The Politics of Science in International Climate Cooperation


International climate talks in Katowice, Poland, in 2018 descended into acrimony over a scientific landmark report by the most authoritative international body on climate science, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Russia, and the United States--four big oil and gas producers--refused to endorse an IPCC special report. This report stated that limiting global warming to 1.5C reduces climate-related risks, but requires deep emission reductions in all sectors. Since these reductions are costly, governments may have political incentives to try to influence how these reports are written and used. We study how and under what conditions governments seek to influence the production of science in the IPCC; and the effects of this attempted influence on climate negotiations and domestic climate policymaking.

Our research comes at a vital moment for international climate politics. In order to meet the 1.5C-2C temperature target agreed in the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries need to increase their climate action. As the pressure to decarbonise the global economy mounts, the IPCC's forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report in 2022 will provide states with the latest knowledge on the scientific basis; impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability; and mitigation of climate change. The key findings from this comprehensive assessment will serve as scientific input to United Nations climate negotiations and guide governments’ climate policies for the decade to come. Despite its key role, the IPCC's 6-8 years long assessment cycles have come under repeated criticism for different reasons. Our systematic study of countries' engagement with IPCC processes will hence contribute to the practical and scholarly discussion on how the IPCC can best fulfil its mandate of being policy-relevant in the new climate landscape the Paris Agreement has created.

In this unique context, we will offer new theoretical and empirical insights into the strategies, conditions, and effects of attempted government influence in international climate science policy. The theoretical framework, which we will develop, will allow us to analyse governments' strategic involvement in the production of IPCC reports and their uptake in climate policymaking. While 'interference' and 'obstruction' at both stages is documented in the literature, our framework will help us to hypothesise how, when, and with what effects governments seek influence in the international climate science-policy interface. Our systematic empirical analysis will benefit from a mixed methods approach. We will combine qualitative and quantitative methods, including elite interviews; participant observation; comparative case studies; document analysis; regression models; and text-as-data approaches. This multifaceted approach will enrich our empirical understanding of government influence in the IPCC and will help us to overcome the methodological challenge that government influence is not always readily observable.

Together with our advisory board, which includes senior IPCC leadership and assessment authors, and through partnerships with leading climate research institutes--CICERO (Center for International Climate Research) in Norway; PIK (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) in Germany; Cardiff University’s Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST); and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK--we intend to create impact from translating our research findings into feasible and implementable proposals to inform ongoing discussions about IPCC reform. We will furthermore present our findings at the United Nations climate conference in winter 2023 and, over the course of the project, disseminate our research to a wider audience through blog posts, podcasts, and on social media.

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Funding period: 1 January 2022--30 June 2024
Funder reference: ES/W001373/2