"We need to investigate the research"

At an international workshop at the MCC, scientists from various disciplines discussed how to deal with the growing mountain of climate literature.


On average, well over a hundred scientific studies on climate change appear every day. However, science and politics still lack a deep understanding of the solution options and their effects. To discuss this dilemma, more than 70 researchers from 20 countries met at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin. The three-day workshop "Learning on Climate Solutions" was supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the University of Leeds.

The results of the workshop are important to accelerate the scientific learning process on climate solutions. It is thus also relevant for the forthcoming Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In contrast to the last report, which primarily focused on delivering evidence for man-made climate change, AR6 will concentrate more on solution options. "In the face of the literature explosion in climate science in recent years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of the current state of research," says Jan Christoph Minx, group leader at the MCC and main organizer of the workshop.

"We must therefore examine the plethora of scattered individual research results in the literature and investigate them by using the methods of research synthesis. Learning is only possible through a deep understanding of why research findings differ. This will provide policymakers with a solid basis of scientific information," adds Minx, who is also a professor at the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds.

For their analyses, the scientists are using methods of research synthesis that have long been established in the health sciences as well as modern 'big data' tools. They organize and link findings from various research areas and prepare them in such a way that they can easily be picked up in scientific reports, for example by the IPCC. “We expect over 300,000 peer-reviewed publications related to climate change that are relevant for AR6”, says Lea Berrang Ford of the University of Leeds. “This represents a huge, almost paralysing, task for the climate assessment community. It is critical that we advance our evidence synthesis methods if we are to maintain credibility of the assessment process."

In particular, demand-side climate solutions – such as energy savings – have so far received little attention in both the scientific and the political debate. "The systematic review of the literature now gives us the tools to better understand how behavior, social norms and urban planning affect climate-friendly lifestyles," stresses Felix Creutzig. He heads the MCC working group on land use, infrastructure and transport and is the coordinating lead-author of the chapter on demand-side solutions of AR6.

At the workshop in Berlin, it was discussed which research topics are particularly relevant with regard to AR6. In addition, teams were formed to conduct systematic reviews in their respective areas. The scientists were also trained in how to implement the methods of research synthesis and were familiarized with the different IT-based techniques.