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Customising global climate science for national adaptation: A case study of climate projections in UNFCCC's National Communications

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Maurice Skelton, James J. Porter, Suraje Dessai, David N. Bresch, Reto Knutti

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-23
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
PublishedNov 2019

King's Authors


Countries differ markedly in their production of climate science. While richer nations are often home to a variety of climate models, data infrastructures and climate experts, poorer sovereigns often lack these attributes. However, less is known about countries’ capacity to use global climate science and customise it into products informing national adaptation. We use a unique global dataset, the UNFCCC National Communications, to perform a global documentary analysis of scientific submissions from individual countries (n = 189). Comparing countries’ climate projections with their competence in publishing climate science, our research examines the existence of geographical divides. Although countries proficient in publishing climate science use more complex climate modelling techniques, key characteristics of climate projections are highly similar around the globe, including multi-model ensembles of Global Circulation Models (GCMs). This surprising result is made possible because of the use of pre-configured climate modelling software packages. One concern is that these tools restrict customisation, such as country-specific observations, modelling information, and visualisation. Such tools may therefore hide a new geographical divide where countries with higher scientific capacities are able to inform what goes into these software packages, whereas lower scientific capacity countries are dependent upon these choices – whether beneficial for them or not. Our research suggests that free-to-use modelling and training efforts may unwittingly restrict, rather than foster, countries’ capacity to customise global climate science into nationally relevant and legitimate climate information.

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