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Montreal to become a Future Earth hub

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As announced on Jul. 8, Montreal is set to be one of five hubs for Future Earth, a United Nations (UN)-based program that aims to fuel research and public policy reform in the field of environmental sustainability through international collaboration.

Stressing the importance of global partnerships in resolving key environmental issues, Future Earth will have other hubs in Paris, Tokyo, Stockholm, and Boulder.

Bidding for the ambitious initiative was competitive, according to Coryell Boffy, a project director for International Organizations at Montreal International, the consortium that played an instrumental role in bringing Future Earth to Montreal.

Instead of bidding for hub status separately, the representatives from the five cities decided to collaborate and present a proposal to design a global secretariat, which will work on mobilizing thousands of scientists while establishing strong public policy partnerships in the environmental sustainability field.

“[The] reason our bid was chosen was because it was a multi-country initiative, so it was a good base in terms of international reach,” Boffy explained.

The project aims to expand its secretariat to regional hubs in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America in the future to incorporate the environmental needs of the developing world into the initiative.

“This program is unique because it attempts to integrate the natural sciences, the social sciences, and businesses to really boost environmental sustainability efforts,” Boffy said. “The creation of this international network will also create opportunities for local researchers to access a global network, and the best international ideas to integrate in their research.”

Montreal’s extensive academic base, research facilities, and multicultural values will be crucial for the 10-year project that is expected to be set up by early next year, according to Dr. Andrew Gonzalez, a biology professor at McGill. Gonzalez was part of the Montreal team that attended a meeting of potential candidates for the secretariat held in Paris last year. Since then, he has contributed to designing the distributed structure for the global secretariat.

“The Montreal hub […] has several jobs to do, [including] communications and outreach, research enabling, synthesis, and capacity building,” Gonzalez said. “At some point, it will specialize on a small set of those, but it is too early to say how the process is exactly going to work.”

Although the hub will be based in Concordia University, McGill will be directly involved in the initiative, acting as a sponsor for the hub along with seven other academic institutions like the Université de Montréal, Concordia University, Université du Québec à Montréal, L’École de technologie supérieure de Montréal, Montreal International, as well as the Quebec government.

According to Gonzalez, McGill’s strong research community and multi-disciplinary approach toward environmental sustainability will widen the scope of the program.

“There are several McGill researchers who are already committed to sustainability research and our research community is particularly strong in this area,” he said. “We have numerous departments working on environmental sustainability—the McGill School for Environment, the Departments of Geography and Biology, and Natural Resource Sciences out at the [Macdonald] campus. So, we have a very healthy community with world class research.”

At the moment, McGill is leading two promising biodiversity projects—namely “Eco-Services” which focuses on the services that humans obtain from ecosystems and “Bio-Genesis,” which deals with biodiversity change—in the field.

“However, we have many other research strengths like green chemistry, biofuels, and engineering solutions that I hope will become an important part of the Montreal hub’s emphasis,” Gonzalez said.

One of the major goals of the initiative is to also engage stakeholders such as urban dwellers and farmers in the research process in order to form a collaborative and multilateral network that encourages their contribution in tackling issues that affect them most.

The Future Earth initiative, with an annual budget of between $5 million and $10 million, is sponsored by the Science and Technology Alliance for Global Sustainability, comprised of not-for-profit organizations such as the International Council for Science (ICSU), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as the World Meteorological Organization as an observer.

Marius Karolinski, U2 Science, commended the concept of the program.

“Any platforms and any ways of organizing like-minded people to discuss issues is very important, because some of the best ideas I have are the ones that have been derived through stimulating conversation,” Karolinski said.

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