Ohio State University: New partnership at Ohio State to tackle climate and water justice

Two of The Ohio State University’s internationally recognized organizations, the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center and Global Water Institute (GWI), are joining forces to tackle one of the most critical issues facing society today: climate and water justice.

Coming on the heels of the Biden administration’s announcement of a new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, this partnership will directly address the historic and ongoing inequities adding to the urgent need for climate resilience.

“Communities don’t feel the impacts of climate change equally,” said GWI Director Tom Darrah. “Many of the communities most vulnerable to climate change are already dealing with water insecurity and insufficient clean water access. We can’t support those communities in adapting to climate change if we don’t recognize and work on the existing pressures they face at the same time.”

With complementary and well-established programs in climate science, water availability and water quality research, clean water access and collaboration with vulnerable communities, this synergistic partnership promises more than the sum of its parts. It will take advantage of each entity’s extensive partner network, fundraising capacity and project experience in a range of geographies to deliver outcomes that help historically marginalized and underserved communities build resilience against climate change.

“Byrd has been at the forefront of climate science and climate change research for more than 60 years and the anchor of climate research at Ohio State,” said Byrd Center Director Ian Howat. “We’ve got great capability to understand processes that impact people’s access to water, like changes to snow and ice melt and coastal and floodplain areas. With this partnership, we can combine our expertise in climate change research with GWI’s ability to conduct research and development of strategies that support communities in adapting to those changes.”

The new initiative will require strong partnerships to build connections, link research and project outcomes with policy and advocacy, and provide support for project implementation and cross-disciplinary research. Byrd and GWI will work through their networks to bring in other researchers across Ohio State as well as from industry, NGOs and other academic institutions, both in the U.S. and internationally.

At the forefront of these partnerships will be the communities at the heart of the work.

“Communities need to be full partners in the design and implementation of solutions that affect them,” said Darrah. “Securing safe, reliable water access for everyone while we tackle the severity of climate change means putting communities at the center.”

The new partnership will build on Byrd’s and GWI’s existing projects and relationships to take advantage of opportunities to support communities in the near term and provide a foundation for future activities. These include immediate action to relieve severe water access issues in partnership with the Navajo Nation and efforts to support improved water resource management in Tanzania, where GWI has been working on water access infrastructure since 2017. GWI and Byrd partners are working with local basin water board officers to improve groundwater data collection, analysis and decision-making support, including development of new groundwater modeling tools and capacity building for the basin office.