Policymakers need real-time evidence to address global crises

There are already approaches for Corona – soon also for climate policy? An article in the top journal "Nature" describes the road to a new level of research synthesis.

"Living Evicence" is already being used here: headquarters of the WHO in Geneva. | Photo: Shutterstock/Skorzewiak


When it comes to continuously collating and updating the state of knowledge on the coronavirus, Australia is currently a world leader. More than 70 times within 20 months, policymakers and the public have been provided with a comprehensive overview, prepared by experts from the medical and scientific communities in the "COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce". The real-time research synthesis has come to the fore during the pandemic, and this also affords opportunities for the fight against other global crises such as global heating. An international research team with participation of the Berlin-based climate research institute MCC (Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change) sheds light on this in an article published in the renowned journal Nature.

The researchers, who in part are associated with this COVID-19 taskforce, call this system "Living Evidence". The Covid guidelines of the UK and the World Health Organization (WHO) are already based on such a permanently updated source of information; an important driver for this innovation is the global knowledge network Cochrane. The article discusses the prerequisites for Living Evidence such as the use of artificial intelligence to scan large amounts of data and the free accessibility of research data, as well as the challenges, for example, for research funding and scientific publishers. The conclusion is that the dynamics of the problem, as currently illustrated by the emergence of the Omicron variant in the coronavirus crisis, for example, require the rapid provision of robust scientific evidence as a basis for decision-making, otherwise policymakers will risk bad decisions, and policy and science will lose credibility.

The article also emphasises that  research and research funding should also embrace the concept of Living Evidence in fields outside medicine. "This is especially true for the field of climate policy," says Jan Minx, head of the working group Applied Sustainability Science at MCC and a co-author of the article. "We need better and faster research synthesis that provides us with robust decision-making knowledge. The understanding of which solutions work to solve the climate crisis is still patchy, but we need to respond quickly and cannot afford many mistakes. To inform the countless decisions required to decarbonise the world economy, there is no alternative to such an agile approach."


Further information:

  • Elliot, J., Lawrence, R., Minx, J., Olapado, O., Ravaud, P., Jeppesen, B., Thomas, J., Turner, T., Vandvik, P., Grimshaw, J., 2021, Decision makers need constantly updated evidence synthesis, Nature
  • A press release from the research team on the Nature article can be found here.
  • An MCC news from January 2021 on health research as a lesson for climate research can be found here.