By Guy Edwards, Victoria Elmore* and Jin Hyung Lee**
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth
Assessment Report (AR5) is underway and is due to be completed by
2013/14. There are 84 Latin American and Caribbean contributing authors out of a total 833.
As we approach the publication date, these scientists have a vital
role to play in promoting the importance of climate science in Latin
America and persuading governments to create robust and ambitious
national and international climate policies. In turn, regional
governments should continue increasing levels of funding and scientific
cooperation on climate science given the significant role it can play in
developing policies on climate.
While the total number of Latin American contributing authors has
increased since 2007, the percentage of authors from the region has
actually decreased. In 2007, Latin American authors represented 12% of
the total 620 contributing authors to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment
Report. Now, they represent just over 10% of the total, which is
significantly less than authors from other regions. European authors
represent 32%, the United States represents 25%, and Russia,
Central/East Asia and India represent 16%.
The 84 Latin American authors represent 14 countries in the region
including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago,
Colombia, Costa Rica, Barbados, Guatemala, Jamaica, Peru, Uruguay and
Venezuela. Brazil and Mexico dominate, contributing 30% and 26% of the
region’s authors respectively. Argentina (13%), Chile, and Cuba (7%
each) follow suit. These five countries were also the largest
contributors to AR4 in 2007. Brazil and Mexico are the only Latin
American countries making significant contributions to the AR5, with
each accounting for 3% of the total number of authors. These numbers
are dwarfed by the U.S. (which has over 20% of all AR5 authors) and the
UK (8%), but are comparable to China (5%), Germany, Australia, France,
India (all 4%).
While Latin America lags behind other regions, it has become the second-fastest growing region for scientific development in the world after Asia. The Spanish Scimago Institution’s Rankings
World Report 2011 suggests higher education institutions in Brazil,
Mexico, Argentina and Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba, in descending
order, produced the greatest scientific output in the region during the
last decade. However, the region still trails behind in output. While
Latin America boasts 8.5% of the world’s population, it makes up only
3.5% of the international research community and merely 4.9% of
The region’s limited scientific achievement can be attributed to funding shortages. Latin American countries invest roughly 0.6%
of their GDP in research and development – about a third of the global
average, with most of this cash being channeled into a few major
universities. This explains in part Latin America’s reliance on outside
expertise in conducting research.
However, the concentration of research capacity on climate within the
Latin American university system has become increasingly evident,
especially in the heavily funded universities. National or private
institutions employ the vast majority of the Latin American AR5 authors,
with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and the Universidade
de Sao Paulo, Brazil, being the largest institutional contributors. This
trend was also apparent in the AR4, reflecting the availability of
funding and other resources for research.
According to the CDKN, Latin American research tends to focus on the natural rather than social aspects of climate change.[i]
Greater research is needed linking the impacts of climate change to
issues such as poverty, human security, trade and natural resources.
Encouragingly, the UN Economic Commission for LAC is partnering with
Latin American university academics, demonstrating the region’s interest
in the economics of climate change.
Latin America’s science funding is increasing as countries in the
region show greater interest in the benefits of science for better
policy. Argentina and Brazil,
in the attempt to overcome the obstacles hindering their university
science programs, are providing funding for researchers to collaborate
with European and American partners in order to gain insight into
scientific methodology they can utilize back home. Venezuela
now requires donations from large companies to fund research on
climate, energy innovation, building materials and urban development.
These national initiatives illustrate the growing efforts Latin American
countries are making to further their research and involvement in
climate change science.
There also appears to be a link between the number of scientists
involved in the IPCC Assessments Reports and how progressive that
country’s climate change policies are, emphasizing the importance of
science for policymaking. In the case of Brazil and Mexico, greater
national science investment has helped develop and promote national
policy agendas on climate change offering useful experiences for other
Because scientific progress plays a significant role in national and
international policymaking on climate change, Latin American countries
must continue increasing levels of funding and cooperation on science.
While Latin American universities have formed networks with other
universities in Europe and North America or with their own governments,
there appears to be little regional collaboration. Latin American
universities could benefit in pooling their resources to fund research
and increase levels of cooperation on climate topics relevant to their
region and sub-regions.
Latin American governments and the private sector should continue to
build on a range of policies to promote and develop their national
science credentials and capacity, particularly on climate change, in
order to increase regional representation in the IPCC Assessment Reports
and international climate change meetings. This representation is
essential to secure Latin American voices and expertise at the top level
of international climate science and the related negotiation process.
Following the COP17 in Durban and the decision to reach a new
international climate agreement by 2015, scheduled to come into effect
in 2020, sustained action is required to persuade and pressure
policymakers into acknowledging the urgency of the situation. It is
crucial for Latin American scientists to contribute to the effort to
secure greater climate change action to ensure that the 2015 review of
the IPCC’s AR5 will become a catalyst for securing an ambitious
international agreement and not a further delay in the UNFCCC
[i] Felipe Colon, Peter Newell & Lucila Newell (2011) CDKN Research Mapping Study: Latin America, unpublished document
*Tory Elmore is a B.A. candidate in Environmental Studies at
Brown University. Her coursework and research is focused on
Environmental Justice issues both in the US and abroad.
**Jin Hyung Lee is a sophomore at Brown University
concentrating in Environmental Studies. Her main academic interests are
forest conservation and management.