The future of the IPCC: Climate science and policies

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Thu Nov 30 2023

Author: Guest contributor

The guest editors of a special article collection in npj Climate Action, focused on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its future, are three researchers from CICERO, a world-leading institute for interdisciplinary climate research. In the following, Dr. Erlend A. T. Hermansen, Dr. Glen Peters, and Prof. Elin Lerum Boasson share insights into the special article collection, the role of science in policies, and their own research.

The IPCC and its future are the subject of the special article collection in npj Climate Action that you are guest editing, titled IPCC: Dinosaur or Dynamo for Climate Action?. What are the objectives and scope of this collection?

Hermansen: The main objectives of the special article collection are to examine, assess, and discuss the relevance of IPCC knowledge for climate action, as well as to create a lively forum for discussion and reflection on the IPCC and its future. Rapid, deep, and sustained climate action is critical this decade; The question is how the IPCC can stay relevant in this context. 

Peters: The objective of our special article collection is to foster discussion and debate on the role that the IPCC plays in the future. A new assessment cycle in the IPCC begins every seven years or so, and the decisions made in the coming 1-2 years will lock in timelines, framing, and research questions for the following 5-7 years. The next IPCC Assessment Report (AR7) is expected to be completed around 2030. In the same year, the world is supposed to reduce emissions by 50%, and the 1.5°C increase of global warming is expected to be reached. So the new assessment cycle starts with an entirely new context, and our collection considers the role of IPCC in this context. 

Boasson: There are many misconceptions about the IPCC out there, and even after several years in the system myself, I have a lot to learn. I hope to encourage a broader audience of scientists (from all disciplines) to engage in the discussion about how to set up an IPCC that deals with the current climate science challenges. I also hope to be able to communicate some of the discussion to policy makers and stakeholders that rely on climate science for decision making.

How does your own research relate to the IPCC, and what are the goals of your work?

Hermansen: My research is focused on the interrelationships between science and policy, or more broadly – knowledge and action. A key aspect of my research is how IPCC knowledge is produced and used by different actors and across different contexts. I’m interested in the relevance of the knowledge, which is precisely the focus of our special article collection. I want my work to contribute to the production of knowledge that is relevant to meeting the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  I think it is vital to seize the moment between the 6th and 7th assessment cycles of the IPCC to take stock and nurture a constructive discussion on the future direction of the IPCC, and how it can be relevant for climate action in the wake of the Paris Agreement. 

Peters: Most of my research is on energy and emission trends and scenarios. I have followed the IPCC for years and was privileged to be a lead author in AR6 (the Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC). I am particularly interested in how research on scenarios is interpreted by users. I believe it is important for researchers to see the bigger picture of how science is performed and used, and to use this knowledge to undertake scientific research that is relevant to key user groups.

Boasson: My research focuses on the role of the state in driving climate action, and why climate governance varies across cities and regions. My involvement in the IPCC AR made me more interested in the role of the IPCC, and science more generally, in accelerating climate action. 

In the long term, my goals (dreams?) are to establish climate research as a top research priority across the social sciences, to ensure that ‘climate solution research’ gets as much attention as ‘climate problem research’, and to establish research on the role of the state for climate action as a key research frontier within climate research.

How would you estimate the incorporation of scientific findings into policies to combat global warming?

Hermansen: If it was not for science, we wouldn’t have the Paris Agreement or the SDGs in the first place. But contributing to the establishment of high-level policy frameworks like this is totally different from being policy-relevant at other levels or contexts. In fact, we know very little systematically about how IPCC knowledge and other types of knowledge inform climate action. 

Peters: At the aggregated level, you could say that science plays a major role in framing climate debates and actions. When zooming into a country, a business, or a household, there will be much more complexity and nuance, with value choices becoming more prominent and science playing less of a role. 

Boasson: Natural science has done a great job in establishing ‘climate problem research’ as a very strong field of research, but now we research how to solve the issue. This cannot happen without a major shift in climate research, combined with a radical increase in climate research interest among the social sciences. If we succeed in these two things, science will be better equipped to facilitate the climate transition. But better science cannot do away with the political challenges. The process will still be very challenging, not in the least for political leaders and parties across the globe. 

What do you consider to be the major challenges climate policy faces and what advancements do you hope to see in the near future?

Hermansen: We have never had this much knowledge, targets, policies, politics – and greenhouse gas emissions. There is a disconnect between what we know, what we have committed to, and our actions. I really hope that we will soon bend the global emissions curve and boost the transition towards rapid, deep, and sustained emissions reductions.

Peters: The challenge today is not to characterize the climate problem, but to find solutions and to act. It is clear what countries and businesses need to do, but how they can do it given the plethora of competing interests is an entirely different question. Climate science has not sufficiently addressed many of the competing trade-offs, whether natural system trade-offs, social system trade-offs, or trade-offs that compete across both domains.

Boasson: The most burning challenge is how to develop climate governance processes that spur increasing support for climate action, among people in general and among powerful corporate and societal elites. 

From your perspective, how crucial is it for the general public to actively engage in climate policy making?

Hermansen: From my scholarly perspective, this is absolutely key. Without public engagement, climate action at the scale and pace we need is impossible to achieve. But democratic processes take time. To me, the most important scientific question in the coming years should be: How can we accelerate climate action towards the objectives of the Paris Agreement in democratically sound ways?

Peters: In most countries, the public is already engaged on climate through democracy, while in others they may contribute to discussions that could lead to change. However, climate is only one of many issues. Illuminating how climate interacts with other issues – such as health, development, mobility, and others – is one way that climate could gain a more prominent voice in decision making.

Boasson: This is a key challenge in democracies, but also in autocratic countries. Much more research is needed to better understand how to deal with resistance and how to establish low-carbon practices as the ‘new normal’. This will not happen without conflicts, backlashes, and public protests. I believe my own discipline, political science, has a lot to contribute with in this respect. 

Find out more about the special article collection IPCC: Dinosaur or Dynamo for Climate Action?, and check in on Springer Nature’s SDG 13 Hub, to get the latest on climate action. 

About the authors:
Elin UiObilde beskåret © Springer Nature

Elin Lerum Boasson is Professor of Political Science Department, University of Oslo; Senior Researcher, CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Norway. She is a political scientist with domestic and EU-level climate and energy policy development as specialization. Boasson has published extensively on the drivers of climate and energy policies, particularly the role of policy entrepreneurship, organizational fields, business influence, political steering, policy diffusion and the EU. Her work is primarily comparative, and contributes to public policy studies as well as to historical and sociological institutionalism.

Erlend A. T. Hermansen © Springer Nature

Dr. Erlend A. T. Hermansen holds a PhD in Science and Technology Studies (STS) and is Senior Researcher, CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Norway. His research revolves around how scientific knowledge is produced and used. Particularly, Hermansen's research has been focused on how knowledge from the IPCC is used in policy making and decision making by different actors across different contexts.

GlenPeters © Springer Nature

Dr. Glen Peters is Research Director, CICERO Center for International Climate Research, Norway. He performs research on the recent trends in carbon dioxide emissions and how they link to future emission pathways consistent with global climate objectives. He is on the Executive Team of the Global Carbon Budget and was a Lead Author for the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on emission scenarios.


Author: Guest contributor

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