Climate Science for Policy? The knowledge politics of the IPCC after Copenhagen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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The rise of climate change as an issue of global concern has rested on scientific representation and understanding of the causes and impacts of, and responses to climatic change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in particular, has been central to how climate change has become known as a global political problem. This thesis aims to critically examine the production, negotiation, and stabilisation of policy-relevant knowledge in international climate politics. It takes the IPCC as a global stage on which the knowledge politics of climate change plays out, drawing attention to the performative interactions which shape the relationship between knowledge production processes and policy making at the global level. Informed by social constructivist accounts, particularly from within the social studies of science, this thesis builds on the notion that science and politics can never be truly separated from each other, rather, they are co-produced. In turn politics is not confined to strategic interests and negotiating positions, it is instead a constitutive process taking place at many scales. Theoretically I advance the concept of knowledge politics, as a co-productive and performative interplay between knowledge and politics. This interplay takes place both in deliberations over what counts as science, knowledge, and policy on the global stages of the IPCC and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and in the selection and choices that take place when writing the IPCC assessment reports. Empirically I explore different backstage and frontstage sites which approach the knowledge-politics of the IPCC from different angles.

This thesis finds that the relationship between science and politics in the climate change case is complicated and convoluted. Whilst the IPCC plays a central role in mediating between the scientific community and international climate politics it is not purely a vehicle of communication. Instead it is actively involved in shaping the knowledge on climate change that becomes known in the political realm. The IPCC’s particular definition of policy relevant knowledge, and its ways of defining the science-policy relationship based on a separation of facts and values, has resulted in a tendency to favour abstract, scientific representations of climate change. This thesis has also shown, however, that this representation is often challenged backstage in the IPCC assessment process by both authors from different disciplines, and governmental representatives from different parts of the world. In turn, it also illustrates that since the Paris Agreement in 2015, there has seemingly been a shift in the way that the IPCC approaches policy relevant knowledge on climate change, through ensuring that conversations about interdisciplinarity, values, and deeply entrenched differences in how science is done are taking place, both frontstage and backstage. Overall, this thesis draws attention to how the decisions made backstage over knowledge play a key role in how climate change comes to be known as a political issue in the frontstage global climate politics. This interaction between the backstage and frontstage shows how the sites of politics can be extended to also include scientific deliberations and illustrate the co-productive relationship between the IPCC and climate change politics more broadly.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Centre for Environmental and Climate Science (CEC)
  • Rummukainen, Markku, Supervisor
  • Alkan Olsson, Johanna, Assistant supervisor
  • Lövbrand, Eva, Assistant supervisor
Award date2018 Nov 30
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-7753-894-3
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-7753-895-0
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Nov

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2018-11-30
Time: 10:00
Place: the Blue Hall, Ecology Building, Sölvegatan 37, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Lahsen, Myanna
Title: Ass. professor
Affiliation: Wageningen University, Netherlands

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
  • Environmental Sciences

Free keywords

  • climate change
  • science
  • politics
  • IPCC
  • knowledge
  • performance


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