Climate change: 'Glasgow Agreement' can save the planet but locking scientific research behind paywalls is holding us back – Catherine Stihler

Despite the disruption caused by Covid, hopes remain that a deal can be reached which will commit nations to take action to reduce global temperatures when the world gathers in Glasgow for the United Nations’ Cop26 climate summit.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in the years ahead, we are able to look back at the planet-saving impact of a ‘Glasgow Agreement’?

It will require diplomacy and political heft, but the necessity of action couldn’t be clearer.

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The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently issued a ‘code red’ warning for the planet. Global surface temperatures have risen faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years.

And the impact of those alarming line graphs produced in reports can be seen in tragedies around the world, from the catastrophic wildfires in Greece and Australia to the devastating floods in Germany.

At the heart of the mission to save our planet are scientific research and data. And it’s vitally important that the knowledge we build is shared.

We have seen the incredible value of open research in addressing the Covid crisis. After researchers sequenced the viral genome and shared it freely online, it ultimately led to the development of life-saving vaccines.

The same approach to the Covid emergency must apply to the climate emergency.

Volunteer firefighters perform a search after a flash flood hit Helmetta, New Jersey, as Tropical Storm Henri made landfall. Warmer air holds more moisture, making such flooding more likely (Picture: Tom Brenner/AFP via Getty Images)Volunteer firefighters perform a search after a flash flood hit Helmetta, New Jersey, as Tropical Storm Henri made landfall. Warmer air holds more moisture, making such flooding more likely (Picture: Tom Brenner/AFP via Getty Images)
Volunteer firefighters perform a search after a flash flood hit Helmetta, New Jersey, as Tropical Storm Henri made landfall. Warmer air holds more moisture, making such flooding more likely (Picture: Tom Brenner/AFP via Getty Images)

As we prepare for Cop26, the importance of open data and open science in providing the evidence base and action required to achieve net zero and mitigate the impact of climate change is clear.

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This has been recognised internationally for some time. In 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued an executive order to ensure that federally funded research would be made publicly accessible within one year of publication.

Following this, Nasa reaffirmed its existing ‘open access culture’ and other space agencies have also utilised Creative Commons licenses to share their work, including the European Space Agency, which published its open access policy in 2017.

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At Creative Commons, we are committed to working with organisations and governments around the world to provide open access to publicly funded knowledge.

Over two decades, we have developed legal tools that can be used to make scientific research outputs freely available.

We’ve already had successful implementations in energy, genomics, disease research, geospatial, polar, taxonomic and bibliometric disciplines, and are providing guidance to funders, institutions, private foundations, governments, the corporate sector, and other stakeholders on how to create, adopt and implement open-access policies.

But there is so much more to do.

Far too much private research remains locked away – whether behind online paywalls or only available to purchase at considerable cost.

Breaking down those barriers will take time but, when it comes to publicly funded research, it is imperative that knowledge is shared freely with the public.

And the UK can take the lead on the world stage.

We already play a central role in the major international collaboration, ‘Plan S’, which recommends using Creative Commons licences to deliver full and immediate open access to the world’s research output.

I’m delighted that the UK is now going even further, recently securing a strong G7 commitment to open science as part of the UK’s presidency.

And this month, UK Research and Innovations (UKRI) launched a new open-access policy. This is a welcome initiative that will increase opportunities for the findings of publicly funded research to be accessed, shared and reused.

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I am particularly pleased to see that key requirements of the new policy include immediate open access for research articles and the release of publications under a Creative Commons licence.

Our licenses and tools have become the standard in research publication open licensing. They are free, easy-to-use, simple and standardised open licences that enable researchers to share the articles or monographs they wrote with everyone, worldwide, under the conditions they determine, while receiving credit for their work.

In practice, this means research articles and data can be freely reused by others, enhancing collaboration among researchers, accelerating the pace of scientific discovery, and facilitating the dissemination of reliable, practical information to the public.

Ensuring there is full and immediate open access to publicly funded research will help support scientific developments, which benefit us all.

Ahead of Cop26, the UK government deserves praise for taking leadership on this front. But at Creative Commons, we have global ambitions. This matters because our planet’s most pressing problems require global solutions that only research-based action can bring.

Sharing is critical – not least when it comes to the climate emergency.

In the last two decades, we’ve helped shape the culture around sharing, increasing access to valuable information, historic images, scientific articles, educational resources, cultural artefacts, and so much more.

Now, we’re looking forward – eager to put the tools to share and reshare content in the hands of everyone, everywhere.

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We know that greater access to information means a stronger global community, more innovation, and increased capacity to solve key challenges the world faces today.

And what greater challenge is there than the climate emergency?

This year Creative Commons celebrates its 20th anniversary and we’ll be doubling down on our efforts to steward clear license and legal tools that are easy to understand and available in many languages, and to ensure access for all to open information and materials, not only those with privilege.

And we’ll be launching new ventures in open science to remove unnecessary barriers to addressing the climate crisis.

Cop26 presents a huge opportunity for the world’s leaders to come together and commit to climate action.

And if they truly want to tackle this emergency, they will recognise the importance of open access to climate research and data so that we can all share the knowledge to take action to save our planet.

Catherine Stihler is CEO of Creative Commons

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