Ghassem R Asrar, Director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute


Ghassem R Asrar, Director of the Joint Global Change Research InstituteBased at the University of Maryland, College Park, JGCRI houses an interdisciplinary team dedicated to understanding drivers of global climate change and their potential solutions. Former Director of the World Climate Research Program, Ghassem R Asrar, talks International Innovation through the work of the Institute he now directs.

Having recently returned to the US, you took up the position of Director of the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI) at the University of Maryland. What does this role entail and what prompted your decision to change roles?

I recently returned to the US to serve as the Director of JGCRI after more than five years directing the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) in Geneva, Switzerland. The Institute was established in 2001 through a partnership between the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a US Department of Energy (DOE) laboratory in Richland, Washington. The Institute’s research focus is scientific understanding of the challenges associated with global environmental changes and potential opportunities and solutions to issues at the intersection of environment, energy and economy. Our staff has decades of experience and expertise in science, technology, economics and policy related to such issues.

Another of JGCRI’s strengths is its network of domestic and international collaborators, which enables the development of equitable solutions to climate change issues at global, regional and national levels. The Institute also promotes scientific dialogue on global change topics across natural and socioeconomic disciplines and national boundaries, with active engagement of diverse stakeholders.

JGCRI has benefited greatly by partnering PNNL with one of the premier academic institutions in the US that has attracted students, early career scientists and distinguished researchers from around the world. There are currently 60 scientists from a range of countries working directly for, or in some formal affiliation with, the Institute.

Could you outline JGCRI’s strengths? What advantages have been afforded by your move to the Institute?

Over the past two decades, the JGCRI has been facilitating the development of a community-based integrated analysis and assessment model called Global Climate Assessment Model (GCAM). GCAM is openly available for use by interested researchers and decision makers around the world.

JGCRI scientists have also been among the leading group of international experts to study and extensively publish in open access literature the best available understanding of complex issues at the interface of environment, energy technologies and economic development. They play a major role in science-based environmental assessments such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For example, some scientists from the Institute were key players in developing the concept of Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) that are focused on climate warming due to increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere. RCPs are currently being used in the latest IPCC assessment.

The Institute’s research foci extend beyond environment and energy to water, agriculture, etc. Once more, the opportunity to build on this solid foundation and pioneering research to develop solutions to complex challenges at the interface of these interrelated issues offers unique opportunities for using emerging scientific understanding and new technological and engineering innovations to serve society in forthcoming decades.

How is the JGCRI informing global climate change solutions through its five research programmes?

These research themes are interdisciplinary in nature and together offer unique understanding of the following:

  • Contributing factors to climate variability and change
  • Energy systems and technology alternatives
  • Analysis and assessment of risks
  • Vulnerabilities and opportunities at the intersection of energy, environment and economy, and their socioeconomic implications
  • Possible science- and technology-based solutions to such interdisciplinary scientific and technical challenges
  • Training and development of the next generation of experts to support such efforts continue to represent a major opportunity and an area of focus for the Institute.


This is an excerpt from a longer discussion published in International Innovation. To access the interview in full, go to: