Options Magazine, Summer 2023: Japan and IIASA have a long history of collaboration, dating back to the institute’s foundation in 1972. Over the years, the partnership has resulted in a multitude of research projects, workshops, and conferences, tackling complex issues on a global scale.

“While we are located in Asia, we are also in the position to address global issues such as climate change, biodiversity, and others,” says Kazuhiko Takemoto, IIASA Council Vice-Chair and Council Member for Japan. “Although we have individual collaboration with research institutes around the world, the collaboration with IIASA has given us a window into global research.”

In turn, as the sole Asian member organization for the first few decades after the foundation of the institute, the Japan Committee for IIASA has helped IIASA establish its research connections throughout the region. The institute has been working with the Japanese Ministry of the Environment (which also funds the country’s annual membership fee), as well as several Japanese research institutes on research projects around issues such as air pollution, climate change, and sustainable development, both in Asia and globally.

Cleaning up the air

The IIASA-Japan collaboration is especially significant in addressing the issue of air pollution in Asia. Nearly 85% of the population in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) – a political and economic union of 10 member states in Southeast Asia – is exposed to pollution levels that exceed the World Health Organization's air quality guidelines.

“In many countries in South Asia, there are existing policies and legislations, but there are delays in implementation,” says IIASA Pollution Management Research Group Leader, Zbigniew Klimont. “It is the people who suffer the consequences, by breathing polluted air for extended periods of time.”

IIASA collaborated with the Institute for Global Environmental strategies (IGES) in Japan to identify measures that would increase the number of people in ASEAN countries breathing clean air from approximately 100 million to over 250 million. The project is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, and the resulting report on Clean Air and Climate Solutions for ASEAN will be launched in June at the Climate and Clean Air Conference: Air Quality Action Week in Bangkok, Thailand.

Strong economic development in Asia resulted in the growth of megacities where air pollution became even worse. Measures to improve air quality often weren’t successful, as a lot of pollution comes from outside the cities. In response, researchers from IIASA, IGES, the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), and the Asia Center for Air Pollution Research (ACAP) in Japan have been working on determining the sources of air pollution in major cities in Asia and analyzing how these sources may change in the future under different policies.

In another initiative focusing specifically on Northeast Asia called AQNEA, researchers are developing a regional database with principal data and scenarios necessary to model the evolution of air pollution. The project is building on the IIASA GAINS and MESSAGE models, the AIM-JAPAN model from NIES and Kyoto University, and other models developed by research groups at Konkuk University in Korea and Tsinghua University and Beihang University in China. The first results will be presented this year at the Community Modeling and Analysis System conference in Saitama, Japan.

Supporting sustainable development and climate mitigation

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the targets outlined in the Paris Agreement simultaneously requires measures that maximize synergies of different climate mitigation policies. IIASA has been working with IGES, NIES, and Kyoto University to study how various climate policies will impact the SDGs, including the impacts on air quality, human health, and biodiversity.

The project links several Japanese models such as the AIM-BIO and AIM-Hub with the IIASA MESSAGE-GLOBIOM model. To visualize the multitude of projects and scenarios, a new platform is currently under development to show the implications of different policies in different countries.

The collaboration in modeling has not only been influential in climate policy, such as informing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports, but IIASA and NIES were also founding members of the Integrated Assessment Modeling Consortium, connecting the global energy and emissions modeling community.

“We have developed several future scenarios which have been widely used by the climate research community. Many of the articles using these scenarios end up being cited in IPCC reports,” says Shinichiro Fujimori, associate professor at Kyoto University and a guest researcher in the IIASA Energy, Climate, and Environment Program.

As reducing energy use is a key component of progress towards the SDGs and the Paris Agreement, IIASA and the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) in Japan are collaborating on the EDITS project, which aims to enhance modeling, analyzing, and communicating solutions for climate mitigation and the SDGs with the goal to reduce global energy use by 40% by 2050. The project was presented at both COP26 and COP27 and has also been working to engage citizens through webinars and the EDITS-ARTS Competition; the latter calling for submissions to imagine "life in 2050 with much less energy" into art.

Toyota Japan has been supporting the collaboration between the Japanese research community and IIASA as well, with research affiliates from the company currently stationed at IIASA for a second time to collaborate on transport projections, energy demand, and greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Sealing the future of a successful collaboration

“My collaboration with IIASA started back in 2006 when I visited the institute for the Young Scientists Summer Program,” says Fujimori, who has been working closely with IIASA ever since. “Now, some PhD candidates in our group have also been selected for the program. Engaging the young generation can be a great way to keep the relationship between our research groups and IIASA going in the long-term.”

As the world faces unprecedented challenges, international research collaboration is becoming increasingly crucial. Through its partnership, Japan and IIASA have made significant strides towards addressing some of the world's most pressing challenges and through continued collaboration, will help shape a better future for the planet and its people.

By Fanni Daniella Szakal