By Guy Edwards, Victoria Elmore and Jin Hyung Lee
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is underway and is due to be completed by 2013/14. There are 84 Latin American and Caribbean contributing authors out of a total of 833.
As we approach the publication date, these scientists have a vital role to play in promoting the importance of climate science in Latin America and persuading governments to create robust and ambitious national and international climate policies.
In turn, regional governments should continue increasing levels of funding and scientific cooperation on climate science given the significant role it can play in developing policies on climate.
While the total number of Latin American contributing authors has increased since 2007 (when the first assessment report was launched), the percentage of authors from the region has actually decreased.
In 2007, Latin American authors represented 12 percent of the total 620 contributing authors to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. Now, they represent just over 10 percent of the total, which is significantly less than authors from other regions. European authors represent 32 percent, the United States represents 25 percent, and Russia, Central/East Asia and India represent 16 percent.
Brazil and Mexico dominate, contributing 30 percent and 26 percent of the region’s authors respectively. Argentina (13 percent), Chile, and Cuba (7 percent each) follow suit.
Brazil and Mexico are the only Latin American countries making significant contributions to the AR5, with each accounting for 3 percent of the total number of authors. These numbers are dwarfed by the U.S. (which has over 20 percent of all AR5 authors) and the UK (8 percent), but are comparable to China (5 percent), Germany, Australia, France and India (all 4 percent).
LIMITED ROLE FOR THE REGION
While Latin America boasts 8.5 percent of the world’s population, it makes up only 3.5 percent of the international research community and merely 4.9 percent of scientific publications.
The region’s limited scientific achievement can be attributed to funding shortages. Latin American countries invest roughly 0.6 percent of their GDP in research and development – about a third of the global average, with most of this cash being channeled into a few major universities.
The concentration of research capacity on climate within the Latin American university system has become increasingly evident, especially in the heavily funded universities. National or private institutions employ the vast majority of the Latin American AR5 authors, with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Universidade de Sao Paulo, Brazil, being the largest institutional contributors.
According to the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, Latin American research tends to focus on the natural rather than social aspects of climate change. Greater research is needed linking the impacts of climate change to issues such as poverty, human security, trade and natural resources.
Encouragingly, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean is partnering with Latin American university academics, demonstrating the region’s interest in the economics of climate change.
Latin America’s science funding is increasing as countries in the region show greater interest in the benefits of science for better policy. Argentina and Brazil, in an attempt to overcome the obstacles hindering their university science programs, are providing funding for researchers to collaborate with European and American partners in order to gain insight into scientific methodology they can utilize back home.
Venezuela now requires donations from large companies to fund research on climate, energy innovation, building materials and urban development. These national initiatives illustrate the growing efforts Latin American countries are making to further their research and involvement in climate change science.
LINK BETWEEN INVOLVEMENT AND POLICY
There also appears to be a link between the number of scientists involved in the IPCC assessments reports and how progressive that country’s climate change policies are, emphasizing the importance of science for policymaking.
In the case of Brazil and Mexico, greater national science investment has helped develop and promote national policy agendas on climate change offering useful experiences for other countries.
Because scientific progress plays a significant role in national and international policymaking on climate change, Latin American countries must continue increasing levels of funding and cooperation on science.
While Latin American universities have formed networks with other universities in Europe and North America or with their own governments, there appears to be little regional collaboration. Latin American universities could benefit in pooling their resources to fund research and increase levels of cooperation on climate topics relevant to their region and sub-regions.
Latin American governments and the private sector should continue to build on a range of policies to promote and develop their national science credentials and capacity, particularly on climate change, in order to increase regional representation in the IPCC Assessment Reports and international climate change meetings. This representation is essential to secure Latin American voices and expertise at the top level of international climate science and the related negotiation process.
Following the COP17 UN climate negotiations in Durban and the decision to reach a new international climate agreement by 2015, scheduled to come into effect in 2020, sustained action is required to persuade and pressure policymakers into acknowledging the urgency of the situation.
It is crucial for Latin American scientists to contribute to the effort to secure greater climate change action to ensure that the 2015 review of the IPCC’s AR5 will become a catalyst for securing an ambitious international agreement and not a further delay in the climate negotiations.
Guy Edwards, who is based in Ecuador, is a research fellow at Brown University’s Center for Environmental Studies and works with the Latin American Platform on Climate and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Victoria Elmore and Jin Hyung Lee are both environmental studies students at Brown University. A longer version of this blog first appeared on Intercambio Climatico.