting with researchers, including early career ones!

All of these aspects were covered in the newly launched 2021-2030 IIASA Strategy that was published in the winter. My challenge remained to know how I could best apply my science to policy and research skills to contribute to these goals. How do I help a systems analysis research community move towards more impact and increasing stakeholder engagement?

It quickly became obvious that my position in the external relations team required multitasking and honing a series of skills. The first and top skill that I have kept developing for the past six months was interacting with international stakeholders from all over the world, which included not only our National Member Organization (NMO) representatives and researchers from these countries, but also IIASA researchers and alumni. Working at IIASA I have already gained experience in developing relationships with stakeholders of the research community all over the world.

© Swietlana Malyszewa | Dreamstime.com

The IIASA stakeholder community also sheds new light on the value of the institute’s expertise in systems analysis for building international scientific partnerships, whether it be formal ones with my colleague Sergey Sizov and his science diplomacy expertise, or by facilitating research partnerships between our NMO countries and IIASA researchers.

With my colleague Monika Bauer, I am also learning about the future of stakeholder engagement and how to build virtual communities, like she’s doing with IIASA Connect:

“We are building the global systems analysis network on IIASA Connect. This tool allows colleagues, alumni, the institute’s regional communities, and collaborators to directly engage with each other and take advantage of the institute’s international and interdisciplinary network. It is something completely new for the organization,” she explains.

Our recent partnership with the Strategic Initiatives (SI) Program was aimed at better understanding the IIASA NMO countries and their individual research priorities for the next decades. I learned about local challenges and strengths and how countries have managed to move forward as a nation or by working hand in hand with their neighbors.

Coming from a research background, I am fascinated by the insights I am gaining working with IIASA communications colleagues on how to promote research and its impacts. I particularly enjoyed working with Ansa Heyl, helping IIASA experts build their policy brief submissions for the recent T20 Italy call for abstracts. As part of my skillset and center of interest, I aim to apply my science to policy skills here at IIASA to support the researchers and impacts of the amazing work done across the institute.

Having mostly worked with and for early career researchers for several years, I remain sensitive to their needs for career development opportunities. I am therefore excited to work with colleagues in the institute’s Capacity Development and Academic Training (CDAT) program to further define and support research excellence at IIASA, especially in the very promising next generation of systems scientists.

Few workplaces are so well connected and offer so many opportunities to develop such a broad range of skills as the IIASA Communications and External Relations team. As we are working towards fulfilling the IIASA Strategy’s aim of strengthening partnerships, I look forward to continuing to interact with IIASA researchers and supporting the institute’s goals of making sure the work done at IIASA positively impacts society. So come and chat with me!

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

How we count energy poverty is broken, requires new framework

By Shonali Pachauri, Research Group leader, Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions

Shonali Pachauri discusses a new framework developed at IIASA to more accurately identify the energy poor.

PowerForAll

Energy is a prerequisite for economic and social development. Today, it is widely believed that there are 840 million people still living without electricity in Africa and Asia, while many more are without access to reliable power. And because of COVID-19, this number is growing again.

But what if this data, which governments and donors rely on to allocate money and shape policy, are flawed? And what if we’re even further from eradicating energy poverty than we think? This is the conclusion of a new framework for counting energy access.

The United Nations uses a simple indicator of the share of population with electricity connections to measure energy access. But this grossly underestimates the number of energy poor, because it considers a household to have access even if they receive irregular quality and hours of electricity supply or are unable to afford anything beyond an electric light.

Recent efforts to improve how we measure energy poverty have made vast improvements but have now resulted in frameworks that are complicated and “data needy”, therefore difficult to scale up to a global level.

A new framework developed by IIASA builds on existing measurement frameworks, but simplifies and advances these to more accurately identify the energy poor. It has already been applied to actual data from Ethiopia, India, and Rwanda to test how well it captures energy poverty in comparison to the World Bank’s Multi-Tier Framework (MTF).

The framework distinguishes between two aspects of access: the quality of power supply and the circumstances of the end-user. This distinction is important to better direct policy efforts where they are most needed, that is, to energy suppliers and/or to households. It also reduces the number of dimensions and tiers to simplify the MTF.

Instead of correlating energy consumption with energy access, a key advancement of the new framework is using ownership of different types of appliances as a proxy for measuring household amenities and services derived from the use of these appliances to improve wellbeing. Electricity consumption is a misleading measure of energy service, because for those who use inefficient appliances, more consumption does not translate into more service. For instance, a household using six inefficient light bulbs is not better off than one that uses three efficient high luminosity light points and an efficient fan that provides comfort from the summer heat. The framework also improves on how affordability is measured to consider appliance purchase costs in addition to recurrent electricity expenditures in assessing the budget share spent on electric services.

When applied to real data, the framework suggests that the energy poor are more segmented than what is reflected by existing binary or MTF indicators. The categorization of households according to electricity consumption differs markedly from that according to energy services and using appliance ownership, revealing greater heterogeneity among the energy poor than what is reflected in the MTF’s consumption-based indicator.

In addition, the new framework shows that affordability is even more of a constraint to gaining access to modern electric services for households in Ethiopia, India, and Rwanda than reflected by the MTF. According to the MTF’s indicator of affordability, practically no one in Ethiopia or India would be considered unable to afford electricity access. However, if one includes the discounted cost of appliances needed to consume electricity in the indicator, about a third of the population in India and Ethiopia might be categorized as facing issues with affordability. In Rwanda, even without considering the discounted cost of appliances, most electricity consuming households are faced with affordability constraints to using basic electric services at home.

This evolution of measuring energy access is just a first step to more accurately counting the energy poor. This needs to go hand in hand with better data gathering, especially for countries and regions that face the biggest challenges in terms of extending access to modern energy services. Further refinements and applications of the framework can help improve how we identify the most vulnerable and design and target policies to achieve true energy access for all.

This blog post was first published on the PowerForAll Energy policy website. Read the original article here.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

Science communication for a humane world

By Shorouk Elkobros, IIASA Science Communications Fellow

Shorouk Elkobros shares her love for science communication and why she thinks it is pivotal for humanity.

Early 2020, I saw viral GIFs about social distancing and flattening the curve. I remember how useful and accessible it felt to have science communicated in such a fun and non-jargon way, especially during a global crisis.

In today’s post-truth world, misinformation campaigns travel fast. Hence, science communication’s role becomes pivotal to humanity. Anne Glover, the president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, once said that “research not communicated is effectively research not done.”

What is science communication?

Science communication is the practice of educating and raising awareness of science-related topics. Science communicators, therefore, aspire to bridge the gap between science and the public and to inform decision makers.

But is it that easy?

You guessed it  ̶  it is not. However, it is a challenge one would love to take on. Science communication is a constant game of problem solving.

Meme from the American sitcom television series Parks and Recreation | awwmemes.com

It is never about dumbing down information but rather about making it concise and clear. It requires a decent amount of practice, careful attention to language, and a deep understanding of the audience.

Enticing readers with clickbait information and sensationalized or misleading facts has almost pushed the reputation of science communication under the bus. Examples include the COVID-19 conspiracy theories that emerged amid the pandemic or climate change deniers’ campaigns that share fake scientific news to mislead the public.

Why I love science communication?

I come from a science background and a love for visual storytelling. After earning my master’s degree in climate sciences, I chose to become a science communicator because it brings me joy to make science relatable and fun for the public. For me, science communication is a great way to mainstream climate action.

In 2019, I worked closely with the CLICCS B1 team at the University of Hamburg, Germany, where I investigated how our imaginations of possible and plausible climate futures are socially and culturally constituted and embedded in broader visions of the future and belief systems. One thing I learned was that the mainstream media either tones down the climate crises or spreads alarming and apocalyptic messages. It was an eye-opening experience to investigate how climate change is communicated in the media and to recommend amends. However, I always wanted to practice what I preached. I was lucky to volunteer as an editor on the Climate Matters blog and as a video editor in conferences such as Tropentag 2019. The sense of satisfaction that I felt every time I worked on an article or a video made me realize that I want to pursue a career in science communication.

IIASA Science communication

In 2020 I was looking for opportunities to embark on a science communication learning journey to become a better science writer and a better storyteller. Having the chance to do a Science Communication Fellowship at IIASA was an experience that I hold near and dear to my heart. This program is targeted towards early career science communicators who want to sharpen their science communication skills. It was the perfect opportunity for me to transition from academia to the practical field.

Working closely with researchers to produce content on blogs, videos, and news-in-brief articles in the Options magazine 2020 winter edition gave me an excellent perspective on environmental, economic, technological, and social change all around the globe. Knowing that my work can provide the needed information to policymakers is so rewarding because I know it can make a change in the years to come. Interviewing early career researchers and IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program alumni, and listening to them discussing their work and future aspirations was awe-inspiring. I think my favorite project was producing a video on the biodiversity work done at IIASA because I was able to look beyond the research and highlight the researchers behind it. I figured one way people would relate to the science is if I put a human face to it.

Working as part of the IIASA communications team has been a blast. For this blog, I asked my team members why they love science communication, and here are some of my favorite replies:

Communicating research addressing issues such as food and water security, biodiversity, or climate change can boost regenerative economies and decentralized renewable energy systems. It then becomes pivotal for humanity to give a voice to young people, grassroots movements, and people of color. Historically, researchers involved in outreach gave science communication its modern shape. Today, I think we live in a golden age of science communication. There are more thought-provoking science stories than ever before. Scientists blogging about science, science communicators using social media to promote recent publications, and storytellers creating science-oriented videos or designs, are all doing magnificent work, and I am lucky to count myself as one of them.

@ Lennart Wittstock | Pexels.com

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Nexus blog, nor of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.