3165 The IPCC, International Science Diplomacy, and the Challenge of Climate Change

Sunday, February 20, 2011: 4:00 PM
143AB (Washington Convention Center )
Jonathan T. Overpeck , University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
The role of climate scientists is to understand how the Earth’s climate is changing and why, and to use this knowledge in concert with the best available scientific tools to assess how climate may change in the future, what the impacts might be, and what choices exist for dealing with climate change through adaptation and mitigation strategies. Like any major field of scientific inquiry, the science of climate change is based on peer-reviewed climate science literature. This literature is international both in its authorship and implications. Although many nations have their own institutions for defining the state-of-the-art, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the primary international institution charged with providing regular assessments of climate science, and communicating this science as agreed with the world’s governments in ways that aid policy-making. The IPCC assessments are not policy-prescriptive, but rather are intended to assess the literature (in most cases, the scientific peer-reviewed literature), and determine what is known and how well.

The IPCC process has been successful, and it has evolved through time to become increasingly effective in informing policy and decisions at scales ranging from international, to national, regional and even local. Most obviously, the IPCC has helped institutionalize international coordination and cooperation with respect to policy, but it has also fostered unprecedented international collaboration of climate scientists. National climate science programs are now coordinated to facilitate collaboration focused on the most pressing needs of the science, data is shared with unprecedented ease, and the intensely resource-dependent enterprise of global climate modeling is coordinated in a manner that yields enhanced service to society.

The IPCC has also worked to level the international science playing field so that scientists from all countries have the opportunity to be more involved in international climate science. This undoubtedly feeds back positively on climate change diplomacy because each country has an improved stake and understanding of the state-of-the-art science. Moreover, the IPCC has evolved steadily to focus on climate change at the regional and smaller scales so critical to climate-related decision-making. In this sense, the IPCC is providing an ever-greater capacity for regional, national and local climate change adaptation and mitigation. On a more personal-side, scientific relationships across national boundaries are flourishing, and as a result, more effective collaborations are becoming more of the norm. This, in turn, is enabling a more sophisticated understanding of how the Earth’s climate system works, and will undoubtedly lead to an improvement in the climate change state-of-the-art so critical for supporting effective policy and decision-making.

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