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In the light of equity and science: scientific expertise and climate justice after Paris

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The Paris Agreement is built on a tension between the common goal of limiting warming to 1.5 °C and the differentiation that follows from the principle of equity. Scientific expertise is commonly seen as providing important means to overcome this tension, for example in the Agreement’s “global stocktake”, which is said to be undertaken “in the light of equity and the best available science”. This raises the question of how scholarly communities best can contribute to deliberations on equitable differentiation in the effort required to meet common temperature goals. To discuss this question, the paper looks to the literature within Science and Technology Studies on the role of science in policymaking, where disagreement exists over the merits of “heating up” controversies through politicization, versus “cooling down” issues by seeking consensus. It assesses two cases in which scientific expertise has engaged with questions of equitable effort-sharing in international climate politics: The “Bali Box” of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, and the “Civil Society Equity Review” undertaken prior to COP21 in Paris. Based on a comparison of the two cases, it is argued that scientific contributions should not shy away from highlighting conflicts in values and interests, and that “heating up” discussions about climate justice may be a valuable contribution to overcoming the tensions of the Paris Agreement.

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  1. Description of the IPCC organization available on the IPCC website, at

  2. The following section draws on interviews with participants in the Equity Review process, representing both civil society organisations and the CERP team. The main focus here is on the process of producing the Equity Review. For a detailed description of the methodology, see Holz et al. (2017).

  3. See



Fourth Assessment Report (of the IPCC)


Climate Equity Reference Project


Conference of the Parties (to the UNFCCC)


Intended Nationally Determined Contribution


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


Science and Technology Studies


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


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The author would like to thank Göran Sundqvist, the editors, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and suggestions. This work has been carried out as part of CICEP – Strategic Challenges in International Climate and Energy Policy, funded by the Research Council of Norway (Project No. 209701).

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Correspondence to Bård Lahn.

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Lahn, B. In the light of equity and science: scientific expertise and climate justice after Paris. Int Environ Agreements 18, 29–43 (2018).

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