"CEMAGREF 2020", Irstea's strategic plan, was collectively developed during 2008 with active involvement from the institute's scientists. The plan follows an evaluation carried out by AERES (French Evaluation Agency for Research and Higher Education) in the same year and aims to consolidate the Institute as an organisation providing targeted research specialising in the fields of inland surface water, environmental technologies and regional planning.
It takes into account regional aspects of global change: "From now on, global change is a working hypothesis that needs to be systematically taken into account. It means reformulating all the environmental issues in terms of evolving problems, particularly at local and regional levels (...). The evolution of vegetation cover, risks due to the frequency of extreme events and the availability of water in mountain resorts are some examples of regional challenges arising from global change".
The plan also fits in with the Grenelle de l'Environment (Grenelle Environment Round Table), which "reorganised research across several fields that match Cemagref’s expertise: biodiversity (Green and Blue Belt), reinforcing the water framework directive, developing agroforestry technologies, waste recycling, optimising environmental services, including their economic dimension (…)”
By tightening and renewing the institute's research topics and by adapting them to this new deal, the strategic plan expresses Cemagref's ambition to be the institute of reference in its fields of expertise. "This ambition must make science progress by developing specific methods and approaches to meet the issues of complex societies and (…) to support public and private measures in the years to come."
Scientific developments and societal issues: three challenges
Finally, the plan discusses scientific development and societal issues in terms of three challenges, which will remain with Irstea until 2020 and each of which involve multiple disciplinary fields, from life and environmental sciences to sciences of the universe, chemistry or biology, to social and soft sciences.
- Environmental quality: the challenge of combining methods and technologies:
The concept of environmental quality combines models, experimental data and technology into one systematic approach. The challenge is to design methods and tools to safeguard resources and ensure their sustainable use: environmental evaluation methods, environmental technologies and farming systems. The key fields are waste management, water purification, farming processes, farming systems and food processing - all with strong economic and job creating potential. The challenge is also to comprehensively pilot these environmental systems by representing and modelling them, or by designing dynamic operational indicators for them. An example of this is the life cycle assessment (LCA), which consists of assessing material and energy flows and their environmental impact for a product or process from its manufacture and use, to its disposal.
- Water in regional development: the challenge of multisector approaches:
The issues surrounding water are significant and very varied: implications on demographic growth, climatic uncertainties, water distribution systems, publication of directives… The challenge is to treat the issue of water, regional governance and management of terrestrial environments in an integrated manner. This means lifting scientific barriers such as links between state, process, function and service, understanding interactions between differently scaled natural and social processes, knowing regulatory factors for environmental systems, and changes in scale and links between organisational levels. The expected results will relate to the study and analysis of governance methods for natural resources and regions, the development of diagnostic or forecast methods for sustainable development indicators and also to the creation of methods of regional development by favouring the "water and regions" system.
- Risk management: the viability challenge
In a context of global change, the anthropisation of the environment accentuates risk situations for companies (natural risks relating to water such as floods, avalanches and dam failures) or risks relating to an accumulation of pollutants. This amplifies the need for reassurance, expressed and relayed by the media. Irstea, which possesses many skills in this field, will have to renew its methods in order to better understand the phenomena, to analyse and to characterise vulnerabilities and to produce tools to support decision-making and management of risk factors.