Identifying Gaps Between Climate Science and Policy Implementation

A series of workshops hosted by the COP26 Presidency and Woodwell Climate aims to increase climate risk understanding at highest levels of government

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The UK hosted the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 1–12 November 2021. The COP26 summit brought together parties from across the globe to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Thus far, policy progress has not matched the severe impending climate change impacts predicted by models.

Leading up to COP26, the COP Presidency and Woodwell Climate Research Center organized country-specific workshops for 13 countries. These guided discussions attempted to identify how best to deliver climate risk science to heads of government in a way that will influence national policy. 

“It is critically important that policymakers understand the severity of climate change risks, and that they match their policy ambition to the scope and scale of those risks,” said Woodwell Acting Deputy Director and Senior Scientist Dr. Jennifer Francis. “We worked with the COP26 Presidency to organize these workshops because we need to deliver this information more effectively, so that governments can take the urgent action that is needed now.”

Working with the UK’s Science and Innovation Network, Woodwell convened cross-sectoral experts, advisors and advocates on risk to collect and share best practices. Countries involved in the workshops include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Korea, South Africa, United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

Over 2 hours, workshop participants discussed successes and failures of policies to address climate risk, as well as the challenges to tackling emissions reduction and adaptation in their country. The conversations covered a spectrum of climate issues— from vested interests in agriculture in Brazil, to warming Arctic concerns in Russia, to intractable national governments and the question of whether more information would be enough to spur action. 

“A better understanding of the full scale of the risks which climate change poses to our way of life and national economies is essential to inform commitments to climate action at COP26 and beyond,” COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma said.

The workshop outcomes were summarized in a report released at COP26. Recurring themes across countries included the desire for expanded, more detailed datasets, research conducted with policy in mind, pairing risk information with solutions, and using an interdisciplinary approach to risk assessment. Woodwell’s Chief of External Affairs, Dave McGlinchey, said that the workshops have shown a clear way forward to improve climate risk assessments and make them more relevant to national political leaders.

“These workshops are the first step toward delivering this risk information more effectively and motivating more ambitious national policy,” McGlinchey said. “We’ve learned that policy questions and communication strategies need to be incorporated at the outset and throughout the risk assessment process. We’ve learned that risk assessments need to be localized and interdisciplinary, in order to resonate with policymakers. The next phase of our work is to help make these changes.”

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