A new north–south divide for climate knowledge? A case study of climate projections in UNFCCC’s National Communications

Produced as part of the Managing climate risks and uncertainties and strengthening climate services CCCEP research programme theme

A global northsouth divide in the production of climate knowledge exists. While the north is home to a variety of climate models, data infrastructures and climate experts, the south often lacks these attributes.

In this paper the authors use a unique global dataset, the UNFCCC National Communications, to perform a global documentary analysis of scientific submissions from 189 individual countries.

The research calls for a more nuanced and critical use of the northsouth divide, and highlights that well-intended modelling and training efforts may unwittingly restrict, rather than foster, scientific capacities in the global south.

Summary of key findings

  • Focusing on the production and use of climate projections, the research both supports, and importantly, challenges such a clear-cut northsouth divide. For instance, the global north in general uses more complex climate modelling techniques, yet numerous countries in the global south have a higher scientific capacity than some northern ones.
  • Beyond scientific capacities, the south emphasises mid-term timeframes (before 2060) more relevant for their adaptation decisions whereas the north prefers a long-term view and is generally more optimistic of global mitigation efforts.
  • While the use of Global Climate Model (GCM) ensembles is widespread in the global north and south, the south’s access to climate models is restricted to mobile climate projection tools.
  • Although modelling tools such as PRECIS enable countries with little scientific capacity to produce useful climate risk assessments, these tools may hide a new divide between the global north and global south. Unable to customise inputs, such as country-specific observations or modelling information, the global south might become dependent upon the climate modelling tools circulated by the global north.