Wednesday, 09 May 2012 14:53

Latin American scientists can play a greater role in promoting robust climate policies Featured

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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 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, the percentage of authors from the region has actually decreased. In 2007, Latin American authors represented 12% of the total 620 contributing authors to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. Now, they represent just over 10% of the total, which is significantly less than authors from other regions. European authors represent 32%, the United States represents 25%, and Russia, Central/East Asia and India represent 16%. The 84 Latin American authors represent 14 countries in the region including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, Costa Rica, Barbados, Guatemala, Jamaica, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Brazil and Mexico dominate, contributing 30% and 26% of the region’s authors respectively. Argentina (13%), Chile, and Cuba (7% each) follow suit. These five countries were also the largest contributors to AR4 in 2007. Brazil and Mexico are the only Latin American countries making significant contributions to the AR5, with each accounting for 3% of the total number of authors.  These numbers are dwarfed by the U.S. (which has over 20% of all AR5 authors) and the UK (8%), but are comparable to China (5%), Germany, Australia, France, India (all 4%). While Latin America lags behind other regions, it has become the second-fastest growing region for scientific development in the world after Asia.  The Spanish Scimago Institution’s Rankings World Report 2011 suggests higher education institutions in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba, in descending order, produced the greatest scientific output in the region during the last decade. However, the region still trails behind in output. While Latin America boasts 8.5% of the world’s population, it makes up only 3.5% of the international research community and merely 4.9% of scientific publications. The region’s limited scientific achievement can be attributed to funding shortages. Latin American countries invest roughly 0.6% 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. This explains in part Latin America’s reliance on outside expertise in conducting research. However, 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. This trend was also apparent in the AR4, reflecting the availability of funding and other resources for research. According to the CDKN, Latin American research tends to focus on the natural rather than social aspects of climate change.[i]  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 LAC 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 the 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. 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 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 UNFCCC negotiations.  

[i] Felipe Colon, Peter Newell & Lucila Newell (2011) CDKN Research Mapping Study: Latin America, unpublished document *Tory Elmore is a B.A. candidate in Environmental Studies at Brown University. Her coursework and research is focused on Environmental Justice issues both in the US and abroad. **Jin Hyung Lee is a sophomore at Brown University concentrating in Environmental Studies. Her main academic interests are forest conservation and management.  
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Guy Edwards

Guy Edwards is a Research Fellow at the Center for Environmental Studies, Brown University, where he manages a research project on the politics of climate change in Latin America. Along with co-author, Professor Timmons Roberts, he is currently writing a book on Latin American leadership on climate change for MIT Press. He has also written various academic papers, policy briefs and op-eds for a number of different publications. As co-founder of Intercambio Climático and formerly co-editor of the website, Guy has worked closely with the Latin American Platform on Climate and the Latin American office of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. He has also worked for the Overseas Development Institute, the consultancy River Path Associates and as the resident manager of the Huaorani Ecolodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon.