Earth Day insights from top-downloaded SSRN climate researchers

Four climate researchers talk about the nature of research in their field, their advice for early-career researchers, and why they think their contribution struck a chord

By David Tucker - April 21, 2022
SSRN researcher insights collage
From left to right: Dr Hugues Chenet, honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources and Scientific Collaborator at the Chair of Stress Test, hosted by the Ecole Polytechnique de Paris; Julia Bingler, Doctoral Researcher – ETH Zurich, Fellow Monetary Policy – CEP Zurich; Hao Liang, Associate Professor of Finance and Lee Kong Chian Fellow at Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University; and Prof Johannes Stroebel, David S Loeb Professor of Finance at NYU Stern.

Six months on from COP26 in Glasgow, it’s more important than ever to celebrate the exceptional climate research happening around the world. To mark Earth Day, we spoke to the authors of some of SSRN’s most downloaded climate preprints to shine a light on researchers making an impact.

Read their preprints

Prof Hugues Chenet, PhDScience and innovation are essential to developing and scaling solutions that aid us in limiting global temperatures rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and mitigating the current and future impacts of climate change. However, climate research hasn’t always been an admired field, and its rapid growth is in part due to landmark global conferences, suggests Dr Hugues Chenet, honorary Senior Research Associate at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources and author of Climate Change and Financial Risk. He explained:

My research is focused on the financial system, and the explicit mention of ‘finance flows’ in the Paris Agreement (from COP21) clearly triggered a new wave of multidisciplinary research. … But I think that COP26 triggered a new surge of interest from companies and financial institutions.

Collaboration across disciplines and sectors is key

Julia Bingler, doctoral researcherTo deliver on our climate commitments, scientists, economists, social and behavioral scientists, governments and other experts must come together to develop an evidence-based roadmap. While it’s true that some industries and countries will feel the effects of climate change sooner and more harshly, no one will be immune to its effects. Collaboration, therefore, will be vital to our success. As Julia Bingler, a doctoral researcher at ETH Zurich and co-author of Cheap Talk and Cherry-Picking: What ClimateBert has to say on Corporate Climate Risk Disclosures, stressed:

Climate change is a cross-cutting topic that needs cross-discipline collaborations to be addressed.

Prof Chenet agreed, adding:

My field of research is genuinely transdisciplinary. I am myself a planetary geophysicist initially, now working in sustainability economics with a focus on the financial system. … Our problems are characterized by systemic interdependence. … Clearly, in the face of the outstanding challenges we have to solve, disciplinary approaches are not of great help.

Removing barriers to diversifying research

To understand all of the available solutions and which ones are going to be accepted on a local level, it’s important to garner wider views. Research shows that the contributions of diverse research groups are generally better than those of their less diverse counterparts. However, women and researchers from the Global South are significantly underrepresented in climate-science literature, according to an analysis by Carbon Brief. Binger further elaborated on the remaining barriers to entry:

I would like to see targeted and strategic answers to the manyfold, very tiring and inefficient mental biases that often impede people of diverse backgrounds from researching the climate crisis, or any other topic of interest.

Pressure to be solutions-focused

Prof Johannes Stroebel, PhDIncreasingly stark warnings issued from bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are mounting pressure on researchers to produce not only data but solutions. Prof Johannes Stroebel, David S Loeb Professor of Finance at NYU Stern and co-author of Hedging Climate Change News, credits a focus on actionable insights to the popularity of his paper:

In recent years, researchers, practitioners and policymakers have realized that, in addition to the obvious humanitarian effects, climate change will have a large effect on economic activity and asset prices. This brings up the natural question of how we might be able to better share these risks across different people and communities. Our paper proposes a solution for this challenge. We show that one can create stock portfolios that go up in value when there is bad news about climate risks, and that therefore allow investors to hedge (or insure against) these risks.

The power of multi-layered communication

With increasing investment in and attention to climate science, researchers are now expected to be able to communicate their results and make them understandable to a broader public. As Dr Chenet expressed:

Whatever the complexity or abstraction of a research work, a dedicated effort should be given to make the outcome multi-layered. From the one-line simple explanation for kids (really! they’re the next researchers or users of our research!) to the very specific details only a handful of peers will be interested in. The middle layer [is] for the broader public and media.

This is a new demand on researchers, and the skill doesn’t come naturally to all. As Bingler shared:

What helped me a lot was working for two years outside academia before I started with my PhD. This enabled me to understand two communities and translate what I did in research to people working on completely different daily tasks.

Hao Liang, PhD, is Associate Professor of Finance at the Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore Management University. His paper " Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Finance: A Review of the Literature" was a top-downloaded preprint on SSRN.

Associate Professor of Finance Hao Liang of the Lee Kong Chian School of Business at Singapore Management University.and author of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Finance: A Review of the Literature, added:

I learnt communication skills through attending and presenting my research at various industry and academic conferences, discussing with colleagues and friends, and applying for research grants which require summarizing my research ideas in succinct ways.

The speed of preprints allows researchers to react much faster to public discourse — explaining and contextualizing complicated concepts or the latest climate buzzword. Prof Liang believes this is what attracted so many people to his paper:

Corporate social responsibility and sustainable finance are attracting increasing attention nowadays, but many people are still confused by what various buzzwords mean and how they are interconnected. Our paper provides a comprehensive review of the literature in finance, economics, accounting and management especially by focusing on research published at top academic journals. This gives readers a structured overview of the whole field.

Well communicated climate research can also be a powerful unifier, with the potential to build “bridges between disciplines, objects and stakeholders,” Dr Chenet added:

I’m so happy and honored when I have the chance to be thanked by a theorist for the same paper quoted by an NGO and referenced by a new legislative proposal. This type of impact is often not used by rankings and other research evaluation systems, but that’s what I think is my modest contribution.

Advice for early-career researchers

As we inch closer to 2030, young people around the world are growing impatient with the pace of progress, and they’re demonstrating their determination to achieve sustainable development through evidence-based solutions. These researchers were eager to share advice for early career researchers entering the field:

  • Doctoral researcher Bingler: “Be passionate and cooperative. Combine things you love with things you want to learn. It is inevitable that sometimes you will fail. In these cases, learn from your mistakes - ideally together with great partners in teams.”
  • Dr Chenet: “When writing a paper, I think it is always good to think about the reader and construct the paper with the critical reader in mind as if part of the team. And above all, I would say that the research itself, from initial design to final outreach, must feed the excitement and motivation of the researchers involved.”
  • Prof Liang: “Instead of going after trendy topics, one should focus on the research questions that they are excited about, and they believe can meaningfully contribute to policymaking and our understanding of the business world.”

Contributors to our 2022 Earth Day Insights

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David Tucker
Written by

David Tucker

Written by

David Tucker

David Tucker manages communications for Elsevier’s Research Products. David is passionate about science, technology and the role communications plays at the intersection of both. He’s been a PR professional for over 15 years and has managed communications for several global organizations, including GSK, Barclays and Microsoft. He works out of Elsevier’s offices in London.

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