Relationship between science and politics

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is commonly described as a hybrid ‘scientific and political’ institution. The global scientific discourse it has generated has resulted in regulatory decisions being made to appear not as political, but as the only valid alternative to the problem of climate change. Discuss the following: (i) what the IPCC and its role in shaping the global response to climate change demonstrates about the relationship between science and politics; and (ii) the regulatory challenges that global crises raise for the state.

Climate change is a natural phenomenon and a global environmental crisis that has gone beyond the confines of environmentalism and science to a level that has far exceeded the boundaries of economic, social and political concern. It can be said by certainty that human activities such as transport, industries etc. play a major role in this. In the words of Tony Blair “Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it”. If something is not done, there will be a continuing rise in temperature and sea levels resulting to severe weather conditions causing serious consequences.

In this essay, I will not only be looking at the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and how it shapes global response but the idea that it is described to be a ‘scientific and political’ institution. The hybrid is not a separation of spheres but one which entails both. Lastly, I will be drawing upon the challenges the state has to face in order to regulate the area of climate change such as human activities and whether it should be done at a global or local level.

In the year 1987, World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) decided that they should create an organisation that that would organise the states effort internationally to evaluate the scientific knowledge on the subject of global warming and used that knowledge to raise public awareness on climate change, to dig deeper into the policies that have already been proposed or in use and to be able to provide this information for international organisations and governments to make decisions on the way it should be regulated.

In 1988, the IPCC was created to be the leading international body that is involved in the assessment of climate change. The IPCC plays an important role in the interaction between public policy making on both an international level and a national level. IPCC’s legitimacy in terms of policy advice comes from scientific consensus that it entails.

[1] The role itself is defined within the Principles Governing IPCC Work that states that: “The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation”. The IPCC also plays a role in assessing technical and scientific issues for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Bert Bolin was the first chairman of the IPCC who explained that the aim of the organisation was to boost trust internationally through science, this was seen as an expression of an spontaneous political strategy assuming that a greater scientific consensus and wider participation would ensure a stable political outcome. Climate change in itself is a global issue that raises many concerns to governments and organisations who aim to find solutions and set out measures in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses.

The IPCC play a prominent role in shaping global response to climate change as it is an authoritative body that is acknowledged by governments all over the world to provide accurate information and policy relevant advice to the state on the science of climate change. The resources from which the IPCC makes its scientific claims shows the IPCC’s role within the notion of co-production. The way in which the panel draws a distinction between science and politics is demonstrated well by Miller as it illiterates the relationships of the IPCC and the concept of co-production.

It was only when the earth was re-imagined that climate change was seen to be a global issue rather than one which was at a local or regional level. There lengthy reports provide governments with a foundation to make policy decisions that would then affect the state. These reports are considered to be definitive in shaping our societies perception of climate change. However recently IPCC reports have been highly criticised for being ‘grey literature’. A classic example of this would where the IPCC claimed that the Himalayan glaciers are melting and by 2035 they would disappear.

These materials were not based on scientific research but quotes taken from ‘Down to Earth’ a green publication in India. Nonetheless, the IPCC have also had great influence during the negotiations of the ‘Kyoto Protocol’ to the UNFCCC (an international environmental treaty). The 191 states have signed the protocol which aims to fight against global warming. It is evident that politics does play an important part in the IPCC’s role because of the advice they provide to the policy makers.

Climate change is a global environmental problem that needs global corporation for its solutions. Several factors have been identified to make international cooperation more likely: greater scientific consensus, increased public concern, burden sharing between nations, short term political benefits and the existence of previous, related multilateral agreements. Peter Haas (1992) has suggested that greater scientific knowledge enhances the probability of political cooperation. Evidence within the fields of technology and science proves that science is not separate from society.

We have to assume a co-production of scientific claims, political decisions and social order. The IPCC takes great pain to determine its reasoning authority. It was contended by Miller that “the IPCC offered a model of global politics in which experts and expert knowledge, as politically neutral agents, were according significant power to define problems of global policy”. The fact that the IPCC is considered to be an international regime, which involves the real world, “it must engage science as well as politics”.

It can be argued that the IPCC is a hybrid organisation which is a combination of science and policy. It is important to note that some governments ignore the work of the IPCC as some politicians have some input in to the wording of the IPCC reports. The idea of the IPCC being a hybrid links in with the analysis of Latour’s (1993) where he says that there are two balancing processes of purification and hybridisation. This in turn means that the higher the number of scientist who take part in politics, the more they will critically analyse the legitimacy of their knowledge claims.

On the contrary, politicians would claim to make their decisions on the bases of the best scientific knowledge available to them if, they were to engage more in science. The classification of the IPCC being a hybrid comes from its Working Groups in terms of its role its report reviews are a “combination of the procedures used in science with those used in multilateral governance”[2]. An important aspect of the IPCC process is its review; its assessments are based upon peer-reviewed and published technical and scientific literature.

There is a question of whether government involvement in negotiations and review as to the wording of the reports makes it more political rather that scientific? The Summary for Policymakers report receives a scrutinised review by diplomats and the authors of the reports are present to make sure that it is scientifically valid. Diplomats may have a say in how the reports are worded but the final decision on what is said is for the scientists to decide.

The use of the IPCC’s power, they have attempted to reassure public perception that there still is a link amongst politics and science. Co-production is a pivotal concept; the IPCC brings together research collected from all around the world which forms a foundation for policy makers. This in turn reinforces the relationship between science and politics, because after the research is brought together, it is then passed on to government who take it to a global level from which they implement regulation.

The Kyoto Protocol itself aims to set targets for individual state to reduce greenhouse gasses which have to be made. The IPCC’s role has lead climate change to be seen as global issue which would then bring in international politics. The idea that the IPCCA’s role within science and politics creates vagueness which is important, by providing advice to policy makers globally, shows that there role is not just putting together research and knowledge collected from around the world but also that it shapes decisions made globally.