The five existing centres are housed within institutes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and will get US$6.5 million over the next three years from the academy to do joint research projects.
The funding will also go towards organising workshops, training and PhD programmes through the existing wider network of CAS-TWAS (the World Academy of Sciences) Centres of Excellence and the TWAS-UNESCO Associateship Scheme at Centres of Excellence in the South.
This will allow TWAS centres to go beyond their usual three-month exchanges of researchers to also organise workshops, according to executive director of TWAS, Romain Murenzi. "It will give them more capacity to carry out activities with TWAS," he tells SciDev.Net.
The first workshops at the centres started this month and more are planned for September.
"The five centres of excellence should strengthen communication, use their complementary advantages and share resources," says Cao Jinghua, the vice-director general of CAS's Bureau of International Cooperation.
They were chosen out of 22 CAS-TWAS Centres of Excellence based on a peer review of their previous cooperation with TWAS and other developing countries, and their research capacity.
TWAS members and other scientists SciDev.Net contacted for comment welcomed the initiative.
“It is critical to prepare future leaders to lead climate change research for developing countries.”
"The five centres will play an important role in global scientific collaboration by increasing South-South training opportunities," Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa and a TWAS member, tells SciDev.Net.
Yongqiang Liu, a research meteorologist at the USDA Forest Service's Center for Forest Disturbance Science, says China is one of the few developing countries with existing capacity in all the research areas.
For example, CAS's Institute of Atmospheric Physics, which hosts one of the selected centres — the International Center for Climate and Environment Sciences — long ago developed its own global climate model and helped to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections.
The centre will contribute to climate change research in developing countries, which may in turn assist climate change mitigation efforts there, Liu says.
"It is critical to prepare future leaders to lead climate change research for developing countries," Liu says.
The developing world has great potential to move towards sustainability if science and development are brought together in areas such as water conservation, environmental protection and in preparing for natural disasters, says Jianwu Tang, a scientist at the Ecosystems Center of Marine Biological Laboratory in the United States and International Center for Ecology, Meteorology and Environment at Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, China.
"I am hoping the CAS-TWAS Centres of Excellence will advance science, drive innovation and apply recently advanced knowledge in ecology, environmental science and sustainability science into the developing world," Tang says.
Additional reporting by Mićo Tatalović.