by Judith Curry
Our point is that the IPCC has bought into a very specific framing of “the problem” that has rendered climate policy ineffective and has foreclosed the possibility of public consent. – Silke Beck et al.
You may recall this previous paper by Silke Beck discussed at Climate Etc. Between Tribalism and Trust.
The journal Gaia has published a very interesting and timely paper by Beck and colleagues entitled Towards a Reflexive Turn in the Governance of Global Environmental Expertise: The Cases of the IPCC and IPBES. The authors are Silke Beck, Maud Borie, Jason Chilvers, Alejandro Esguerra, Katja Heubach, Mike Hulme, Rolf Lidskog, Eva Lövbrand, Elisabeth Marquard, Clark Miller, Tahani Nadim, Carsten Neßhöver, Josef Settele, Esther Turnhout, Eleftheria Vasileiadou, Christoph Görg.
The full manuscript is available online [link], below are some excerpts that I find to be particularly insightful:
As a response to the controversial release of climate scientists’ e-mails (the “climategate” affair) and arguments about errors in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC 2007), the alliance of national scientific academies – the InterAcademyCouncil( IAC) – was commissioned in March 2010 to conduct an independent evaluation of the procedures and processes of the IPCC. These events showed that in terms of public value it is the social practices and quality of knowledge making that matter as much as the content of the knowledge itself.
Although a perceived lack of public accountability can be regarded as one of the triggers of public controversy following “climategate”, there has been no evidence to date of any efforts to establish appropriate mechanisms of disclosure to address it. This narrowing of the outcomes of reform negotiations has been closely associated with the panel’s consensus-based decision-making procedures. Whenever matters of negotiation have been contested, consensus-based negotiations have led to a “lowest common denominator” – a minimum outcome accepted by all parties at that time. The requirement of unanimity and the orchestration of procedures, however (so runs the argument), leads to the fact that scientific findings and views deviating from the mainstream are systematically ignored or excluded. It is precisely those reform proposals that go beyond incremental revision of specific procedures and signal a need for structural adaptation, which remain highly contentious and have therefore largely been bracketed out of the intergovernmental negotiations, or else postponed. So far, no debate has ever taken place about the IPCC’s relationship to public policy and to its various global “publics” or about its normative commitments in terms of accountability, political representation, and legitimacy.
These difficulties also point to the more profound problem of how climate change issues are framed. The framing of climate change by the IPCC as a universal global risk reinforces the assumption that more and better consensual decision support will lead to public trust and political action. This assumption is not necessarily the solution, but might contribute to the problem of political inertia. If climate change risks were framed differently, then different forms of political action would open up – in relation, for example, to regional adaptation, local air quality, and energy services for the poor. Opening up the issue of climate change to different ways of framing is part of an enhanced reflexivity and social learning process.
Forms of integration and representation: Framing anthropogenic climate change as a global universal risk calls for particular scientific practices of up-scaling and a standardization of approaches. Continuing the quest for increasingly integrated and consensus-based decision support information may not be the most beneficial way to inform debates about diverse policy portfolios in politically contested fields such as energy supply and carbon dioxide removal. Here, cultural differences and preferences proliferate, and significant decisions can be taken at much smaller scales than the planet. Focusing on consensus, the IPCC becomes vulnerable to criticism relating to issues where no consensus exists (e.g., biofuels, solar radiation management technologies). Different protocols for expert deliberation across different knowledge domains may be needed as well as greater public transparency about how these protocols work in practice. This is one reason why the IPCC has to be “prized open” and re-constituted to reflect the changing political, social, and cultural worlds in which climate change now circulates.
Public accountability and participation: The events surrounding “climategate” demonstrated that public trust cannot be reduced to a function of the quality of science or the breadth and depth of consensus on science alone, as the IPCC had assumed. They showed that trust in science is related to the performance and persuasive power of the people and institutions who speak for science – and that not all countries interpret or trust the IPCC in similar ways. The IPCC’s chosen style of risk assessment and communication has also contributed to a unitary approach to representing scientific consensus as a single voice. Not acknowledging or inviting diverse voices to speak will fail to assuage the sense of mistrust.
From the Conclusions:
The argument we have made is twofold: first, as the IPCC experience shows, assessment panels must themselves change over time, sometimes radically; and second, those involved in each new domain for which an expert assessment body is convened must do the job of institutional design mostly from scratch – different assessment processes should be designed accordingly to address context-specific demands for knowledge(s).
This reflexive turn aims to generate a broad range of visions, pathways, and ways of responding that leave room for choice. For this reason we encourage experimentation with new forms and formats of governing expertise by bringing in largely neglected sources of knowledge, voices and options. The more perspectives are available to political actors, the wider the range of policy options that will be conceivable. A more reflexive and inclusive form of governing environmental expertise, based upon a more plural and participatory normative and epistemic framework, can make knowledge about environmental change more useful and increase politicians’ and the general public’s willingness to adopt new policies. Recognizing competing ways of seeing and knowing nature and society may contribute not only towards mapping out possible future trajectories of environmental change but also towards investigating a wider set of policy choices and constructing alternative framings and visions for society in the future.
I think there are some genuine insights in this paper, and I don’t disagree with a word that Beck et al. say.
Beck et al. provide some ideas on how to reform the IPCC. I have previously argued to Kill the IPCC. Personally, I don’t think it can be reformed, since the institution lacks the capacity for meaningful self reflection (not to mention the wisdom to change the organization in a meaningful way). Which leads us to the issue of ‘functional stupidity.’
I came across this paper published in Journal of Management via a tweet from Nasser Saidi: A Stupidity Based Theory of Organization, by Mats Alveson and Andre Spicer [link to abstract]. It provides some insights that are relevant to the IPCC particularly in light of the Beck et al. paper:
Abstract. In this paper we question the one‐sided thesis that contemporary organizations rely on the mobilization of cognitive capacities. We suggest that severe restrictions on these capacities in the form of what we call functional stupidity are an equally important if under‐recognized part of organizational life. Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications. We argue that functional stupidity is prevalent in contexts dominated by economy in persuasion which emphasizes image and symbolic manipulation. This gives rise to forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action. In turn, this structures individuals’ internal conversations in ways that emphasize positive and coherent narratives and marginalize more negative or ambiguous ones. This can have productive outcomes such as providing a degree of certainty for individuals and organizations. But it can have corrosive consequences such as creating a sense of dissonance among individuals and the organization as a whole. The positive consequences can give rise to self‐reinforcing stupidity. The negative consequences can spark dialogue, which may undermine functional stupidity.
From my perspective, the above description fits the IPCC to a ‘T’.
I regard the IPCC as an impediment to both the scientific and policy processes. Beck et al. provide a good diagnosis of the problem, but nature of a useful ‘cure’, and the process by which such a cure is actually implemented, remains elusive. Bringing the academic organizational management community into such discussions would at least be interesting, and possibly useful.
In the meantime, I will be personally encouraging any developments that I see that will break up the IPCC’s monopoly on climate knowledge.