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Following climate science from the IPCC to European decision makers

News - News from CICERO

Published 03.02.2015

How does IPCC influence decision-making? A new research project seeks to find out.


The IPCC AR5 in Europe-project focuses on the release of the Fifth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5). The project analyzes how key messages from the reports are communicated, inform and are used by policy makers in different European countries. One of the aims is to explore how different socio-economic conditions and contexts shape the policy uptake.

The mandate of the IPCC is to provide decision-makers with rigorous and balanced scientific information on climate change, its causes, effects and solutions. According to the mandate, IPCC should be policy relevant, but not prescriptive: it is to produce relevant climate knowledge, so that policy makers can make informed decisions. However, exactly how the knowledge travels and informs decisions has not been investigated until now.
The project follows the knowledge from publication to decision making. By analyzing the IPCC AR5 publication, the framing, usability and impact, the findings from this project can help improve the knowledge uptake of the next Assessment Report (AR6) as well as other global assessments.

Groundbreaking research

This is groundbreaking research. While much has been written about IPCC assessment processes, media coverage and the need for more and better communication, there has never been a systematic effort to identify the factors that lead to informed decision making.

The project analyzes the content and framing of some chosen key messages from the Fifth Assessment Report. With case studies in Norway, Spain, Poland, UK and the Netherlands, it seeks to understand how the information is selected, communicated and influence policy making in the various socio-political contexts.
Ultimately, the IPCC AR5 in Europe-project seeks to understand the extent to which it is possible to improve the link between the IPCC reports knowledge and decision-making in areas such as adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development.

What are the stories and who listens to them?

Scientific knowledge about complex and uncertain issues such as climate change is never used in a linear way. Instead, a range of contextual factors influence the understanding, framing and communication of IPCC information, including the specific institutional characteristics of the IPCC as an organization and its mandate to work through country focal points. Countries such as oil-rich Norway, coal-dependent Poland, climate-exposed Netherlands, and a country in a deep economic crisis, such as Spain, receive and interpret the messages of the report differently. Also countries have different institutional mechanisms and procedures for dealing with policy advice and the science-policy interface. The IPCC AR5 in Europe-project looks at how policy relevant issues are framed, if there are identifiable narratives, and how they are constructed.

The IPCC reports are not only used by government officials, but by various stakeholders and actors such as environmental NGOs and private companies. Therefore, the project focuses on how different actors, such as decision-makers, government officials, journalists, civil society, and the private sector receive and shape the communication process. The project analyzes how actors construct and use narratives, translate them and how the knowledge travels within the various countries.

Understanding the science-policy interface

Decision making processes are influenced by various factors, not just science. To be relevant, knowledge has to be “translated” and tailored to match the particular needs of the specific decision-makers. However, IPCCs mandate as policy relevant, but not prescriptive assumes a linear understanding of the relationship between knowledge and decision-making. This assumption allows for a “scientistic” and inaccessible framing of scientific knowledge as it relies on the expectation that scientific information alone is a primary driver of policy making. This linear assumption rests on an oversimplified understanding of the science-policy nexus.
The project will use the knowledge produced to increase the capacity of environmental research organizations and other intermediary organizations to operate in the science-policy nexus – transforming the information from useful to usable.International interdisciplinary team
The project group constitutes an international interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary team with research backgrounds from sociology, social studies of science and technology (STS), linguistics, social economics, and media studies, as well as communication professionals. Within the team are researchers and communications professionals from DNV GL, CICERO, the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo, the Polish Academy of Sciences, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, University of Edinburgh, Oxford University, Lancaster University, and the Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

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