Letter from Detlef Stammer and Helen Cleugh to the WCRP Community

Dear colleagues,

This year has brought extremely challenging circumstances to many people around the world. The Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) continues to impact the health and wellbeing of communities and the effects will be with us for some time to come. From a climate science perspective, we are aware that the epidemic has also led to disruptions in research and education and led to a strong reliance on online connections. In May, we had the first online WCRP Joint Scientific Committee (JSC) Session in history and its success demonstrates that more can be done using online meetings and videoconferences than previously thought possible.

The COVID-19 situation also had an impact on WCRP plans to implement its Strategic Plan. The first planning workshop took place in Hamburg in February 2020 immediately before the close-down situation struck and delivered some exciting ideas for new science (Lighthouse Activities). However, a follow-up workshop that was to be held in Washington DC in March 2020 had to be canceled. In its place, the JSC Officers (the JSC Chair, Vice-chair, and three elected members of the JSC) held a series of conference calls with leaders of WCRP core activities to discuss how to proceed. These consultations led into the 41st Session of the JSC (JSC-41) in May 2020, where a proposed new WCRP structure and key elements were presented and discussed, as well as a pathway to implementation. All these details can be read about in detail in the JSC-41 Report and in a summary slideshow of the outcomes.

To briefly summarize, the draft plan toward the implementation of the new WCRP strategy is as follows:

  • A number of Lighthouse Activities (ambitious, exciting, and high-profile experiments, projects, and infrastructure building blocks) will be undertaken to advance WCRP's mission and scientific objectives. The activities will be co-designed (with partners and users) and integrative (across the WCRP community) and require diversity, including the participation of early career researchers and scientists from all regions of the world. How the Lighthouse Activities will be supported, such as whether they need a project office or project manager, is under consideration. We anticipate these activities kicking off in 2021.
  • The four WCRP Core Projects will be internally assessed by their scientific steering groups to determine how they might evolve to be fit for the future. They may or may not retain their names but would not be called 'Core Projects.' The Core Project Co-chairs and JSC are still working through the details so at the moment in our proposed new structure these are called 'homes,' as they are where WCRP's enduring science capacity lives.
  • Two new 'homes' are proposed. One for 'Earth System Modelling and Observational Capabilities' and one for 'Regional Climate Information for Societies'. These would replace the numerous working groups and panels that address these topics. How the new homes would be structured, and how they will interact with all other WCRP elements, including the Lighthouse Activities, still needs consideration.
  • Each 'home' would have science goals and would undertake projects and activities within their own home, across multiple homes, and with external partners. This integration is of paramount importance. Each home would be supported by an international office.
  • The WCRP Grand Challenges will all sunset by the end of 2022. Other projects and activities may also sunset or be revised, as determined by their contributions to WCRP's scientific objectives.

Lighthouse Activities

Proposed Lighthouse Activities. Please see the overviews of each activity (Image: Pixabay 1758197).

Draft WCRP Structure

Draft structure of the new WCRP. Please see the provisional structure webpage for more details.

The plan for moving forward is to undertake further consultations and assess all existing WCRP activities until the end of 2020. We will organize a series of regional consultations on the WCRP reform process. These will be regional in the sense that they will be undertaken by time zone, so that everyone has an opportunity to be involved. Our purpose will be to present and discuss WCRP’s plans for the years ahead, and to highlight opportunities that exist. We want to hear from communities from all regions of the world, so that the ongoing implementation of the WCRP Strategy and the way in which WCRP evolves lead to outcomes that are useful and useable across the world. This especially includes communities from whom WCRP has traditionally not had strong representation and who are critical to the success of our work.

Science teams for each of the Lighthouse Activities will be determined and the initial 2-page outlines in the Hamburg Workshop Report will be developed into detailed science plans. As this will be a co-design process, also involving respective partners from outside WCRP, we will publicize opportunities to be part of the process as they arise and will get in contact with key partners regarding their involvement.

WCRP Implementation Timeline

Timeline for the transition to a new WCRP structure, in full operation by late 2022. Please see the timeline webpage for more details.

At the end of November 2020, the JSC will convene an Extraordinary Session (JSC-41B) to have a final discussion and make decisions on the new WCRP structure. As with JSC-41, the JSC-41B Session will bring together the leaders of WCRP core activities, but the focus this time will be on making decisions on the structure and elements so that starting in 2021 we can live in the new homes we have built and work from the inside on making them fit for purpose and fit for the future. We call this a soft transition, but we hope that by the end of 2022 the new WCRP structure will be in place.

We can imagine, that this process may seem confusing to those not involved in the various meetings and online calls. Many respective discussions are ongoing and will continue over the coming months. We encourage you to keep looking at the WCRP website, where we will add new information and opportunities as they become available. Our 'connect' page also offers some ways to make sure that you are kept up to date and for conversations to take place. We welcome your comments and suggestions at any point in the process.

We wish you all the very best for the coming months.

Detlef Stammer and Helen Cleugh
WCRP JSC Chair and Vice-Chair