Eric Lambin, professor in the Faculty of Science and the UCLouvain Earth and Life Institute, is one of four women and three men appointed as chief scientific advisors by the European Commission. This position allows him to have direct influence on how science is taken into account in European policies.
Winner of the 2019 Blue Planet Award and the 2014 Volvo Environment Prize, Prof. Lambin’s work on human-environment interactions has been recognised for its influence on the environmental policies of public, non-governmental and private organisations. The European Science Foundation had nominated him to the Commission for this position.
Five questions for Eric Lambin
What is the role of the seven chief scientific advisors to the European Commission?
The chief scientific advisor’s mandate is to provide independent scientific advice to the European Commission in order to improve European policies. The seven scientists in this group communicate directly with the College of European Commissioners to identify the scientific issues that need to be clarified in advance of new EU regulation. We then work with all of Europe’s science academies to develop the state of the art on these issues. Finally, we translate this scientific knowledge into an opinion that includes policy recommendations.
Why did you accept this position?
My research concerns various aspects of the transition to a sustainable society, a topic that is of great urgency for society. It’s important that policy decisions are based on the latest scientific knowledge. However, it’s not enough to publish research results in scientific journals, if they are to have an impact on policy. These results also need to be translated into policy recommendations and clearly communicated. I’m also particularly motivated by the interdisciplinary aspect of this work and the quality of the colleagues involved.
Have you identified a priority issue related to your expertise?
The European Green Deal is the top priority. Europe is the world leader in this field. Many aspects of these new environmental policies correspond to my expertise and interests.
How did you take up your post on 16 May?
I was immediately thrown into the deep end because we have many important issues on the table. These include the decarbonisation of the European energy system, the management of future health and environmental crises, and the effects of 5G on health.
What advice would you give to students considering a career in science?
The scientist must be the intellectual conscience of society. You need to combine a capacity for wonder and for questioning established truths. It’s important to cultivate your curiosity, nurture your passion for your field of interest and develop your creativity. And you must constantly invest in learning new research methods.
‘By the end of each day, I have learned something I didn’t know in the morning.’
This new role doesn’t prevent Prof. Lambin from continuing to hold a full-time academic position and to carry out numerous research projects, notably on governance in tropical forest regions, in Colombia, in the Argentine Chaco and in Northern Thailand. ‘I also have a project on the role of infrastructure in combating poverty in Africa in the context of climate change,’ he says. ‘And I’m contributing to research on the role of reforestation in the fight against climate change.’
In terms of teaching, the pandemic has changed his habits somewhat, since for the past 12 years Prof. Lambin has spent every second semester at Stanford University in California. ‘This year, I had to stay in Belgium, where I teach and supervise my Stanford research team remotely, in the evening because of the time difference. I had to develop new ways of interacting with the students to keep everyone motivated.’
What’s his favourite part of the job? ‘I love the fact that by the end of each day I have learned something I didn’t know in the morning. I also enjoy the academic freedom, which allows us to constantly explore new questions at the frontier of disciplines.’
Eric Lambin biography
A geographer by training – he holds a PhD in science and a bachelor’s degree in geographical sciences (UCLouvain, 1985) – Eric Lambin has been teaching at UCLouvain since 1993 and was appointed full professor in 2005. In 2009, he was awarded the prestigious Francqui Prize, and since 2010 he has also been a professor at Stanford University in the United States.
The question at the heart of his work: How can we develop a path that allows communities to flourish while preserving nature? He conducts research in tropical forests, arid regions, mountains and peri-urban areas, with a particular focus on agrarian systems, land degradation, globalised distribution channels and environmental governance.
His pioneering work has earned him a global recognition, having won the 2014 Volvo Environment Prize and the 2019 Blue Planet Award.
Prof. Lambin has written several popular books, including Une Ecologie du Bonheur and Le Consommateur Planétaire (Éditions Le Pommier, 2009 and 2015).