World climate reports should focus more on concrete policy

In his new book, MCC Group Leader Martin Kowarsch shows how the IPCC could contribute more to public discourse by exploring policy alternatives in its assessments.


The assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should make greater efforts to take into account the actual feasibility and practical consequences of climate policy in the individual countries. For example, greater emphasis on the national commitments to reduce emissions from the Paris Agreement could increase the policy relevance of the assessments.

“Scientific analyses of national and short-term policy instruments are often more interesting for policymakers and the public than long-term scenarios”, argues Martin Kowarsch, head of the Working Group Scientific Assessments, Ethics, and Public Policy at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), in his new book A Pragmatist Orientation for the Social Sciences in Climate Policy—How to Make Integrated Economic Assessments Serve Society. He adds: “It is hard to arrive at a distant destination without knowing in which direction the first steps should go.”

Some of the author’s proposals, such as the exploration of alternative climate policy pathways, were already considered in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report from 2014. Yet now, in advance of the Sixth Assessment Report, the book is gaining even more in significance. Experts across the world are consulting about what kind of content and organizational structure might lend the report greater policy relevance. Thereby, social scientists play an increasingly important role for assessment making. In his book, Kowarsch shows how they can enhance the value of scientific policy advice. For example, they could help to translate diverse policy priorities—such as economic growth, environmental protection and social equality—into alternative policy pathways.

Kowarsch, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, also advises the IPCC to work towards creating more interaction with the general public. So far, the IPCC assessments are intended primarily for policy-makers. “However, the public discourse on climate policy could be strengthened, if different summary reports were written in collaboration with and for each of the various target groups, such as representatives from business and civil society,” says Kowarsch. 

Finally, Kowarsch recommends focusing more on land use issues, as these are in many ways interdependent with other objectives and policy instruments. “Combating climate change belongs just as much as global food security to the UN sustainable development goals. The example shows that climate policy objectives and instruments are strongly intertwined with other policy fields and that that linkage should therefore be taken into consideration by the IPCC,” says Kowarsch.


Here you can find out more about the book.