IPCC reports must be inclusive and accessible

Published: 25 September 2014 at 14:10

Anglia Ruskin academic proposes changes in new Nature Climate Change article

Two Cambridge-based experts are calling for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to collaborate with those working on the ground to make its reports more accessible.

In an article published online today, Dr Candice Howarth, Senior Research Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, and Dr David Viner, Principal Advisor for Climate Resilience at environmental consultancy Mott MacDonald, argue that the IPCC’s reports are lacking practitioner experience, evidence and case studies.

Although the IPCC is increasing efforts to communicate its results more clearly and its reports are being used by the international scientific and political communities, in order for its recommendations to translate into practical action they must be made more accessible to the likes of local planners, disaster response teams, designers, engineers, architects, and investment decision-makers.

Howarth and Viner believe the reports themselves provide an observational, top-down account lacking practical applications of climate change adaptation knowledge, and consequently are more suited to academics.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, Howarth and Viner state:

"Increasingly, they [the IPCC reports] are used by engineers, policymakers and other practitioners to develop climate change risk frameworks and vulnerability assessments.
“The IPCC review process is both extensive and robust: over 12,000 scientific references cited, 243 lead authors, 66 review editors from 70 countries, 436 contributing authors from 54 countries, 1,729 expert reviewers from 84 countries, with the final Summary for Policymakers approved and accepted by 195 governments.  
“However, this is an exercise conducted primarily by the scientific and political communities, and does not take into account the needs, and the role, of the experts working on the ground.”

So what is driving the disconnection between the academic and practitioner communities?

Howarth and Viner believe it is down to cultural reasons and a lack of common language, with practitioners also limited by fiscal constraints and, at times, client confidentiality.

They add:

“We think that the latest findings from the Working Group 2 contribution remain largely inaccessible to practitioners and certainly do not fully incorporate their ongoing work on climate change issues.  This is mainly the result of the IPCC process being highly academic-oriented and based on the peer-review mechanism with long lag times, and communication challenges, including different language and cultural interpretations.
“The UK government’s response to the Somerset flooding in January 2014 demonstrates the need for the academic and practitioner communities to work together to shape policy responses and to deliver solutions on the ground.  
“In that case, the initial rapid response was mainly based on local public (and political) opinion.  Engineers and academics with the appropriate expertise in catchment management of flood mitigation design were consulted only later in the process.
“We think that incorporating a similar proactive and collaborative approach into the formulation of recommendations in the IPCC reports, although at an earlier stage, would better inform the decision-making process.  Rather than being brought in to fix and rebuild, they would have contributed to the construction of climate resilient infrastructure in the first place.
“Such a process will ensure that future IPCC reports are more up-to-date, robust and complete in their analysis and that the climate change resilience solutions proposed incorporate the most practically viable research.”