In 1990, the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research (IGFA) formed as an informal group of representatives from agencies that fund Global Change Research (GCR). With an emphasis on mutual information exchange, IGFA never required binding obligations of its members. Rather, it provided coordination and leadership for international GCR programs (WCRP, IGBP, IHDP, DIVERSITAS, and ESSP) to achieve effective science.
After IGFA was founded, the challenges presented to scientists and funders of global change research changed and societies’ need for information intensified. By the mid-2000s, scientists had produced a great deal of compelling evidence that global change was accelerating beyond previous predictions. However, reviews of the international GCR programs showed that this information was not providing the integrated options needed by society in a way that could be easily understood and used. At the same time, economic constraints were affecting the funding landscape.
Recognizing these challenges, the National Science Foundation (US) and the Natural Environment Research Council (UK) hosted a small conference of key environment and geosciences funding agencies in June 2009 at the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge, Maryland, USA. Participants in this “Belmont Conference” agreed on the need for an improved forum for (1) strengthening engagement between research funding agencies and the academic research community and (2) improving co-design, co-alignment, and co-funding of major research programs. To this end, the participants established the Belmont Forum. With its small and specific membership, the Belmont Forum promoted frank discussion and rapid decision-making about the planning, support and implementation of GCR.
In October 2009, the Belmont Forum became the Council of Principals for IGFA, replacing its Steering Committee. Guided by the Belmont Challenge, the Belmont Forum began supporting Collaborative Research Actions (CRAs), which often include calls for research proposals as outlined in the Forum’s Memorandum of Understanding. Projects funded by the first CRA on Coastal Vulnerability and Freshwater Security began in 2013.
The success of the first CRAs prompted several funding organizations and agencies to inquire about joining the Belmont Forum, with a goal of participating in future CRAs. At the time, there was no way to join the Belmont Forum without first joining IGFA, and the existence of two bodies was becoming increasingly confusing for the outside community. As of October 2014, IGFA and the Belmont Forum merged under the name Belmont Forum. A new governance structure was adopted, with an elected Steering Committee and two Co-Chairs. Additionally, a permanent Secretariat was established to further the goals and operations of the Belmont Forum.