The UNFCCC has one of the most effective mechanisms for assessing and integrating academic research into its processes – the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The controversy over the existence, scale and impact of the climate problem meant that an ostensibly non-partisan, non-political mechanism was needed to assess the best available data and research. The IPCC presents an unprecedented consensus about what counts as appropriate and useful scientific research that should be fed into the policy process and what should stand outside it. To a significant extent, it is this filtering process that has generally kept the crazies and the methodologically unsound out of the UNFCCC negotiating process.
The IPCC however, has a problem. In its 5 year cycle of assessments it does not really allow for dynamic consideration of new research, especially research aimed at assessing the effectiveness of policies implemented by, through, and in service of the existing UNFCCC agreements and institutions. The IPCC is not in a position to, nor does it have a mandate to, assess the research on the extent to which the UNFCCC agreements and institutions are meeting their stated goals of mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and financial support. The prime example of this is the concern about the design of a new market mechanism given the issues raised about how effective the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) has been. Some of these concerns have been driven by academic research but most of it has been by countries raising problems at a political level and by the mechanisms within the UNFCCC itself such as the Subsidiary Body on implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA). Neither of those last two bodies have ever lived up to the hope that they would be pathways for research to be integrated into UNFCCC negotiations and implementation processes. The members of the SBI and SBSTA have largely remained political actors and what few products that they have published have been methodologically weak, limited in scope and overly reliant on work by the secretariat and consultants. This fundamental weakness is combined with a failure to focus on academic research generated and distributed by researchers in developing countries where implementation of the UNFCCC goals is taking place. There is a serious problem of how to ensure that the right, relevant research feeds into the UNFCCC processes and institutions and is reflected in the negotiating outcomes. Given the weakness of the formal mechanisms, what remains are those such as side-events, contributions and statements from the Research NGOs group (RINGOs) and the participation of policymakers themselves in academic conferences. Given that most academic conferences can be mind-numbing exercises in niche-building which is rarely policy-relevant. I was really excited to attend and rapporteur at the Global Climate Policy Conference 2015 (GCPC2015), held in Delhi 30 April – May 1. If you want to read the presentations see here (http://climatestrategies.org/call-for-abstracts-global-climate-policy-conference-2015/) and to see the framework project in which the conference took place, led by Climate Strategies and the Stanley Foundation, see (http://climatestrategies.org/projects/global-research-policy-interface-climate-2015-strengthening-the-research-policy-interface-in-the-international-climate-negotiations/)