There's something strange taking place in climate change science. While scientists increasingly agree about global warming's importance and human beings' role in driving it, the issue remains controversial to many outside of the sciences. Why is that? One new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, offers a potential answer: There's a lack of diversity among those who create the world's "consensus documents" on climate change, especially the report that discusses ways for people and governments to help fix global warming.
Climate change is a worldwide problem, but those who write the consensuses have roots mostly in North America and Europe. That's the conclusion of the new Nature Climate Change study, which analyzed the histories of the researchers who served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Working Group III. You might know the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from its regular reports on the degree to which the world is warming. That's actually the job of Working Group I. The panel's Working Group III, on the other hand, is responsible for writing regular reports laying out the options countries have for mitigating global warming. Ideally, the group brings together the world's best minds to make smart climate policy suggestions. But the group may be missing insights it would get from more diverse authors, according to the new study. Plus, its lack of diversity may make it seem less trustworthy to countries who aren't involved in it. Voilà: controversy that extends to all of the panel's work.
Ideally, Working Group III brings together the world's best minds to make smart climate policy suggestions. But the group may be missing insights it would get from more diverse authors.
The new Nature Climate Change analysis is especially interesting because Working Group III seems quite diverse at first glance. By the group's own count, it includes 235 authors from 58 countries. To uncover those authors' similar backgrounds, however, a team of researchers from Spain, Italy, and Canada recorded where the authors went to graduate school and worked before volunteering to be part of Working Group III. Most of the authors earned their doctoral degrees in the United States or United Kingdom, and many worked in the same institutions, including the World Bank and the University of California–Berkeley. In addition, the large majority of Working Group III volunteers are economists. The group might do well to include other social scientists, such as political scientists and anthropologists, to help come up with climate-change mitigation suggestions for countries to use, the study authors—and others—argue.
Adding diversity to Working Group III may actually make it harder to write consensus documents, the Nature Climate Change researchers note. After all, the group will potentially have to include more varied viewpoints and ideas—which, though difficult, are crucial to forming a document that will be most helpful to politicians seeking hard answers for a difficult global problem.
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