Climate science grapples with ‘blind spots’ in developing countries

This month’s hard-hitting report from the United Nations Climate Science Panel sounded the alarm on the growing impacts of global warming, but its independent authors and researchers said it was not providing enough information on threats in the poorest regions of the world.

Despite the progress made in recent years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) still relies mainly on lead authors and research from Europe, North America and Oceania, this which makes its findings less relevant to developing countries.

“This is by far the biggest and best global collaborative scientific endeavor that humanity has made, but it still has some blind spots,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development based in the United States. Bangladesh.

One of those blind spots is reflected in the makeup of the 234 authors of the latest report, who come from 66 countries but are mostly based in wealthy countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and the United States. Australia.

Only 35% of the authors working on the sixth assessment report – the current series that will culminate in a synthesis which should be finalized in September next year – are from developing countries, according to a study published in the journal MDPI Climate , against 31% for the fifth evaluation report.

Huq said that while he was working on the IPCC’s Third and Fourth Assessment Reports, published in 2001 and 2007, the number of nationalities of scientists increased, but the countries of the South were only represented by one or two. authors.

“We are neglected. We are the countries most vulnerable to climate change and we should be a priority, which we are not, ”he said.

A second blind spot is in the research considered: the IPCC does not conduct its own studies but evaluates thousands of climate-related articles on which the authors of the IPCC base their findings, projections and conclusions.

The most recent report was a review of more than 14,000 research articles produced in the eight years since the last one in 2013 – but the authors themselves noted that the data available to them “is unevenly distributed around the world. “.

Studies from developing countries “are often not peer reviewed, are not available in English and are mostly limited to the national level, making it difficult to compare the details of climate information between them,” the IPCC report says. .

Research tends to focus on regions that “attract the attention of the Global North, so climate aspects relevant to other regions may not receive enough attention,” he added.

One of the main reasons for this is funding, Huq said, with emerging economies allocating far less to climate science.

And even when wealthy governments conduct studies in or on developing countries, lead investigators are often from the Global North, he added.

“This is one of the flaws of the scientific enterprise – it is based on heavily biased research,” he said.

A study published in March in the journal Conservation Letters looked at the backgrounds of the most published authors in 13 major ecology, evolution, and conservation journals between 1945 and 2019.

He revealed that the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada accounted for more than 75% of these authors, while the countries of the South were “vastly under-represented”.

“This translates into international reports such as the IPCC,” said study co-author Bea Maas, a biologist at the University of Vienna. “Without relevant research, relevant recommendations are left out. “

The IPCC has made some progress in changing the status quo.

The panel used money from its 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to fund scholarships for doctoral students from developing countries to work on climate change, including opportunities to advance emissions reductions and adaptation.

For his most recent report, he began to consider “gray literature” – work that has not been published in academic journals – in languages ​​other than English.

The IPCC has also developed for the first time an Africa-specific communications strategy – something it hopes to roll out to other regions in the future.

“It allowed us to talk to Africans about Africa, and we could clearly say that’s what the global assessment is saying about where you live,” said Debra Roberts, who co-chairs the working group. of the IPCC on adaptation for the Sixth Assessment Report.

Roberts, based in Durban, said the IPCC was also offering diversity training to its authors this year and was aware of the challenges of the digital meeting for developing countries, such as uneven internet connections and language barriers.

Going forward, she said it would be crucial to attract more practitioners working on climate change to southern countries.

Maas recommended changes in the way research is organized at all levels.

“We can directly influence how we set up our teams, how we distribute opportunities, how much we urge politicians and policy makers to increase their investments in climate change mitigation,” she said .

She urged efforts to strengthen research infrastructure and capacity to take a regional or global approach instead of focusing on individual countries.

“The climate does not stop at any border,” she added.

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