Who writes international climate change reports?

Guest blog by Esteve Corbera (ICTA-UAB, Spain)

This week in the journal Nature Climate Change, colleagues and I published an analysis of who has participated in the latest 5AR mitigation report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We analyse North-South representation, institutional pathways, co-authorship patterns and disciplinary backgrounds, using Social Network Analysis of authors’ CVs.

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The US and UK are the countries where most participating authors got their training – although they are formally listed as representing a more diverse set of countries.

The deficient representation of scholars trained in the south may be related to a structural problem that the IPCC cannot address. Top academic training is often achieved through specific institutions and centres of research excellence located in northern countries, geared towards certain sources of knowledge and scientific production.

The IPCC is caught in a bind, since it has simultaneously been pressured to restrict itself to mostly citing work in peer-reviewed academic (i.e. Western) journals and to increase the representation of non-Western knowledge (indigenous knowledge, for example). It can’t satisfy both of these pressures adequately.

Our article in Nature Climate Change also adds to a growing number of voices from social scientists that, on the one hand, stress the persistence of a hierarchy in disciplinary knowledge – engineering and economics dominant in mitigation – and, on the other, aim to underplay the importance of consensus to the IPCC process.

Surprisingly, although only 7% of authors currently work in an international organisation, many of them appear to have passed through some of these organisations in the past. The World Bank, the UNFCCC, the FAO or UNEP appear on the top 10 institutions through which more authors have passed during their careers so far. When the focus is placed on the 20 authors co-authoring more with each other, the authors observe that the most highly-connected institutions include Stanford, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. The analysis also highlights the fact that 85% of these top 20 authors had already been involved in at least one assessment before, and 50% of them in three assessments or more.

Our IPCC colleagues and other readers should understand – I’m not using IPCC language here – that our analysis does not aim to challenge the IPCC effort, the professionalism of the authors involved, or the validity of the report’s messages. It was important for Matthew Paterson (University of Ottawa and one of the three co-authors) and myself to understand who we were, and whose perspectives we were missing in our analysis of the mitigation challenge and the available response options.

We hope that the IPCC can in the future develop a more integrative knowledge approach, which incorporates the wider possible sources of knowledge on the mitigation challenge, and the imaginaries to deal with it. In the run up to the COP21 climate summit, we hope that our article provokes discussion towards that goal.


Esteve Corbera is at the Resource Politics conference, presenting a paper on ‘Crowding-in or crowding-out? A conceptual framework to understand motivations in payments for ecosystem services’, co-authored with Driss Ezzine de Blas.

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