Climate science and climate policy

Recently there was an event in London, a joint Research and Policy in Development (RAPID)/Climate Change, Environment and Forests (CCEF)  occasion they called ‘Knowledge Café’. Discussed was ‘Climate policy and climate science: an oxymoron?’.

It seems sensible that policy should be decided based on facts, and that climate science is the base of climate policy. The problem is that relations between the two camps are sometimes described as a ‘chaotic conversation’ and that science doesn’t always find its way into political reality.

Head of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri has made an important point by stating that scientific presentations should precede the negotiations in UNFCCC meetings; the draft paper for Rio+20 highlights the role of science in climate compatible development.

One of the problems is  that it’s deemed unprofessional for scientists to get involved in social problems by some of their peers.  Situations such as “Climategateleave many scientists rather diagnosing the illness, but uneasy about prescribing a remedy. They’d rather leave that to the policy-makers.co2.gif

Another problem is that it isn’t easy for policy-makers to get widespread backing for the necessary policies for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Climate change is considered by all stakeholders as a ‘wicked problem’:

  • its effects are not easy to define, and it affects stakeholders differently
  • it has many and varied causes
  • its evidence basis is continually evolving
  • there is no single, clear solution
  • many different arms of government are involved in tackling the problem;
  • Action on climate change has been linked historically with failure.

It’s understandable that policy-makers don’t see tackling the issue as a crowd-pleaser. But a responsible government must take action now, and that action needs to be backed up by climate science.

Events that bring these two groups together, plus possibly other stakeholders like the media and concerned public, can only be welcomed and could help to improve communication and development of appropriate strategies.

The original article by Tristan Stubbs (ODI) includes more details as well as some interesting comments from readers.

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