A meeting of the International Panel on Climate Change in Denmark in 2014.


Global climate science group ponders effort to recruit more female authors

The world’s leading climate science body is expected to decide this week on whether to establish a new task force on promoting gender equity within the male-dominated group. The move comes on the heels of a study finding that although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has increased the proportion of women involved in writing its authoritative reports, barriers to participation remain.

IPCC, an international organization founded in 1988 by the United Nations, is best known for its lengthy, periodic reports assessing climate science and policy options for curbing global warming. The hundreds of authors that produce the reports are nominated by member governments and others. But just 2% of the authors of IPCC’s first report in 1990 were women, reported a study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). That share had increased to 23% by 2013, when its fifth report was being written, the survey found.

In 2015, the United Nations put a spotlight on improving gender equity within its programs, and IPCC moved to sponsor discussions of the issue. At one meeting held last September in Montreal, Canada, geographer Diana Liverman of The University of Arizona (UA) in Tuscon, an IPCC participant for 2 decades, presented the results of the PNAS survey. She and lead author Miriam Gay-Antaki, a geography doctoral student at UA, had sent the questionnaire to 223 women who had served as IPCC authors from 1990 to 2013.

Compiling that list wasn’t easy: Gay-Antaki had to comb through the reports and assemble her own database. The survey, which included questions about the researchers’ experiences working with IPCC and how the group could ensure that the perspectives of women were included in its work, was returned by 111 researchers.

Most respondents said their experience had been positive, but the survey also found that issues other than gender—including race, nationality, and command of English—were potential barriers to inclusion. “I didn’t feel welcome,” stated one respondent, noting that she “felt that IPCC scientists are in small impenetrable groups.”

The study “highlights the issue that there is not enough representation” of all kinds in IPCC’s work, says geographer Susan Cutter of the University of South Carolina’s Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute in Columbia, who authored a special IPCC report and served as a review editor for the 2007 report.

IPCC’s proposed new gender task team, to be discussed at a meeting being held this week in Paris, is aimed at confronting part of that problem. “I think the climate is very, very ripe to be very serious about gender balance,” says Kerstin Stendahl, deputy secretary of IPCC, who is based in Geneva, Switzerland. “It’s been shown that if you include men and women in an equal manner, usually the products will be much more solid … and better.”

But, “You really need to have a policy and strategy in place to allow for parity and representation,” she adds.

If approved, the task force would examine those issues, and likely report back at an IPCC meeting scheduled for May 2019.