The Belmont Forum — an informal grouping of the world's major and emerging funders of global environmental change research and international science councils — launched the call for research applications under its new International Opportunities Fund at the Planet Under Pressure meeting in London this week (26–29 March).
Countries involved in the initiative include Brazil, India and South Africa — such involvement is considered an unusual move for these emerging economies. The other collaborators are Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States.
"It's completely unprecedented for so many countries to come together to issue a call of this sort," said Tim Killeen, assistant director of the Directorate for Geosciences at the US National Science Foundation.
"There have been ad hoc collaborations before but this is a persistent mechanism linking the global North and the global South."
He said the fund hoped to be nimble in responding to research needs by meeting regularly to share ideas on research priorities.
Patrick Monfray, co-chair of the Belmont Forum, said the key themes for the call, which will open next month (15 April), are freshwater security and coastal vulnerability. Countries have together contributed €20 million (around US$26 million) to this call, and the European Union has added a further €6 million.
According to Monfray, funding will go only to researchers in consortia that consist of at least three participating countries; they must also bring together natural and social scientists, and be able to demonstrate clear links to research users.
"Our collaboration is unique in the sense that no money will be [moving] from one country to the other. The researchers whose applications are approved will generally be funded with money from their national governments," he said, adding that there will, however, be a single peer review process.
He said the collaboration would enable researchers to access scientific platforms that may be found in one country but not in others involved in the collaboration.
Monfray said the scheme is part of the greater goal of ensuring that knowledge supports action on environmental change and sustainability through increased international collaboration.
Achuo Enow, programme director at the South Africa's National Research Foundation, told SciDev.Net: "We have agreed to pull together financially and intellectually to do research in key areas of common priority among the partners on a global scale".
South Africa's involvement, he said, demonstrated to the world that Africa was joining frontiers of scientific research that have previously been considered the developed world's domain.