By generating intense public scrutiny of international climate science, the ‘climategate’ controversy has paradoxically underlined the authoritative status accorded to scientific knowledge in policy decision making on climate change.
In contrast to the universalizing discourse of international climate science (as presented by the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC)), notable differences exist between countries with regard to the degree of public trust in its expertise. Focusing on the German case, this article explores how and why countries vary when it comes to interpreting and validating ‘universally valid’ expertise. It argues that differences in the way climate change are addressed in national research and decision making cannot be explained solely by the quality of scientific knowledge available, because it is the same body of knowledge (produced by the IPCC) that provides the common point of reference. The reception of scientific evidence for climate change by publics and policy makers depends additionally on the ways in which scientific claims are validated and rendered authoritative for public use and on prior criteria of what counts as scientifically valid and policy-relevant knowledge. This article then discusses the implications entailed by these national differences in terms of interpreting expertise on matters of global relevance. It shows why the task of producing policy-relevant knowledge ‘under the public microscope’ requires new forms of interdisciplinary scientific judgment and justification toward wider publics. It reviews recent initiatives set up to respond to ‘climategate’ and discusses the alternatives offered by a wide range of efforts to promote a differentiated, reflexive, and culturally sensitive ‘cosmopolitan’ approach. WIREs Clim Change 2012, 3:1–17. doi: 10.1002/wcc.151
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