One of COP26’s official themes on Tuesday, along with gender, is “science and innovation.” While a dauntingly broad theme in the context of climate change, the goal at the summit is straightforward: turn information into action. Scientists and negotiators will convene to discuss how to translate a wealth of climate science into climate resilient strategies for decision-makers and their communities.

“[Climate scientists] have spent many years trying to persuade people with science,” says Shalini Vajjhala, executive director of the San Diego Regional Policy and Innovation Center. But the case has been made, and over the past few years, “there’s been a much more productive shift towards how we use science to make changes on the ground.”

What are the central problems we face under this theme?

One of the biggest problems is the disconnect between science and policymaking. Academia has published countless climate reports over the years outlining the risks of climate change, but they have prompted little action. “Academics have all the information, and policymakers are thirsty for more information,” said Helen Adams, head of science engagement at COP26. “Somehow the two don’t align.”

One of the primary challenges of aligning policy with science is applying that science to a specific problem and turning it into a blueprint that decision-makers can act on. Take, for example, an urban planner preparing for heat waves, said Anand Patwardhan, a professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. In that case, the urban planner would need information that is directly connected to their work, like sizing infrastructure and forecasting electricity demand. “Getting climate information into a form that connects to the actual decisions,” Patwardhan said, “that’s a big step.”

What are potential solutions?

To make that big step, the process of generating the climate information really needs to be “demand driven and decision driven,” Patwardhan said. “[Scientists] need to be much more closely involved in action and try to support research driven by demand and user needs.”

This need sits at the center of the Adaptation Resilience Alliance (ARA), a climate research initiative co-chaired by Patwardhan of over 90 researchers, funders and policymakers that aims to drive global collaboration around climate adaptation. For example, with funding proposals, which are traditionally led by academics, ARA will seek joint applications that also include leaders or community-based figures. ARA will also call on stakeholders to share what knowledge they need. The ARA has been in development for the past few months, and will formally launch Tuesday.

These solutions were also reiterated in a new report that published Tuesday by the Woodwell Climate Research Center, done in collaboration with the COP26 presidency, after workshopping with 13 countries. One is that decision-makers and community leaders need to be included from the outset of climate risk assessments. That way, “you know there’s an audience ready to receive them,” said David McGlinchey, chief of external affairs at Woodwell. Another is that assessments need to be more local, interdisciplinary, and, “very relevant to whom you’re trying to motivate,” he said.

What solutions are already underway in the U. S.?

As part of the new infrastructure bill, the Biden administration announced a $47 billion package for climate resilience, which marks an important first step in how the country tackles climate adaptation. Up until now, the United States has relied on a “20th century framework,” building the same infrastructure without climate as a defining force, said Joseph Kane, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program with the Brookings Institution. Nationally, “we are in an era of repair and replacement.”

Kane sees a more “positive story” at some state and local levels. For example, Philadelphia has Green City, Clean Water, a collection of citywide projects to reduce storm water. In New Orleans, the Gentilly Resilience District is underway, a $141 million project funded by Housing and Urban Development to reduce land subsidence and flood risk. The new bill could spur more innovation. “If cities can demonstrate their ability to do these projects, then they will be able to hit the ground running and better harness this generational funding,” Kane said.

Vajjhala, of the San Diego Regional Policy and Innovation Center, hopes the bill will accelerate the “lagging” but “promising” area of public-private partnerships (P3s), which offer a novel, cross-sector approach to resilient infrastructure that could reduce financial risks and broaden scale. For example, there is the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project, a $3.2 billion flood diversion project in North Dakota led by the Army Corps of Engineers. There is also the community-based Prince George’s County’s Clean Water Partnership, a $1.2 billion storm management project in Maryland.

To be sure, Kane says P3s are just “one of the many tools in the tool kit,” which come with difficulties of scale and implementation, especially at a local level. “It’s a bumpy process,” Vajjhala said. “But a really important inflection point for where the private sector is engaging in civic infrastructure not seen since Roosevelt.”

What developments can we expect out of COP26?

Last week, the Biden administration launched PREPARE (President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience), a $3 billion package to go toward global climate resilience development.

It’s not clear whether Tuesday will bring any big announcements. But regardless, observers say it’s an important day for the exchange of ideas and technology that could bring together new research coalitions.