Developing Japan-UK Research Collaboration in Climate Change, Newcastle, 2-4 December 2019

 “Virtual twinning” of British and Japanese cities to share expertise on low-carbon transport networks which double as flood prevention measures; creating maps of sustainable resources; the development of an outreach toolkit to transfer university sustainability initiatives to local communities. These are just some of the interdisciplinary research proposals generated by around 40 researchers from UK and Japanese universities who came to Newcastle on 2 – 4 December for the RENKEI Researcher Workshop: Developing Japan-UK Research Collaboration in Climate Change.

Over three days, participants learned about the research landscape and policy issues from a member of the Adaptation Committee, UK Committee on Climate Change; Newcastle City Council’s Climate Change Advisor; and a UKRI NERC Climate Change Resilience Champion, among other speakers. The programme was designed in close collaboration with climate change experts at each RENKEI partner university.Unlike typical academic conferences, the workshop deliberately included researchers from across the natural and social sciences, united by their work on topics connected to climate change. Moreover, participants ranged from postgraduate students to senior researchers, with a very good gender balance. They were assigned to groups based on their research backgrounds, enabling them to move straight into in-depth discussions.  

Despite only having a few hours of focused interactive sessions in which to develop their research plans, the working groups came up with proposals of extremely high quality. This was due not merely to their research expertise, but also to the relationships already established during the first RENKEI climate change researcher workshop and forum, held in Tokyo in 2018, which identified six sub-themes on which to focus. One participant commented “This was fantastic and really pushed me out of my comfort zone”, while another said “Brilliant - we had very good discussions and built a strong team for future collaborations”. Two groups were awarded seed funding of GBP 5,000 each, for proposals for citizen involvement in collecting rainfall data in rural Japan and for research into traditional community forest management.

Generating collaborative research projects was the primary aim of this workshop, and it appears to have been met: 65% of Japanese participants and 85% of UK participants identified common issues which they wished to pursue further with researchers from the other country, while 76% of Japanese participants and 69% of UK participants found potential research collaborators with whom they intended to follow up.

When asked to describe the workshop in a single word, participants came up with “eye-opening”, “innovative”, “friendly”, and “brilliant”, among others. Several of them were keen to take part in the next RENKEI researcher workshop, which will be hosted by Kyoto University in June 2020.