Bookmark and ShareKaren Schucan-Bird is a researcher in nef’s Climate Change and Energy team.

In response to the recent media hysteria, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a news statement last week outlining their role and assessment process. This restated the ‘comprehensive, objective, open and transparent’ principles that guide the IPCC reviews. These principles seem to fit within a broader movement towards ‘evidence-based policy and practice’. This movement is characterised by a belief that sound evidence should inform policy and practice decisions. This seems to make sense on a very basic level. I am sure that we would all like to think that our governments are making decisions based on sound evidence (whether they are or not is another question). Indeed, the ongoing media focus on climate change research seems to suggest that we have a healthy obsession with ensuring that research feeds into our collective decision making.

Placed at the centre of the evidence-based movement is the systematic review. This represents a tool for summarizing and appraising research in a systematic and transparent way. The systematic review originated in the health field where studies about the effectiveness of a particular drug were gathered together to identify whether a particular drug did or didn’t work. For those who are interested, Ben Goldacre gave a simple and quick introduction to this on Radio 4. Whilst the IPCC report is not a systematic review, the procedures followed by the Panel seem to uphold some of its principles. As the recent news statement confirms, a standard set of procedures are followed using explicit and transparent methods. The reports aim to identify and appraise natural and social science research relevant to the climate change debate. The resulting outputs are then relevant and useful for policy makers (for example, producing Summaries for Policy Makers). It is this approach that gives us confidence that research forms the basis of the conclusions drawn by the IPCC.

Yet, it is important to recognise that the IPCC reports, as with any piece of research, can be improved. There is always scope to strengthen our understanding of climate change and its effects. After all, research and knowledge is not static but constantly evolving. This view seems to form part of the concerns expressed yesterday by Lu Xuedu, a Chinese climatologist. He suggests that the next IPCC report needs to incorporate more research from a wider range of sources (including more research produced from the developing world). The comprehensive, open and transparent nature of the IPCC procedures mean that it is completely possible and desirable to do this. This provides me, and hopefully you, with the confidence that our collective knowledge about climate change is, and will continue to be, evidence based. Whether this translates into policy is another question…