Original Article

Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 297-306

First online:

Moving beyond the linear model of expertise? IPCC and the test of adaptation

  • Silke BeckAffiliated withHelmholtz Centre for Environmental Research–UFZ Email author 

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In early 2009, few would have expected that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would come under such massive attack. The IPCC had enjoyed a pristine reputation and had even advanced to become a role model for biodiversity and food security assessments (Loreau et al. 2006; Watson 2005). However, public trust and, with it, the organization’s credibility eroded dramatically after November 2009 with the events that became known as ‘climategate’. This article seeks to contribute to current debates about how to reform the IPCC. It argues that there are major flaws in the design of the IPCC which are rooted in the linear model of expertise and which are helping to stoke the backlash against the IPCC. The article analyzes the ways in which the IPCC’s activities conform to the linear model of expertise and considers the consequences of this for integrating adaptation into the IPCC assessments. It explains why adaptation played only a marginal role up until the IPCC Third Assessment Report. It then demonstrates why the use of the linear model of expertise constrains the scientific and political debate about adaptation and leads to proxy debates about scientific evidence, which result in depoliticizing the politics of adaptation and politicizing science. Finally, the article calls for the debate to be opened up to accommodate alternatives that are both politically more feasible and at the same time more appropriate to the specific needs of adaptation policies at different levels of decision-making.


Climate change Impacts Adaptation Science policy interface Linear model Science policy Uncertainty