Previous article

Return to Tiempo index

Next article

Impacts centres for developing regions

Louis Lebel details the activities and aims of the Impacts Centre for Southeast Asia.

The author is the Overall Coordinator of the Impacts Centre Projects, based at the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems Core Project Office in Canberra, Australia.

Achieving sustainable development under rapid global environmental change requires a fundamental understanding of the interaction between terrestrial ecosystems (from pristine to intensively managed) and the driving forces of change. Developing countries ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are being asked to modify their development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce and mitigate land degradation, and conserve their biodiversity. For these countries, efficient application of research-based knowledge becomes paramount.

The Impacts Centre for Southeast Asia (IC-SEA), a regional networking institution, was established in late 1995 under the auspices of the Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE) Core Project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) to assist the developing countries of the Southeast Asian region develop their own capacity to analyze, interpret and predict global change impacts on terrestrial ecosystems, including agriculture, production forestry and nature reserve systems. Core funding of approximately US$2.1 million has been provided by the Australian Agency for International Development for the establishment and first three years of operations of IC-SEA. The Impacts Centre is currently hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Tropical Biology (BIOTROP) in Bogor, Indonesia.

The IC-SEA core organization is small, with six permanent staff, but its network of affiliates in the region and outside is large and growing. We have many parent bodies, sponsors and contributing linkages. The core organization is the regional Centre itself which works very closely with its immediate host, BIOTROP, the overall coordinating office based in the GCTE Core Project Office, and the Southeast Asian Regional Committee for START (SARCS).

The principal sponsoring bodies — GCTE, BIOTROP and SARCS — are themselves parts of larger programmes with affiliated hosts and institutions which at various times contribute to the activities of the Impacts Centre. These linkages are complemented by an informal, but well-coordinated, regional network of Southeast Asian scientists. As a result, representatives from Vietnam, Lao PDR, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia have been able to take part in most of the Impacts Centre’s activities.

During the past two and half years of operation the Impacts Centre has successfully carried out its core programme of activities under the Australian Agency for International Development grant, establishing itself as a credible and important regional resource for global environmental change research and advice in the Southeast Asia region. It has done this, in a cost-effective manner, by developing networks with a wide range of institutions within and outside the region. The support and participation of scientists from the international global change programmes has been particularly noteworthy.

As a result of its achievements IC-SEA is seen as a model for establishing an international network of Impacts Centres in the developing regions of the world. Plans are now well underway for establishing two new Impacts Centres, one in Southern South America, and another in Southern Africa, and interest has also been expressed in setting up a similar centre for the South Pacific Region.

Cascade of outputs and their supporting activities for the Southeast Asian Impacts Centre Project.

IC-SEA uses an integrated suite of activities (see Figure above) to achieve its objectives. These activities include:

  • training courses on aspects of impacts assessment, drawing on the expertise of GCTE scientists from around the world;
  • visits by the Centre staff and affiliates to individual research groups in the region to give technical advice on data management, analysis and modelling;
  • fellowship and equipment grants programmes to support the development of the national teams; and,
  • the development of electronic information systems to share data, models and discuss policy issues across the region.

In the past two years, the Impacts Centre has launched sets of activities around four themes. The first three dealt with global change impacts on specific ecosystems, namely, tropical forest dynamics and production, rice production, and complex agroecosystems. The fourth considered the integration of these with the conservation of biodiversity at the landscape scale.

During 1998 these will be further extended with cross-cutting workshops on soils and pests, diseases and weeds. The specific topics for research are identified by national teams and refined through interactions during training workshops and visits.

Land-use change is recognized as the main global environmental change issue in the region. Thus, deforestation, land degradation, and declining water quality remain environmental issues of major concern to researchers, resource managers, and members of the policy community in the region. These land-use changes, in turn, pose immediate threats to the conservation of biodiversity and the long-term sustainability of agricultural development. There is also concern about how changes in climate, for example in the Asian Monsoon or the El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon, could exacerbate negative impacts brought about by inappropriate land-use changes. For this reason we intend to continue to support and initiate impacts studies that emphasize the impacts of land-use and other global changes on the conservation of biodiversity and sustainability of agricultural production.

Training workshops are designed to provide teams with an overview of the analytical and modelling tools available to conduct impacts assessments.  Trainers are chosen to represent a wide range of approaches and schools of thought. The course leaders and staff at the Impacts Centre work with the teams of participants from each country to help them match tools to their specific problems. The key output of training workshops is a set of proposals for further study. Training workshops are usually held at the Impacts Centre’s excellent facilities, which include on-site accommodation.

The fellowship programme is for scientists from the Southeast Asia region to conduct work relevant to the analysis of the impacts of global environmental change on terrestrial ecosystems. This includes support for participation in conferences and workshops as well as short to medium term study visits to global change laboratories around the world. Many fellowships are taken up by scientists who have participated in the training workshops or are part of the network of scientists making up the national teams. An internship sub-programme for researchers to work at the Impacts Centre began in 1998.

The goal of the equipment grants programme is to provide support, as needed, to teams of Southeast Asian scientists working on assessing the impacts of global change. Priority has been given to supporting modelling and analytical activities so the grants have been largely for the purchase of computer hardware and software. The value of individual grants typically ranges from Australian $5,000-25,000. Teams receiving grants have usually included individuals who have participated in modelling workshops or the fellowship programme.

In the past the Impacts Centre has helped groups with good proposals find external funding.

A good example of this is the funding from START to support a study of the effects of climate variability on rice in the northeast of Thailand which arose out of the second training workshop. In the future, the Impacts Centre hopes to be able to establish a small grants programme that it can administer to provide seed money for impacts studies.

On-going technical and policy support is facilitated by the use of electronic communications and information systems. IC-SEA’s homepage on the World Wide Web covers information about IC-SEA, its activities, publications, a calendar of global change events, and a list of links to other sites covering global change.

The Web site also hosts the Southeast Asian Science-Policy Advisory Network. IMPACTS, the newsletter of IC-SEA, as well as the IC-SEA report series are available electronically at this site. The Impacts Centre also maintains various management, literature and technical databases.

Taken together this suite of integrated activities has produced a regional network of competent research teams that are now collaborating to conduct state-of-the-science analyses of the impacts of global environmental change on terrestrial ecosystems.

The role of IC-SEA continues to evolve with the changing needs and capacities of the region. Rapid development and growth means that the “knowledge gap” between most of the countries in Southeast Asia and the developed Western World is shrinking rapidly, but at the same time the need for critical policy support on environment and development is growing furiously.

For this reason, IC-SEA is beginning to expand its role from basic capacity-building in the scientific community to explicit policy support.

To be able to provide support to policy processes, in turn, means a broadening of the scientific objectives and goals of the Centre towards greater emphasis on integration with socio-political analysis. This process has already started in training courses, in the development of national proposals, early involvement in the SARCS integrated study, and in the establishment of SEA-SPAN, the Science-Policy Advisory Network in Global Change.

In short, the “GCTE” Impacts Centres of the future will need to deal with much more than the biophysical impacts of global environmental change. This is an exciting challenge and a risk.

It is a challenge because “integration” and “policy-support” will mean that people who don’t usually talk together very often will need to work much more closely together. It is a challenge because policy analysis is often sensitive. It is a challenge because the public policy process varies so greatly from nation to nation in the region.

But there are some risks in broadening the scope — from creating dissent through treading on other’s turf, to spreading oneself too thin. The way to avoid many of these risks is to develop partnerships and to view the resources available through “networks,” much as GCTE, BIOTROP and START have always done. The international global change programmes (IGBP, IHDP, WCRP) and related programmes (e.g. SEAMEO, CIFOR, ICRAF) provide a wonderful network of potential collaborators and resources for the future Impacts Centre to draw upon.

The recent history of success of the Impacts Centre in developing partnerships within the region and outside, and across disciplines, augurs well for the future.

Further information

Louis Lebel, Impacts Centre Overall Coordinator, GCTE Core Project Office, CSIRO Division of Wildlife & Ecology, PO Box 84, Lyneham, ACT 2602, Australia. Fax: 61-6-2412362. Email:

Daniel Murdiyarso, IC-SEA, BIOTROP, Jalan Raya Tajur KM 6, Bogor, Indonesia. Fax: 62-251-371656. Email:

On the Web

IC-SEA’s homepage.

Southeast Asian Science-Policy Advisory Network for Global Environmental Change

Previous article | Return to Tiempo index | Next article