The theme for Open Access Week for 2022 is ‘Open for Climate Justice’ and recognises that whilst the effects of climate change are widely felt, the impacts are not borne equally or fairly, between all nations. To encourage connection and collaboration, rapid and seamless access to knowledge is essential, and this knowledge should be made available openly, without financial or technical barriers.
It might be useful to try to determine if the goal of open access to publications on the theme of climate change is being realised. Of some 38,500 publications on the subject identified in Web of Science since 2020, only 22,200 were freely available as open access publications, approximately 58% of the total.
Looking at publications from the University of Dundee itself, imported into our Discovery Research Portal over the same period, from Web of Science, some 129 publications have been tagged with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its aspects), but of these 85 are either currently available as Open Access, or will be after an embargo period has ended (around 66% – better than the overall rate, but still work to be done).
What might be the barriers preventing open access publication of material on climate change?
There is still a lot of research being published which is still unavailable to those without a subscription to those journals where the papers are published. However, things are moving in the right direction:
- Major funders such as the United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Wellcome Trust and the European Union via its Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe programmes all now require immediate open access publication of any research funded by them as a condition of grant.
- The recent announcement in the United States of a requirement for immediate open access publication of all research arising as a result of U.S. Federal funding from January 2026 will go some way to increasing the amount of research openly available.
- There are also hopes that Asian research powerhouses such as China, Japan, South Korea and India may follow suit in due course.
It can be argued that there are several structural difficulties in the methods by which open access publication is achieved which are acting to delay or restrict full open access publication.
- Firstly, there is the cost of publishing an individual article as open access, by means of the payment of an Article Processing Charge or APC.
- In 2016, the average price of an APC was estimated at around £1,745 by Jisc, but this price has been subject to increases since then which run at a higher level than the overall cost of inflation, and the level of APC charged can vary widely, depending on the journal.
- To publish open access in Nature, for example, would cost £8,290 + VAT.
- Rather than charge on an individual paper by paper basis, many publishers are now offering Read & Publish, or Transformative Agreement deals to higher education institutions.
- These institutions pay an annual fee, split between the usual access to subscribed journals (the Read part), and a fee to cover all publication in those journals (the Publish part).
- These deals are intended to be Transformative, i.e., the path by which publishers can move from subscription-based, to an open access-based publishing model.
- However, these deals can be expensive, and the movement of individual journals from the subscription to the open model remains slow.
These models pose real difficulties for researchers based in the developing world, working in institutions which may not have the financial resources to either pay for individual APCs, or to enter into Read & Publish agreements. Whilst several publishers operate waiver schemes of various kinds, coverage is not universal, and the procedure can be administratively complex.
For institutions actively seeking to establish partnerships with developing countries, particularly in Africa, there may be an added aspect to consider. ‘Parachute research’ is a term used to describe a situation whereby researchers from a wealthy Western country conduct field studies in a lower-income country, then complete the research in their home country without any effective recognition or engagement with local researchers. In the area of open access publication, the Read & Publish model can accentuate this, as the ‘trigger’ for the submitted paper to qualify for open access publication under the agreement is usually the e-mail address of the corresponding author.
What can researchers do to improve the situation?
Researchers who are engaged in joint research with colleagues from the host country can ensure that these colleagues receive the appropriate credit on any published works for example sharing the corresponding author credit with them, until such time as the publishers can put a more nuanced system in place.
As well as open access to the published research in academic journals, the data gathered in the course of the research should also be made openly available, and both international organizations and individual institutions have established sources where such data can be both located and deposited.
On a final note there is a new partnership between Creative Commons, SPARC and EIFL called the Open Climate Campaign which is seeking to bring attention to the issue of access to knowledge on climate change. The campaign suggests several ways in which researchers can get involved not only by making research open but also data, educational resources, and software.