Epistemic Communities and the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Seminar Paper, 2019

14 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

Index of abbreviations

1. Introduction

2. Epistemic Communities and the establishment of IPCC
2.1. Epistemic Communities and how they facilitate institutionalized cooperation
2.2. Creation of the issue-area "climate" and the need for international cooperation
2.3. Creation of the IPCC and its relation to climate scholarship

3. Conclusion

4. References

Index of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

In modern societies, science and scientific knowledge are considered to have a deep impact on so­ciety even beyond technological progress or economic growth. Science in general and scientific knowledge in specific represent an all-embracing power. They not only fundamentally determine how we see the world. They also influence political decision-making by providing new insights and altering how we perceive what societal and political issues are or how to solve them.1 Morisse- Schilbach even states: "It seems that the use of expert knowledge and especially scientific know­ledge is increasingly integral to the way political and societal actors perceive and deal with political, economic, and social issues, both on the domestic and global scale."2

This paper will analyze the influence of knowledge on the creation of international institutions. Led by the question "How did Epistemic Communities facilitate the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?", the analysis starts with a brief introduction to epistemic com­munities. It will show how their work has an impact on political decision-making and how know­ledge can cause demand for institutionalized cooperation. In particular, through the approach of weak cognitivism the following chapter provides theoretical background knowledge on how epis- temic communities create institutions by providing knowledge and defining issues. Subsequent, the analysis continues with the development of "climate" to our modern understanding. The meaning of climate changed fundamentally through scientific findings and emphasized climate change as a glo­bal issue. In order to answer the research question, the knowledge of climate and ozone layer will be examined on its effect on the creation and expansion of referring institutions. Theoretically, pus­hed by knowledge, the perception of climate change as a global issue received broad attention by policy-makers. Rising perception eventually elevated "climate" to a global topic and caused need to act. Policymakers as well as referring epistemic communities cooperated globally and created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

2. Epistemic Communities and the establishment of IPCC

Epistemic Communities (E.C.) are crucial "channels through which new ideas circulate from socie­ties to governments as well as from country to country"3. Scholars in International Relation find it hard to give an appropriate definition for these "communities" and certain questions about their spe­cific structures, origins, and knowledge-accessibility remain unanswered. Regardless, the epistemic communities approach understands science as a political actor and problem solver in decision-ma­king processes.4 Further they can be defined as a "network of professionals with recognized experti­se and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within the domain or issue area."5 Members of E.C. are primarily connected to science and share a common ethos of science. Furthermore, they share a common base of proper strategies to resolve given tasks. To clarify what their meaning of science and knowledge is, the next chapter will seize this idea by introducing the E.C.'s main assumptions and transfer them to case related topics.

2.1. Epistemic Communities and how they facilitate institutionalized coopera­tion

The E.C. approach ist based on weak cognitivism and belongs to the meta-theories of constuc- tivism. Its main assumptions circulate around knowledge, ideas, or beliefs and their connection to (institutionalized) cooperation. It opens the possibility that political actor's and nation's interests change through learning new patterns of reasoning. Although the approach recognises the increa­sing amount of factors and fast rising level of complexity, knowledge and ideas are at the center of the theory.6 While the complexity of global politics complicates international policy coordination, cooperation can only take place, if there is a consensus about essential aspects of the problem. That makes cooperation a necessity for most international policies. Subsequent, one of the main assump­tions of weak cognitivism is that new knowledge can cause demand for cooperation. A requirement for this is that raising complexity leads to increasing demand of policymakers for scientific advise.7 These scientific consultations appear to be at the center of E.C. approach and have to be verified in order to prove the influence of knowledge on the creation of institutions. This effect constitutes the main function and is part of E.C.'s mode of operation, which can be described by four stages of po­licy innovation, policy diffusion, policy selection, and policy persistence. Policy innovation belongs to the main functions and includes the creation of new knowledge in policy fields as well as consul­tations for redefinition of national interests and providing solution approaches. Policy diffusion stands out as an important function for this analysis. It describes the following communication pro­cess, which mostly takes place in intergovernmental conferences or international organisations. Po­licy selection deals with policymakers and how they exploit scientific expertise to pursue their own beliefs and moral values. Policy persistence eventually means that institutionalised ideas and poli­cies remain persistent and might lead to new scientific consensus.8

This paper's research design adopts the approach's key aspects and sets knowledge and ideas about climate and ozone layer as independent variables, while global policymakers' behavior, the creation and expansion of climate institutions in particular, are dependent variables. In relation to the rese­arch question, the causal mechanism deals with the influence these ideas have and how they influ­ence actors' behavior under certain conditions. In particular the design will show how E.C. use knowledge to create perception of global problems and beacon to cooperative (institutionalized) so­lutions. E.C. are in many ways the key to the answer. They contribute to new scientific findings and help to channel the arising discussions. Knowledge delivered by E.C. has to be interpreted from their point of view. This relates to the social construction of reality and puts knowledge and ideas in perspective. As a result, they define issue-areas and influence its perception from their point of view and reality. In social science this is common knowledge. But it attains distinction in relation to re­duce scientific complexity. This has to be done not only for non-scientists, but for politicians as well. Policymakers have limited understanding of scientific problems which creates a high degree of uncertainty among them. As representatives and experts for their subject, scientists are promoter and consultant when it comes to transferring knowledge to policies. As a community they aim on setting and obtaining standards, which are created out of their socially constructed reality. But this can only be obtained, if scientists have a high-grade consensus. Coherent policy advice is only pos­sible, if the community shares the same ideas and beliefs. This grants access to informal consultati­ons. But the formal access is most important in order to influence regime formation and regime im- plementation.9 With this theoretical foundation, E.C. could be an important factor for institutionali­sation: "[...] control over knowledge and information is an important dimension of power and [...] the diffusion of new ideas and information can lead to new patterns of behavior and prove to be an important determinant of international policy coordination".10

The following chapter will fill these theoretical assumption with empirical evidence to show that E.C. initiated and supported the creation of IPCC by defining issues and providing knowledge and scientific advice.

2.2. Creation of the issue-area "climate" and the need for international co­operation

Modern climatology arose from simple meteorology starting in the 18th century. It started with ru­dimentary communities which made groundbreaking discoveries and provided knowledge to create a new understanding of climate. Science defined the issue-area "climate" in the first place and un­derlined the need for international cooperation. Its development can be described by three phases which are crucial for this analysis: 1. A change of paradigm, 2. new theory building and computer simulation, and 3. the global distribution of climatology as scholarship.11

First, a change of paradigm is the foundation of modern climatology and is part of the early mentio­ned policy innovation. The investigations on acid rain and its consequences after a theoretical nu­clear war delivered pioneering knowledge about physical and chemical processes in the atmosphere. After these investigations, the discovery of depleting ozone layers12 advanced climate scholarship even more and scientific studies changed the perspective on what earth's atmosphere actually is. Its chemical composition and dynamics got more important and became the focus of the newborn cli­mate change studies. The idea of earth's atmosphere changed from an unalterable and physically inert atmosphere to the perception of a highly convertible as well as chemically and physically fra­gil one. But most important was the change of the general perspective. New knowledge about the once so resilient atmosphere changed the scientific opinion on how the atmosphere and its deve­lopment should be handled. The view on climate changed from a neglected meteorological conditi­on to a complex global issue. This insight opened gates for climate being a global requirement for the preservation of life. Second, technological progress catapulted early climatology to new heights. In the 1920s, for example, forecasting the weather for the next day took about 24 hours and reduced it to absurdity. But emerging computer technology propelled climate researches. Computer simula­tions got utilisable and in the 1960s the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) used it for their Global Atmospheric Research Program. Through this development, climate became an accessible issue for scientists all over the world. Although technological progress elevated the possibilities wi­thin the area of research, its impact on the connection between climate research and international politics and economy is even more important. Deeper insights discovered the effect of human beha­vior on climate change and prepared the connection to global politics. Third, development of know­ledge about climate goes hand in hand with an increasing degree of organisation. This relation alre­ady points at the connection amongst knowledge and institutionalized cooperation. In the beginning, climate organisations provided weather forecasts for agricultural companies. Although international cooperation between scientists started at the end of the 19th century with the establishment of a permanent body - the International Meteorological Committee (IMC). It was not until the 1950s, however, that the WMO realised the first global projects on climate research. In the sequel, climate as an issue area got broad attention by international scientists. 1957/58 was named International Geophysical Year (IGY) and initiated global research programs like the World Weather Watch (WWW). Pushed by the IGY, researches about climate related topics arose at international level. Lead by the WMO and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), the Global Atmos­pheric Research Program (GARP) was founded and climate eventually started to appear as a global issue. Until this, climate research was driven on a domestic level. The establishment of scientific organisations and an international community promoted the development of real international stu­dies. But it took until the early 1970s, when the "Study of Man's Impact on Climate" (SMIC), the first multinational study, reached international politics. The study got presented at die United Nati­ons Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in 1972. As the first conference on environ­mental issues, the conference marks the beginning of global environmental policy.13 The develop­ment of organisations and the mentioned communication and consulting processes are the slow and fragmented beginning of E.C.'s policy diffusion. As a main part of this analysis, the next chapter will describe policy diffusion, which finally led to the creation of the IPCC, in more detail.

2.3. Creation of the IPCC and its relation to climate scholarship

With participating scientist from 14 different countries, SMIC was part of the beginning of interna­tional climate policy. Although they could not reach an unanimous conclusion, the presented know­ledge consolidated "climate" as a topic on the United Nations' agenda. Theoretically E.C.'s influ­ence on policymakers is greatest, when the community shares the same beliefs and knowledge. In this case two different theories stood against each other. One said atmospheres temperature will rise, because of the greenhouse effect. The other said temperature will fall, because of increasing air pol­lution. Both scenarios threaten humans environment which may have caused great uncertainty among policymakers and scientists as well. Although science's discordant positions does not sup­port the E.C.'s attempt on the first look, the newly created uncertainty about climate's state and how to deal with it indeed braced the position to gain further insights. The state of not knowing how hu­man interactions have repercussions on climate can also be interpreted as a uniting factor among scientists. As members of different disciplines, one of their main commonalities was the aspiration to reduce the lack of knowledge. The SMIC might be seen as an example for many other conferen­ces and debates which constitute the climate-related epistemic community. As a direct answer to this growing uncertainty, more than 1200 scientists from over 112 nations met to work on a declara­tion for further researches and political recommendations. Subsequently the organisation formerly known as UNCHE was changed over to the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).14 De­spite numerous committees, organisations, and programs, there was no global institution for the emerging climatology, yet.


1 See Morisse-Schilbach 2012: p. 59.

2 Morisse-Schilbach 2012: p. 59.

3 Haas 1992: p. 27.

4 See Morisse-Schilbach 2012: p. 61f.

5 Haas 1992: p. 3.

6 See. Haas 1992: p. 1f.

7 See Morisse-Schilbach 2012: p. 69ff.

8 See Reinecke 2010: p. 24f.

9 See Stahl 1998: p. 32f.

10 Haas 1992: p. 2.

11 See Halfmann 2012: p. 135.

12 This summary is limited on climate related developments. See Aretz 2006: p. 94-120 for details on the ozone debate.

13 See Halfmann 2012: p. 135ff.

14 See Halfmann 2012: p. 139.

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Epistemic Communities and the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
University of Bamberg
Internationale und europäische Politik: International Institutions and their Role in Global Governance
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
change, climate, communities, epistemic, intergovernmental, panel
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André Will (Author), 2019, Epistemic Communities and the creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/540060


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