Regional cooperation in the Americas

Eleven American nations signed the Agreement to Establish the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research in Montevideo, Uruguay, in May 1992. The Inter-American Institute (IAI) is a regional network of research centres dedicated to the study of global change and its impact on human society.

As of December 1994, sixteen countries have signed the Agreement and are participating in the project: Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, USA and Uruguay.

At the outset, the Institute established a Science Working Group intended to advance the development of an Inter-American Institute Science Agenda.

The aim is to develop the Institute's Science Agenda through scientific and programme development workshops, pilot training and education activities. These activities are conducted under the leadership of the IAI Executive Scientist, Dr Rubén Lara Lara, who is based in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. The administrative branch, the IAI Directorate, is located at the Instituto de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE) in São José dos Campos, São Paulo, Brazil.

The Inter-American Institute is a partnership intended to advance the sustainable development of the region through the generation of environmental data, scientific research and policy-relevant information derived in and by the countries of the Americas.

The initiative is designed to build scientific and technological capacity through a focused education and training programme for the region and to provide a forum for the analysis of environmental information in the context of pressing socio-economic needs.

In addition to providing first-order information relevant to the environmental priorities of the region, IAI-sponsored activities will expand the in-country expertise required for the effective implementation of international agreements and protocols.

All scientific data and information collected and analyzed by the Institute will be derived from the participating countries and managed as a common resource.

There are, at present, seven scientific research themes:

  • tropical ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles;
  • impacts of climate change on biodiversity;
  • El Niño-Southern Oscillation and interannual climate variability;
  • ocean/atmosphere/land interactions in the Inter-tropical Americas;
  • comparative studies of oceanic, coastal and estuarine processes in the temperate zones;
  • comparative studies of temperate terrestrial ecosystems; and
  • high latitude processes.

It is recognized that these themes are dynamic and it is expected that the Science Agenda will evolve in response to issues and priorities in global change research.

IAI Scientific and Programme Development Workshops have been held on each of the seven research themes. The reports from these workshops are assisting the Institute in the development of its research network.

The first thematic workshop, the IAI Workshop on Comparative Studies of Oceanic, Coastal and Estuarine Processes in Temperate Zones, was held in Montevideo, Uruguay in August 1993.

An extensive report with recommendations for the IAI Science Agenda was produced with conclusions regarding the steps needed to further development of this research programme.

For example, the working group on Oceanic Processes concluded that the temperate coasts of North and South America present a unique research opportunity, that of comparing two pairs of eastern and western boundary currents that share some important features but differ in others.

To further understanding of the impacts of global change, it was recommended that a number of key issues should be addressed. These included: enhanced surveying of the continental shelf and slope; implementation of a sequence for study of oceanic and coastal processes; the development of better methods of studying seasonal climate; and the development and better use of retrospective records such as high-resolution anaerobic marine sediments.

Workshop participants emphasized the need to foster cooperative international and interdisciplinary research programmes and to promote visits and short-term courses between nations by scientists. It was agreed that there was a need to generate new data and that data in hand throughout the Americas should be more accessible to the entire regional scientific community.

The IAI Workshop on High Latitude Processes was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in December 1993.

The first point of discussion at the workshop was the importance of including the social sciences in the IAI Science Agenda. Doing so would facilitate communication between scientists studying high latitude processes and the policy makers and general public.

Four main subjects were defined for discussion by working groups: ozone and UV-B radiation; present and past cryospheric processes; climatology and atmospheric processes; and the Inter-American Institute and other international organizations.

As far as relations with other international organizations were concerned, it was concluded that the Institute should address global change issues relevant to the American continent and Antarctica yet maintain strong links with already existing programmes and other institutions.

The three main international organizations currently conducting scientific programmes related to global change in high latitudes are the Global Atmospheric Watch, the World Climate Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.

Panama City, Panama, was the location of the IAI Workshop on Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Interactions in the Inter-tropical Americas held in February 1994.

The workshop began by extensively reviewing current scientific knowledge regarding the theme's subtopics: modelling; climatology; oceanography; sea level; coral reefs; mangrove ecosystems; plankton dynamics; the effects of land use changes; and the effects of global change on the human population. Four working groups then focused on climatology, coastal zone ecosystems and land use, ocean-atmosphere interactions, and human dimensions.

The human dimensions working group quickly agreed that sociologists should be integrated into the multidisciplinary understanding of global change and be included in international cooperative projects of global change research, particularly in countries neighbouring their own. Their inclusion would help pass on the current state of scientific knowledge about global change to the general public.

Practising what they preached, the human dimensions working group then integrated into the other three working groups.

In April 1994, the IAI Workshop on Tropical Ecosystems and Biogeochemical Cycles was held in S o José dos Campos, S o Paulo, Brazil.

The overall aim of the workshop was to set general guidelines and recommendations for a scientific agenda on the theme, beginning with a review of current knowledge on the subject. Three main working groups discussed land use changes, ecosystems processes and biogeochemistry, and water and energy cycles.

All the groups concluded that to meet data collection and management needs the Institute should develop regional and disciplinary data bases using centralized management to control quality, continuity, archiving and integration.

An assessment of community readiness determined that the basic personnel infrastructure exists to address several issues but substantial regional gaps exist. It was agreed that the Institute should convene a series of workshops on specifics such as biomass measurements, biogeochemical aspects of ecosystem restoration, and urbanization.

Training and education is required for researchers, technicians and decision makers. The need to guarantee access to Internet not only to improve communication but also to serve as an education tool was pointed out. Outreach to society should include education seminars, production of educational materials and training for solutions that show the link between local and global change.

The workshop recommended that the Institute should benefit from science planning already in existence. One example is the proposal for the Large-Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in the Amazon Basin. This proposal covers some of the scientific priorities identified by the working groups and it was suggested that the Institute could complement this experiment by coordinating regional activities and stressing the human dimensions aspects.

The IAI Workshop on ENSO and Interannual Climate Variability was held in July 1994 in Lima, Peru.

Durham, North Carolina, USA, was the location of the IAI Workshop on Comparative Studies of Temperate Terrestrial Ecosystems held in July 1994. This particular workshop demonstrated the problems and promises of international cooperation. The group had to resolve differences not only in national priorities but also in research priorities due to the diverse set of specialities represented at the meeting. Nevertheless, the group did eventually agree on a set of potential research objectives and made a series of recommendations regarding the role that the Institute might take in accomplishing them.

A working group concentrating on research objectives discussed five major themes: land use and conversion; human dimensions; productive systems; atmosphere-hydrosphere; and natural ecosystems.

A second working group looked at the possibilities for Institute activities within the overall workshop theme. This group proposed that the Institute should instigate workshops that emphasized interaction between researchers, policy makers and all those who would be affected by global change. The Institute should also set up exchange visits, extend the communication network, support existing networks and identify (within networks) expertise and infrastructure for ensuring efficient resource use.

In August 1994, the IAI Workshop on the Study of the Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity took place in Guadalajara, Mexico. Participants at this workshop agreed that the basic question before them was "What is the relative effect of climate change on biodiversity, and what can we do about it?" The participants decided that a scientific agenda aimed at considering the impact of climate change on biodiversity should address the following questions and tasks:

  • What are the relative impacts of different aspects of global change such as differences in regional change, back-feeding effects due to loss of communities, and changes in social values?
  • The development of a framework to assess the magnitude of extinctions.
  • The definition of the role of the scientific community in policy making.
  • How does the Institute fit into existing scientific programmes? o What direction should future studies take?

Finally, the working groups reached full agreement that the Institute's Scientific Agenda should include six priority research questions:

  • What is the relative importance of biodiversity change due to global change (especially climate change) on a regional scale throughout the Americas?
  • What have been the historical changes in biodiversity in the Americas and how can we predict future changes?
  • How quickly do ecosystems adapt to natural and anthropogenically induced climate/ global change?
  • How do we assess the cultural and economic value of biodiversity and transmit it to policy makers and the public?
  • What are the interactions between global change and biodiversity?
  • How can we formulate and develop cost-effective actions that will conserve biodiversity in the face of global change?

Further information

Ruben Lara Lara, Office of the Executive Scientist, Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, 1100 Wayne Avenue, Suite 1201, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA. Fax: 1-301-5895711. Email:

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