BLOG | Maintaining the energy for change through IPCC assessment processes

By Daniel Morchain, Global Adviser - Climate Change Adaptation, Resilience & Agriculture and Project Leader - ASSAR, Oxfam GB.

[CARIAA supports researchers and thought leaders to inform international climate decision-making. Daniel Morchain participated last week in the pre-scoping meeting of IPCC’s 6th assessment report. He provides us with his thoughts on what the future may look like for that policy instrument.]

At the start of the pre-scoping and multi stakeholder meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) convened by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in collaboration with the IPCC in Nairobi from 5-7 April, 2017, a promise was made. Participants, especially the more traditional scientists, would be pushed out of their comfort zones. As the meeting ended three days later, what ensued was a common wish to create a zone where scientists, practitioners, politicians and civil society feel comfortable grappling with this discomfort.

One of the challenges of the AR6, which will be published in about 4 years time, is becoming more accessible to a larger number of stakeholders, while at the same time becoming more relevant and detailed at lower scales. How? By accessing a wider source of literature and narratives, but also more of it from geographical regions that, despite their high vulnerability to climate change impacts, remain understudied in the academic world. 

This workshop showed that the IPCC wants to be more inclusive and that it is reaching out to non-academic stakeholders. How genuinely it can change, though, will start to become clear soon. For instance, how influential will the social scientist appointed as coach to Working Group 2 lead authors be?, or, how flexible will the structures that support the IPCC be to doing things differently?

Grey literature and the peer-review process

I, for one, want to see the glass half full and I welcome the IPCC’s invitation to ‘whiten the grey literature’, which basically means more collaboration between researchers and practitioners, so that practitioners’ experiences can be turned into peer-reviewed journal articles. I like this not just because it will bring new perspectives and a people-centred reality check into the AR6 mix, but also because it promotes cross-sector partnerships and knowledge exchange. The Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) exemplifies this type of partnership, which will hopefully become increasingly common in the sector.

In parallel to ‘whitening the grey literature’, I’d vote for ‘expanding the shades of white’. It is unrealistic to think that grey literature can, or should for that matter, be whitened en masse. If knowledge can only be validated through an academic peer-review process, then a wide range of relevant knowledge sources will be ignored and, consequently, the challenge (the need!) to be more inclusive and representative in addressing climate change at the IPCC will remain unmet.

Governance and the understanding of risk

In the Nairobi meeting there was agreement that climate risk cannot simply be understood to mean the risk of getting swept away by a flood. It has to be framed broadly, in the context of development, recognising the implications of power, gender, identity, culture and, certainly, governance, in shaping vulnerability and risk. As such, climate risk should never by default drive a development agenda.

Those of us working on climate issues need to recognise the important role that we play in development, whilst being aware that vulnerability today and tomorrow is, more often than not, driven by factors other than climate.  

It seems that the issue around grey literature is, after all, not just about inserting it in the AR6, but also about making academics keen on it.

And so we go back to where we started: a long process towards the AR6, a rather rigid structure, but people within it and beside it looking for change. The IPCC can’t do it alone. As someone said during the Nairobi meeting, too much agency is often assigned to the IPCC. Success will depend on how we work together constructively with the IPCC and as development stakeholders to integrate our knowledge, as well as on maintaining and spreading the good energy felt during the meeting.

The AR6 has the potential to be something truly transformative, as the IPCC moves from having promoted the understanding of the anthropogenic nature of climate change (and getting a Nobel prize while they were at it), into its 2.0 version of being an instrument that supports sound climate-and-development decisions at various scales of governance.