I got this inquiry from Russia: "I found some titles of your interesting publications, but they are not available in our local libraries, which do not subscribe foreign editions. If possible, please, explain me what are the main pitfalls in the present practice of policy advice concerning man-made climate change in your opinion? What are the main causes of discrepancy between scientific knowledge about climate change and its understanding in the public?" Here is my answer, to which I invite comments by the readers of Klimazwiebel (please stick to the issue in your comments!)
1. In my understanding, the biggest pitfall in the present practice of policy advice is the optimizing of knowledge claims for fitting political purposes. That is, to present a mix of hypothesis, facts and uncertainties which serve a pre-defined set agenda best. Both vocal alarmists and skeptics, use this strategy to advocate their agenda of upcoming catastrophe or of the insignificance (or even non-existence) of man-made climate change. Typically, they create the impression that the issue is entirely certain (e.g., climate models are useless, data have been manipulated; present change is faster than predicted, current meteorological extremes are getting worse because of elevated greenhouse gas concentrations, temperature rise beyond 2°C leads to irreversible catastrophic climate change). Interestingly, the two groups refer constantly to each other; they live of each other, and dominate the public communication. (See also von Storch, H., 2009: Good science, bad politics. Wall Street Journal online)
2. Another pitfall is to frame the preferred climate policy as an immediate consequence of climate science: "climate science tells us that we must limit the increase of global mean air temperature to less than 2 degrees relative to pre-industrial times". This claim is useful for policymakers, as it relieves them to take responsibility for their decisions. But science is not providing definite political goals. Instead it estimates the implications of a warming of x°C, with x being any positive number. And societies are supposed to chose x, employing the estimates of impacts and their normative systems. Societies seem to have picked x=2, at least in Western Europe. I suggest that they consider this number the smallest one which might be possibly achieved (in an optimistic perspective). Indeed, x=2 may be a very good political goal, but it is based on a normative assessment, and has gone through a political negotiation process among (economic, political, social) stakeholders, as all political decisions. It is a political number.
3. A third pitfall is for stakeholders to listen only to natural (and maybe: economic) scientists. All climate politics have much to do with cultural values, with social constructions of beliefs– this is also true for stakeholders and scientists! Thus, social and cultural scientists should additonally guide the process in order to sort out scientific and social constructions about climate change, impact and policies. (see also: von Storch, H., 2009: Climate Research and Policy Advice: Scientific and Cultural Constructions of Knowledge. Env. Science Pol. 12, 741-747, )
4. Scientists should practice political advice in a sustainable manner – so that the communication and advice in a few years time can be done with the same credibility as today. (See also von Storch, H., 2009: The Sustainability of Climate Science. Roger Pielke jr.'s blog)