Climate science struggles with “blind spots” in developing countries – opinion
The powerful report by the UN Climate Science Panel this month sounded the alarm over the increasing effects of global warming – but its authors and independent researchers said it did not provide enough insight into the threats in poorer parts of the world.
Despite advances in recent years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) still relies primarily on lead authors and research from Europe, North America and Oceania, making its findings less relevant to developing countries.
“It’s by far the largest and best collaborative global scientific enterprise mankind has ever made – but it still has certain blind spots,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Center for Climate Change and Development.
One of those blind spots is reflected in the makeup of the latest report’s 234 authors, who come from 66 countries but are mostly based in rich countries like the United States, Great Britain, Germany, and Australia.
According to a study published in the MDPI journal Climate, only 35% of the authors working on the sixth assessment report – the current series that will end in a synthesis due to be completed in September next year – are from developing countries% for the fifth assessment report.
Huq said that while he was working on the third and fourth IPCC Assessment Reports, published in 2001 and 2007, the number of nationalities among scientists increased – but the countries of the Global South were only represented by one or two authors.
“We are being neglected. We are the countries hardest hit by climate change and we should prioritize what we are not,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A second blind spot lies in the research under consideration: the IPCC does not conduct its own studies, but evaluates thousands of climate-related papers on which the IPCC authors base their findings, projections and conclusions.
The most recent report was a review of more than 14,000 research papers produced in the eight years since the last one in 2013 – but the authors themselves found that the data available to them “is unevenly distributed around the world”.
Studies from developing countries “are often not peer-reviewed, not available in English, and mostly limited to the country level, making it difficult to compare the details of climate information between them,” the IPCC report said.
Research tends to focus on regions that “draw the attention of the global North, so climate issues relevant to other regions may not get enough attention,” she added.
One of the main reasons for this is funding, Huq said, as emerging economies spend much less on climate science.
And even when wealthy governments conduct investigations in or about developing countries, the lead investigators often come from the global north, he added.
“That’s one of the mistakes the science company makes – it’s based on research that is grossly biased,” he said.
A study published in Conservation Letters in March examined the backgrounds of the top publishers in 13 leading ecology, evolution and conservation magazines between 1945 and 2019.
It found that the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada made up more than 75% of these authors, while the countries of the Global South were “markedly underrepresented”.
“This is reflected in international reports such as the IPCC,” said study co-author Bea Maas, a biologist at the University of Vienna. “Without relevant research, relevant recommendations will be left out.”
The IPCC has made some progress in shifting the status quo.
With the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize money, the panel financed scholarships for doctoral students from developing countries working on climate change, including opportunities to promote emissions reductions and adaptation.
For its most recent report, it has begun to consider “gray literature” – work that has not been published in academic journals – in languages other than English.
For the first time, the IPCC has also developed an Africa-specific communication strategy that is to be rolled out for other regions in the future.
“This enabled us to talk to Africans about Africa and we could clearly state that this is what the global assessment of where you live is,” said Debra Roberts, who co-chairs the IPCC Adaptation Working Group on the sixth assessment report.
Roberts from Durban said the IPCC had also offered diversity training to its authors earlier this year and is aware of the challenges of digital gathering for people in developing countries, such as: B. patchy internet connections and language barriers.
In the future it will be crucial to attract more practitioners who deal with climate change in the Global South.
Maas recommended that the research organization be changed across the board.
“We can directly influence how we set up our teams, how we distribute opportunities, how much we urge politicians and decision-makers to increase their investments in climate protection,” she said.
She called for efforts aimed at strengthening research infrastructure and capacities to take a regional or global approach rather than focusing on individual countries.
“The climate doesn’t stop at any border,” she added.-Reuters