Nav: Home

Climate summaries 'for grownups,' but not too difficult for policymakers

August 05, 2016

Washington, DC -- Offering a rare insider analysis of the climate assessment process, Carnegie's Katharine Mach and colleagues at the Department of Global Ecology examined the writing and editing procedures by which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change creates summaries of their findings for policymakers. Despite recent critiques that these summaries are too difficult for non-experts, Mach and colleagues found them comparable to reference texts in terms of reading comprehension level. Their results are published by Science Advances.

"Using multiple tools for measuring reading ease, we found that IPCC reports are designed for grownups, but they are not harder to read than other science documents, including those written for the public by professional writers," said co-author Chris Field, who served as the co-chair of the second IPCC Working Group.

Nevertheless, Mach and colleagues also suggest ways that the summary reports could be improved by using less jargon and more cohesive language to link the ideas they contain. The summaries could also be enhanced by graphics, videos, animations, and online multimedia, in addition to extensive media availability by panel leadership.

Mach and Field, together with Carnegie's Patrick Freeman and Michael Mastrandrea, also suggest the possibility of getting professional science editors to participate in the review process to help keep the writing as accessible as possible without losing meaning.

The process by which IPCC summary reports for policymakers are generated is quite singular, and often a subject of fascination.

Scientific experts spend years generating a report assessing the current state of climate science and then create summaries of each section, which are intended to aid policymakers in making the most of the information. These summaries are approved line by line, by consensus by a group of hundreds of government representatives and scientists, working for days at a time and even through the night until they have agreed upon every word.

Mach and her team undertook an in-depth analysis of the process by which these summaries are revised and approved.

"Despite the importance of these policymaker summaries, and the interest in their creation, the revision process has not been comprehensively analyzed until now," Mach explained.

They found that the review process generally increases the length of text, unless there is an issue of great political sensitivity, in which case the summary text might be shortened. Changes during in-person government session tend to focus on the comprehensiveness of examples provided and on increasing policy relevance. This is in contrast to changes in the text prior to the government approval session, which emphasized clarity and scientific rigor.

"Despite the exhausting rigor of the review process, the method of discussing and agreeing upon every sentence builds ownership of the science by both participating researchers and governments," Mach said. "The creation and revision of these summaries is a vital part of making climate science relevant for decision-making. Although there is some room for improvement, the finished documents can certainly provide a lot of value to participants, scientists and nonscientists alike."
Support for this work was provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

The Carnegie Institution for Science ( is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Carnegie Institution for Science

Related Global Ecology Articles:

Ecology insights improve plant biomass degradation by microorganisms
Microbes are widely used to break down plant biomass into sugars, which can be used as sustainable building blocks for novel biocompounds.
Giardiasis may be a disease of the ecology of the GI tract
Colonization by the human and animal parasite, Giardia, changed the species composition of the mouse microbiome in a way that might be harmful.
Investigators chart microbial ecology of gingivitis, periodontitis
Gingivitis, a common and mild form of gum disease can progress to periodontitis, a more serious infection that damages the soft tissue of the gums and sometimes even destroys the bone supporting the teeth.
Winners announced for the BMC Ecology Image Competition 2016
From a striking sunrise in the Kalahari Desert, to a wren's nest built under the saddle of a parked bicycle, and geometric land patterns created by earthworms, this year's BMC Ecology Image Competition includes a fascinating array of ecological open-access images which are free to use.
A new framework for inferring community assembly processes in ecology
One of the most fundamental goals in ecology -- determining the community assembly processes that have structured local communities -- has been increasingly studied through the analysis of functional and phylogenetic diversity.
More Global Ecology News and Global Ecology Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#534 Bacteria are Coming for Your OJ
What makes breakfast, breakfast? Well, according to every movie and TV show we've ever seen, a big glass of orange juice is basically required. But our morning grapefruit might be in danger. Why? Citrus greening, a bacteria carried by a bug, has infected 90% of the citrus groves in Florida. It's coming for your OJ. We'll talk with University of Maryland plant virologist Anne Simon about ways to stop the citrus killer, and with science writer and journalist Maryn McKenna about why throwing antibiotics at the problem is probably not the solution. Related links: A Review of the Citrus Greening...