An analysis conducted at the Academy of Finland has investigated research on climate change and carbon neutrality in our application data. During 2020, the Academy received more than 600 applications concerning climate change and carbon neutrality research that represented a wide range of research fields from technology to social and human sciences. The applications presented questions related to, for example, more environmentally friendly battery technology, the health effects of air pollution, reducing food waste, climate change observation technology and decision-making. The Academy of Finland and the Strategic Research Council (SRC) together funded research directly or indirectly linked to climate change and carbon neutrality for a total amount of approximately 68 million euros in 2020.
The climate crisis is one of the most pertinent global challenges in need of solutions. As it is a wide-ranging phenomenon, the climate crisis requires diverse research to solve the issues it brings with it. The need to address issues concerning climate change is part of the Academy of Finland’s strategy. The Academy funds research related to climate change and carbon neutrality every year, both in the autumn call and in special thematic calls.
The approximately 5,000 – 6,000 applications we receive each year form comprehensive data of the research topics that Finnish researchers consider to be the most relevant right now. That is why we at the Academy of Finland wanted to explore what the data suggests concerning research on climate change and carbon neutrality in Finland. How much research on the topic is there? Which issues and research questions does the research on the theme cover?
We carried out an analysis using applications for the September 2020 call and for the special thematic calls relevant to the climate change and carbon neutrality theme (3,148 applications in total). We wrote a report (PDF) presenting the results of the analysis in more detail.
Broad and multidisciplinary range of research into climate change in the applications submitted in 2020
We identified a total of 620 applications related to the climate change and carbon neutrality theme in our application data. This covered about one-fifth (20%) of the applications analysed. The sheer amount of data did not allow for an individual examination of the applications; instead we made use of automated methods to identify them. The identification was based on a list of 110 search terms compiled by experts. We included a selection of applications in which these search terms appeared to a significant degree.
One of the main observations was that a significant amount of funding was granted to applications concerning climate change and carbon neutrality. The Academy of Finland and the Strategic Research Council (SRC), an independent body established within the Academy, together funded research directly or indirectly linked to climate change and carbon neutrality for a total amount of approximately 68 million euros in 2020.
Within the theme, applications covered a wide range of research fields. The most common research fields entered in the applications by the applicants were geosciences and environmental science, but in total dozens of research fields were represented. They also included areas that may not traditionally be associated with climate change research, such as law, nutrition, communication sciences or business economics. Researchers from a wide range of disciplines have identified the potential of their field to play a role in understanding and tackling the climate crisis.
The applications were also multidisciplinary: the applications included 3.4 research fields on average. Climate change is the biggest sustainability challenge of our time, which requires collaboration across disciplines. This aspect was also strongly highlighted in the data.
Themes cover a wide range of research on the progress of climate change, its impacts and mitigation strategies
In order to get an overview of the research themes on climate change and carbon neutrality, we also looked at how the research can be divided thematically. Here, we used automated methods to sort applications on climate change and carbon neutrality into thematic clusters based on research field links between them.
The clusters as well as the number and share of their applications of all applications related to climate change and carbon neutrality.
The applications were divided into six thematic clusters: Together, the clusters cover a range of research topics related both to the progress of climate change and to its effects and mitigation strategies.
- Approximately one-fourth of the applications were in the materials technology and energy engineering cluster. Emerging search terms in this cluster included renewable energy, CO2 emissions and solar energy. The research theme linking many of the applications in the cluster was developing more environmentally friendly technology.
- The cluster ‘Individuals and society’ was almost equally large. Its common research fields were environmental social science, social sciences and political science. The search terms connected with this cluster included circular economy, carbon neutral and sustainable consumption. One of the research topics in the applications was climate change in legislation or education.
- The third largest cluster was biology and environmental science, in which prominent search terms included drought, permafrost and carbon sink. One of the research topics in the cluster was the health effects of pollution.
- The fourth cluster was geosciences and geography, in which the climate change phenomenon in itself was a common research topic. Typical search terms included climate model, pollution and black carbon.
- The fifth cluster, electrical, energy and information engineering, was significantly smaller than the others. Its prominent search terms included energy system, battery and smart grid.
- The smallest of the identified clusters was environment, chemistry and nutrition. Unlike the other clusters, it did not form a coherent whole, but instead covered a variety of themes. The cluster included search terms such as bioenergy, pollution and carbon storage.
Climate change and carbon neutrality are significant research themes also in the future
The importance of research on climate change and carbon neutrality will not diminish. For example, the Evaluation of the Academy of Finland published in March 2022 stresses that the Finnish RDI system must focus on tackling societal challenges such as climate change.
This is partly being done, for example, by the recent Academy programme Climate-Synergy, which brings together research on climate change and carbon neutrality funded through different project formats. The programme aims both to strengthen research in this field, promote making use of research results and highlight the importance of quality research in tackling the climate crisis.
Research priorities within the theme of climate change and carbon neutrality may change due to new technological innovations or research results, for example, but the goal of climate change mitigation and adaptation remains.
Automated methods enable wide-ranging thematic analyses
One of the main objectives of the application data analysis was also to develop the analytical methods required for the examination of our data. Automated methods enable us to chart wide-ranging themes and help us to keep up with research in different fields and the development of different research questions. This benefits understanding different research fields and anticipating future changes.
Although automated methods open new possibilities, they also pose some challenges. For example, when using a list of search terms to identify applications related to a specific theme, the list must be sufficiently comprehensive. Climate change and carbon neutrality form such a multifaceted theme that to compile an all-encompassing word list is a challenge. Terms related to new research themes on the rise may be left out. Therefore it is essential to utilise experts in the field in addition to machines.