Climate Science Stifled by Lack of Diversity

Climate Science Stifled by Lack of Diversity
Photo: Pixabay

Katherine Willey

Environment & Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

A report released last week by climate science and policy website Carbon Brief has exposed the chronic lack of diverse voices in climate research, indicating that scientists from the global south are significantly underrepresented. 

The study examined the background of the 1,300 authors of the 100 most cited climate-related papers between 2016 and 2020, focusing particularly on “country of affiliation.”. 90% of the papers came from institutions of the global north, 7.3% from Asian institutions, 2.8% from Latin America’s and just 1% from Africa’s. In addition, not a single paper had a lead researcher from Africa or Latin America. There are also notable discrepancies within continents. For instance, 55% of all publications are from the UK, US or Australia and of the 10 African authors found in this analysis, 8 are from South Africa. 

Carbon Brief argues that the consequences of this are far-reaching. Current research and its recommendations are dominated by the interests of scientists from the global north, meaning that the concerns of those from the global south risk erasure. Policy makers rely on this science to guide decision making at both national and international levels. Domination of this field by certain groups of people from certain countries means that they overwhelmingly define climate policy and adaptation strategies. As a result, solutions are geared to the needs and capacity of wealthy countries with colder climates, disregarding the impact of climate change on the global south. This exacerbates existing inequality and the already increased vulnerability of low income countries to the consequences of climate change.

One possible solution is greater cooperation between institutions to ensure that a diverse range of perspectives is included in future climate research. A group of scholars has also put together a ‘Manifesto for Action’ (see below) which outlines steps which academics can take to broaden climate science for the better.  

For further reading and sources:

McGrath, B. M. (2021). Climate change: Voices from global south muted by climate science. BBC News. 

Schipper, E. L. F., Ensor, J., Mukherji, A., Mirzabaev, A., Fraser, A., Harvey, B., Totin, E., Garschagen, M., Pathak, M., Antwi-Agyei, P., Tanner, T., & Shawoo, Z. (2021). Equity in climate scholarship: a manifesto for action. Climate and Development, 1–4. 

Tandon, A. (2021). Analysis: The lack of diversity in climate-science research. Carbon Brief.