Is co-producing science for adaptation decision-making a risk worth taking?

Produced as part of the Enabling rapid transitions in mitigation and adaptation CCCEP research programme theme

Over the last decade, researchers have repeatedly sought to understand why adaptation planning and decision-making have failed to progress as quickly as once hoped. A major concern is that policy paralysis and inaction have arisen due to practical difficulties of delivering climate science that can actually be used for adaptation decision-making. Non-scientific actors are increasingly called upon to help reverse this trend by deliberately co-producing science. Scientists and knowledge users are expected to work closely together to produce more usable climate information. To date, our understanding of the barriers that impede the co-production of science for adaptation decision-making come almost exclusively from the perspective of decision-makers, not scientists. This paper responds to that gap by drawing on documentary analysis of key Government texts and in-depth interviews (n=48) with climate scientists, government officials, and boundary workers involved in the UK’s latest climate projections, UKCP09. Our research shows that co-production is far from a neutral activity, but the contested outcome of intense political struggles over its meaning and application. Frictions, antagonism and power imbalances can develop between those involved over ‘who’ co-produces science and ‘how’ they do it, as constraints on scientists to deliver climate science that is both usable and world-leading prove irreconcilable. Not only do scientists and users understand usable science differently but other scientists distanced from the process understand and respond to it differently as well. This can create risks for scientists and the field more broadly. If scientists respond too strongly to user needs there is the risk of antagonizing peers and creating disagreements over whether climate science is being farther than it’s ready to go. If scientists don’t respond strongly enough to user needs there is the risk that users will not adapt or may make poor decisions instead. This raises the question of whether deliberately co-producing climate science for adaptation decision-making is a risk worth taking.