The founding and early years of the Bolin Centre

Link to the Swedish text

Climate research at Stockholm University around the turn of the millennium

In the years leading up to the turn of the millennium, publication of the first reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) awakened interest both among researchers and society at large about the question of anthropogenic climate change. The Swedish focal point for debate on this question was the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) and its Geoscience Class. One important result of these debates was an international seminar hosted by KVA in March 1999 entitled ”Man-made versus natural climate change”. Eleven of the 26 participants at this seminar were researchers from the Departments of Meteorology (MISU), Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology (INK) and Geological Sciences (IGV) at the Science Faculty of Stockholm University. This seminar resulted in publication of an Ambio Synopsis in June 1999 by Karlén, Källén, Rodhe and Backman. This was the first cross-departmental (INK, MISU, IGV) publication about climate in the faculty.

The years around the turn of the millennium were characterised by a growing awareness that cross-disciplinary collaborations were key to gaining a better understanding of the Earth’s climate system, whose multiple components were traditionally studied separately. This was also a time of polarised viewpoints, even among researchers at the university, about anthropogenic climate change. Several of us, with leadership positions in the faculty sought to establish a platform for exchange and collaboration between active researchers, primarily at INK, MISU and IGV as well as the Department of Applied Environmental Science (ITM). At that time, climate research at INK, IGV and ITM focused on process- and paleostudies (proxy research) often with a time perspective of thousands to millions of years, whereas climate research at MISU focused on modelling often with a time perspective of centuries. There was a shared awareness at these departments of the need to strengthen and develop collaboration between modellers and proxy-researchers to gain increased knowledge and understanding about both past climate change and possible future scenarios.

The first few years of the new millennium was a time of active work towards creating a joint platform for climate research in the Natural Sciences. This work led to a cross-disciplinary climate research school being established in 2005 and, shortly thereafter (2006), the founding of the climate research program SUCLIM (Stockholm University Climate Research Centre), which became the Bert Bolin Centre for Climate Research in 2008 and thereafter the Bolin Centre for Climate Research in 2013. This work was led by the Dean of the Science Faculty, Henning Rodhe, together with the leaders of the Section for Earth and Environmental Sciences, Jan Backman and Johan Kleman.

Climate Research School

At the start of 2005, the Faculty of Science published a call for cross-disciplinary research schools.

Karin Holmgren (INK) together with, among others, Anders Moberg (INK) and Henning Rodhe (MISU) prepared an application for a climate research school. The application was awarded funding by the Faculty Board on September 28, 2005.

A steering committee was founded to lead the research school on January 30, 2006. Its members were Henning Rodhe (Chair), Anders Moberg (Director of Studies), Karin Holmgren (INK), Annica Ekman (MISU), Patrick Crill (IGV) and Hans-Christen Hansson (ITM). A key goal of this group was to create PhD level courses which were of interest to PhD students from several of the four host departments. A result of this work was the course ”Historical Perspectives on Climate Change Science” which was recommended for all PhD students in the research school. Another goal aimed at stimulating cross-disciplinary research was for all PhD students to be co-supervised from at least two participating departments.

The Linnaeus Grant, SUCLIM and the Bolin Centre

In June 2005, the Swedish Research Council (VR) published a call for cross-disciplinary research within a framework of their so called ”Linnaeus program”.

An application was submitted to VR for a Linnaeus grant for climate research (Climate evolution, variability and sensitivity) by the Rector on January 23, 2006. The main applicants were Johan Kleman (program director), Jan Backman, Georgia Destouni, Örjan Gustafsson, Margareta Hansson, Martin Jakobsson, Anders Moberg, Henning Rodhe, Michael Tjernström and Barbara Wohlfarth.

The application was granted funding on June 12, 2006. The total funds awarded were 120 MSEK over 10 years of which 20 MSEK was allocated to the Climate Research School.

A steering group was established with Johan Kleman as chairperson. Its members included the chairperson of the Climate Research School and representatives from the four participating departments (IGV, INK, ITM, MISU). The name SUCLIM was established in September 2006.

In October 2008, the government submitted a research proposition in which the need for climate modelling in Sweden was highlighted. The Rector assigned to Johan Kleman the task of preparing an application from Stockholm University to the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS) for strategic funds for climate modelling research. An application for 22 MSEK annually for five years was submitted in March 2009. FORMAS awarded 18.3 MSEK annually, which were to become permanent university funds after five years, half of which were guaranteed by the Rector to climate research. This new initiative to strengthen climate modelling was led by Gunilla Svensson.

From its beginning, a key principle of the Bolin Centre was to strengthen its four host departments. A sizeable portion of the funds from FORMAS were therefore used to employ new researchers/lecturers at the four host departments. This made it possible for new recruitments within the Bolin Centre to be seen as long term investments made in partnership with the host departments. In practice, 10-year agreements were made with the respective Heads of Department and promises were made to ensure continued funding after the first ten years. In this manner, the Bolin Centre sought to strengthen its host departments – creating an umbrella-style organization – rather than being a drain of its host departments by taking their best researchers from them. This strategy has proven itself a key to the Bolin Centre’s success.

Another key principle of the Bolin Centre was that a certain amount of funds should be available for the steering group to invest freely in collaborative initiatives. This was put into practices with open calls for cross-disciplinary research assistant positions and small grants.
An International Scientific Advisory Committee was established during the autumn of 2006 with Hans Oerlemans as its first chairperson. This group consists of approximately five leading international climate researchers representing the Bolin Centre’s multiple focus areas. Constructive feedback from this group has been of great value for the organisation.

The name ”Bolin Centre”

A century ago, Svante Arrhenius had already undertaken research at Stockholm University on the importance of atmospheric CO2 to Earth’s climate. In the 1950s, Bert Bolin re-established research on this fundamental question. His outstanding scientific expertise on CO2 and Earth’s climate as well as his organisational and diplomatic skills ultimately led to his founding roll in the IPCC, an organisation which he led during its first ten years (1988–1998). In 2007, IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Bolin experienced the Nobel prize ceremony, but only at a distance before he passed away, a few weeks afterwards. In 2008, the name ”Bolin Centre” was proposed by the Dean of the Science Faculty, Henning Rodhe, with approval of Bert Bolin’s family in honor of his contribution to climate research.

Bert Bolin Lecture Series

The series was established by the Faculty Board on February 25, 2008. The Bolin Centre’s capacity for attracting internationally leading climate researchers as guest lecturers, shows Bert Bolin’s importance and the Centre’s growing position internationally in climate research. The lecturers up until 2017 have been:

2018 Bending the curve: Climate change solutions
Veerabhadan Ramanathan
2017 Contemporary issues in sea level change: Geological perspectives
Thomas Cronin
2016 The challenge of climate change: How large is it and can we meet it?
Brian Hoskins
2015 Uncertainties in climate projections related to clouds and aerosols
Ulrike Lohmann
2014 The role of the carbon cycle in regulating climate
Corinne Le Quéré
2013 Future development of climate and Earth System models for scientific and policy use
Warren Washington
2012 The climate during the past 10,000 years (the Holocene)
Sherilyn Fritz
2011 Rising carbon dioxide: A never ending story
Ralph Keeling
2010 Do we know enough to go ahead with control of greenhouse gas emissions?
Robert Charlson
2009 Dissecting the roles of aerosols and greenhouse gases in climate change: Scientific understanding and policy implications
Venkatachalam "Ram" Ramaswamy
2008 Linkages between ozone depletion and climate change: Evolution of the science and connections to public policy
Susan Solomon


Stockholm, January 4, 2018
Jan Backman, Johan Kleman and Henning Rodhe

Translation from original text in Swedish by Alasdair Skelton

Bolin Centre for Climate Research
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