Research to Guide a World in Transition: The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

By Pavel Kabat

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Pavel Kabat commenced his appointment as the director/CEO of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in February 2012. IIASA is an international research organization based in Laxenburg, Austria, with international memberships that encompass research communities in 19 countries, including the United States and Austria. IIASA's research is focused on resolving issues of global change – specifically climate change and energy, food and water, and poverty and equity. Here, Kabat outlines his vision for IIASA and the potential of systems science to resolve complex global challenges.

Pavel KabatGlobal environmental change, economic turmoil, population growth, and increasing social instability in many regions of the world pose urgent challenges for governments, international organizations, and the science community. Many communities struggle on a daily basis with the already too prevalent consequences of these changes: food insecurity, lack of access to clean, reliable supplies of water and energy, or the unintended health and environmental issues associated with carbon-based energy sources.

While these issues are socially and economically challenging, humans have repeatedly shown that, through ingenuity and political will, it is possible to resolve seemingly insurmountable problems.

At IIASA we are strongly convinced that, by analyzing these issues in an integrated "systems" way, it is possible to better understand cause and effect and thereby develop responses that can generate benefits in many areas (co-benefits). IIASA researchers have demonstrated their capacity to facilitate, coordinate, and/or deliver large-scale, multi-sectoral analyses.

Some notable examples of this approach include IIASA's co-benefits research on air pollution and human and environmental health, using the IIASA-developed Greenhouse Gas and Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies (GAINS) model, acknowledged by the UN and many in the policy-making community to be a key tool for informing clean-air policies and initiatives.

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Global Energy Assessment Another example of this "systems" approach is the Global Energy Assessment (GEA), a multiyear, multidisciplinary study whose findings were released at the recent Rio+20 (UN Conference on Sustainable Development) in June. Coordinated by IIASA and involving 500 researchers and reviewers from 70 counties, the GEA links energy to climate, air quality, human health and mortality, economic growth, urbanization, water, and land use, among other factors. The GEA offers the first truly integrated assessment of the global energy system and provides direction for improving energy access and security, while mitigating climate change, improving human health, and addressing key human-development issues.

A similar analysis of water resources will be undertaken by IIASA, UN Water, and the World Water Council over the next 2-3 years.

Another example of international and integrated analyses is the work of the IIASA World Population program. IIASA demographers have recently prepared the Laxenburg Declaration, which encapsulates the views of some of the most respected people working on population and human development and outlines five actions needed to achieve sustainable development.

These are just some recent examples of instances in which IIASA and our partners have offered solutions to what may be described as the unintended consequences of development.

IIASA and Austria
The National Academy of Sciences, on behalf of Austria, became a member of IIASA in 1973. As part of its contribution to the Institute, the Austrian government not only provides facilities for hosting the research and administration arms of the Institute but also offers favorable tax concessions and facilities to host key international events at the Institute. The Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) is the agency representing Austria, with Prof. Dr. Gerhard Glatzel serving as both a council member and vice chair of the Finance Committee.

One year before my appointment as director of IIASA, the Institute adopted a new strategy, one that would deliver IIASA's vision of "...being the world leader in systems analysis to find solutions to global problems for the benefit of humankind." While this may seem a daunting task for a relatively small organization, the challenge is borne not only by IIASA but by the very large network of international scientists and organizations with whom we partner. These partnerships are often facilitated or strengthened by our National Member Organizations and their committees, who represent the leading research communities in these countries.

As I begin my journey with IIASA, I hope to build on the significant progress already made by the Institute's talented and committed staff and partners; to strengthen IIASA's transboundary collaborations in Europe, South East Asia, Central Asia, South America, and Africa; to extend our relationship to the Middle East; to build capacity in new disciplinary areas and within the next generation of young scientists; and to ensure that systems analysis is applied to deliver viable and practical options for policy makers globally.

Global Change research is on the verge of a complete transformation, one that will involve new methodological approaches and require new organizational structures. I believe IIASA is well positioned to play a key role in this transformation, and I look forward to working with all our partners to enable and manage this transformation.



The author, Pavel Kabat, has been the director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) since February 2012.


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