22 November 2018

IIASA Council Member and Alumna Lea Kauppi

During the 2018 November Council Meeting, Dr. Lea Kauppi sat with the alumni office and talked about her professional journey touching on the impacts and importance of IIASA's role in science.

Dr. Lea Kauppi

Dr. Lea Kauppi

What was your first contact with IIASA?

My first contact with IIASA was in 1980, when the then Deputy Director of IIASA Oleg Vasiliev visited Finland and gave a seminar on IIASA's activities and research. His presentation was very interesting and the reason for why I then came for a short visit that related to IIASA modelling activities on nutrient losses on agriculture areas, which was my field of expertise at the time. It turned out useful, allowing me to apply this model to Finnish condition, which was part of my PhD thesis. Then a few years later I returned for a longer stay with my entire family to work in the Acid Rain Project, and then 4 years later I came back to work on the sustainability of Europe.

How was your experience at IIASA as a researcher?

Both of my research experiences at IIASA were very inspiring. At that time, this multinational community was not very common anywhere else, and in the Acid Rain Project we all had very different backgrounds. We had the opportunity to work with people with very different disciplines, and that is something I've tried to carry on in Finland in the different positions I've held. Also, since then, my institute has maintained contact with IIASA, which has been a nice continuation and allowed more young researchers the opportunity to visit and work at IIASA maintaining the links between Finland and IIASA.

You were a researcher at IIASA in 1982 and now are the Council Member representing the Finnish NMO. What changes have you seen in science, and what do they mean for IIASA?

IIASA has undergone big changes from the past, when many National Member Organizations (NMOs) were European focused, and research questions were easier to define (more restricted but a bit less comprehensive than today). For example, if you think about the Acid Rain Project, the framework was pretty well defined. And today, if you think about the global challenges with climate change, biodiversity loss, or over-exploitation of natural resources, they are all not only huge challenges per se, they are also strongly interlinked as well. I think that's where IIASA has a lot of advantages and capabilities. You do not find this expertise in too many places in the world, and I think that's why I see IIASA having an important role in helping solve our joint problems. 

As no individual country can solve these global challenges alone, there has to be a shared responsibility and shared understanding about the issues, the consequences, and how to tackle them. Actions still need to be taken by countries and at the same time an overall understanding is required, and that's where I think IIASA really plays a key role.

Council and IIASA together have to find a balanced combination of these global tasks and the national expectations. IIASA is an organization where member countries can join forces and resources to jointly solve problems. In an idealistic way, through IIASA the member countries can carry part of their global responsibility. If you think of the IPCC process and the important role IIASA is playing in that process, Finland benefits from that by promoting this process and increasing the overall understanding of the issues tackled by the IPCC. And this of course helps us prioritize our own actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

In many cases IIASA research can have direct applications at the national level as well. For example, during the Acid Rain Project, a Finnish application was produced and used to calculate the emission reduction targets for Finland. In some cases, these are straight forward connections, but this should not be the only objective. And one must not forget, the original Acid Rain Project has expanded over time and has been able to respond to the emerging research needs. Today we know it as AIR, and in my opinion this is one of the many success stories of IIASA. 

Dr. Lea Kauppi during the 2018 November Council meeting.

About Lea Kauppi

Dr. Kauppi is the Director General of the Finnish Environment Institute since 1995. She is a IIASA Council Member since 2015 and was elected to be Vice-Chair as of January 2019. Kauppi was a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of IIASA from 2010-2014, a Research Scholar of the Biosphere Project from 1987-1988, and a Guest Research Scholar of the Acid Rain Project in 1982.

The Finnish Environment Institute quotes Kauppi: "I have been incredibly lucky, as I have always been able to work with something I consider important. Today, people have almost unlimited opportunities of changing their environment. That is why information on, and understanding of, nature – and the interaction between humans and nature – is more important than ever before."

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Last edited: 22 November 2018


Monika Bauer

IIASA Network and Alumni Officer Communications and External Relations Department

IIASA Network and Alumni Officer Communications - Communications and External Relations Department

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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