Meet the Leaders: In conversation with Professor Han Dolman 14 Sep 2021

Professor Han Dolman is a leading Earth sciences professor, with years of scientific expertise on issues such as biogeochemical cycles and the atmosphere. Currently professor of Ecohydrology at the VU University in Amsterdam, Han has published more than 240 papers in peer-reviewed journals and is participating in several continental scale carbon projects. 

Recently, Han was appointed by the board of the Institutes Organization of NWO, the Dutch Research Council, as the Director of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research (NIOZ) for a period of five years. We sat down with him to discuss his experiences in research, his hopes for his new role, as well as his views on the climate crisis.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Firstly, congratulations on your new appointment. Could you please tell us more about your role at NIOZ and what you hope to achieve?

The NIOZ, together with the Dutch marine research community, is doing fundamental research into detecting and understanding trends, processes and tipping points in our oceans and coastal seas. Tackling pressing issues such as global warming, rising sea levels and biodiversity conversation. I am really honoured to be working with such a reputable and dedicated organisation. 

Five years ago, NIOZ went through an organisational restructuring, and so my ambitions will be to further solidify these great changes. I hope to bring greater internal consistency to the departments and institutes, utilising my experiences of working at the university and with many international climate change programmes.

I understand that working with and supporting young talent is important to you – what value do you think this brings? 

When you first join University as an academic, it is such a young and dynamic environment. I found this extremely motivating, and it was fantastic to work with such a broad range of people. However, as you move through your career, it can be hard for PhD’s, for instance, to get the right support to decide on whether to go into consultancy or continue with further academia.   

Academic business is very selective, and without the right support or mentorship, opportunities to grow are more limited compared to other industries. Therefore, at NIOZ I want to work with our younger researchers, identifying and strengthening their skills and listening to their points of view. I truly believe that this creates the best working environment, as well as results, and so I look forward to interacting with NIOZ’s young researchers to support them with their academic careers.

Looking back at your own career, what is something that you are proud of?

I would say I am most proud to have been part of a group of scientists in Europe that have made remarkable progress in Earth sciences, particularly carbon cycle research. 10-15 years ago, there was no clear direction on the issues of climate change, but now there is a strong community of people working on these issues, and it is European scientists that are leading the conversation. Collaboration has been critical, and we have seen incredible success working with other scientists and the European Commission. It has been fantastic to be part of this group.

What more needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis?

It is not what more needs to be done, but instead, what we need to do differently. To keep temperatures from rising, we must completely cut our use of fossil fuels. If we fail to do this, we are going to see much larger increases in temperatures. We are already seeing the dangers of the current 1.2-degree rise, with devastating fires in Canada and Siberia and heatwaves. This is only going to get worse, unless we act now.

Whilst we all must play our part; this is by and large a governmental problem. Governments must stop subsidising fossil fuels, and instead tax C02 and fossil fuel production. This is a collective issue and governments have not done enough so far. For nearly 30 years now, scientific advice has been pushed aside, but we can no longer ignore the increasing body of evidence.  

Are you hopeful that we can achieve the change needed to reverse the effects?

I am hopeful, but I am also realistic. Simply put, if Governments don’t make tough decisions at the upcoming COP26 Conference in Glasgow, there will be large repercussions. The evidence now is so clear and so vast that we can no longer wait. The latest ICCP report, whilst alarming, was already the sixth report of its kind. We can no longer talk about “starting” to take action, we must change the pace of conversation and address how we are going to solve once and for all this urgent issue.  

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