The Role of Science in Climate Change Policy Development: Science Got us Here and Demonstrates that we are Here but What Role Does it Have in Managing the Future

By Graham Farebrother, R. J. S. Beeton and Neal Menzies.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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The scientific and societal understanding of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) has grown tremendously over the last few decades. Alongside this growth, the discourse has increasingly become entwined with the concepts of, and implementation of, sustainable development (SD). In addition, the AGW discourse is used to promote many interests and ideas coming from a variety of nation states and a wide spectrum of organisations. Utilising findings from a study conducted in both Australia and the United Kingdom, this paper examines how the AGW discourse became embedded in society, what drives the discourse forward and what various stakeholder expectations are regarding the outcomes of mitigation policies. Study findings suggest that in general, societal understanding of the complexity within the discourse is low but the expectations of its ability to deliver beneficial outcomes are high. The discourse is seen by many as an umbrella cause that heightens awareness of environmental and societal problems. Some, however, see this effect as a weakening of science in the subjugated areas that reduces human ability to identify and tackle specific issues. It is suggested that a way to manage the set of problems facing humanity is to liberate and diversify the role of science from this AGW focus; improve societal understanding of science’s abilities and its shortcomings; and, instigate greater flexibility to identify and aim for achievable goals for humanity. The AGW discourse, while increasing societal awareness of its dependence on the natural environment for survival has become cumbersome to the extent that policies necessary to promote sustainability are difficult to delimit, develop and implement.

Keywords: Climate Change Policy Development, Sustainable Development, Environmental Impacts, Resource Use, Evidence Based Policy, Human Development Path, Anthropogenic Climate Change, Natural Resource Management, Global Warming, Environmental Policy, Science and Policy, Future Planning, Climate Change Science

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.135-152. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.015MB).

Graham Farebrother

PhD Candidate, School of Integrative Systems, School of Land Crop and Food Science, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Graham Farebrother has worked in developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East in the field of geophysics and has worked on projects in petroleum industry administrative centres in the USA, Europe and Australia. He earned his BSc in Physics from the University of Birmingham (UK) and holds an MSc in Environmental Science from Griffith University (Australia). This paper has resulted from a PhD programme being undertaken at the University of Queensland (Australia). Graham’s interests are in the fields of knowledge and technology diffusion, sustainability and equity.

Assoc. Prof. R. J. S. Beeton

Associate Professor, School of Integrative Systems, University of Queensland, Gatton, Queensland, Australia

R.J.S. Beeton, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management. University of Queensland, 4072 Australia.

Prof. Neal Menzies

University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia

Neal Menzies, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences. University of Queensland, 4072 Australia.