Negotiations over the best way to address climate change and sustainable development are heavily dependent on input from scientific and expert communities. While policy-makers seek to rationalize and thereby legitimate their decisions through evidence-based decisions frameworks, this unprecedented reliance on scientific knowledge has inadvertently led to a perceived erosion of state authority and a weakening of democracy. It has been strongly suggested that the use of scientific knowledge in policy-making is reducing the demand or need for concordant consensus-building, or distorting deliberation processes through the emergence of new forms of dependency (see Barett & Chambers 1998; Bijker et al. 2009). In addition, Wiebe Bijker et al. (2009) dispute that the more urgently scientific advice is solicited, the more vigorously scientific authority is questioned by policy-makers, stakeholders and citizens, who themselves have become reliant on scientific inputs.

Knowledge is becoming a powerful means of effectively asserting interests. This gives rise to new demands, related to accountability, for a critical assessment of how knowledge is generated, applied and monitored. Does the knowledge produced by scientific communities really facilitate or even justify interventions by policy-makers? Concerns have been expressed that the use of knowledge in policy-making is replicating existing structural imbalances and therefore reinforcing or even reproducing inequities (see Crouch 2008). With power established through knowledge, equitable access to knowledge resources requires additional discourse to prevent knowledge from reinforcing structural inequities. Furthermore, it is increasingly proposed that scientists and research institutions have assumed a “corporate identity” following the increased market logic being applied to the awarding of research grants and the emphasis on attracting paying students. Through this corporate identity, scientists and research institutions may have ceased to reflect the image of “disinterested, rationalized” powerbrokers (see Crouch 2008; Rohde 2017). They have simply become another interest group seeking funding for growth and survival. Scientific knowledge, as Tora Skodvin (2000) suggests, no longer exists as an agency of transformation towards sustainability, but as a calculating policy entrepreneur.

This chapter introduces the concept of knowledge diplomacy as an instrument or “agency” of collective decision-making. After a brief synthesis of how knowledge diplomacy is understood by the academic literature, this chapter introduces typologies of knowledge diplomacy to structure the analysis of how knowledge can strategically facilitate the transformation process. The typologies reflect the two, complementary, negotiation perspectives on knowledge: power-base and systems perspective. To put knowledge diplomacy into context, it will be examined by analyzing the IPCC process of knowledge generation for policy-making. In addition, this chapter re-visits the concept of “new diplomacy”, which was previously introduced by Bo Kjéllen (2007). This “new diplomacy” can be useful for analytical purposes, whereby the centrality of knowledge/information in framing functional, institutional and bargaining interactions can be highlighted. The concept can also help to distinguish the current collective (negotiative) decision-making on transformation towards sustainability from the traditional terms of diplomacy. Finally, the critical assessment of knowledge diplomacy offers an understanding of the perils and challenges brought by this “new diplomacy” as well as recommendations to address them.

Scientific knowledge and decision tools (as provided by scientific communities) that support climate protection are often the subject of political scrutiny. The complexity and uncertainty of climate change issues, the limitations of methodologies and the frequent ambiguity of scientific findings have led to allegations of manipulation, and the assertion that scientific results are divorced from the real world. It is necessary to analyze where these anti-intellectualist sentiments are coming from. This chapter discusses, through the analysis of the IPCC process, how current knowledge management practices are reinforcing structural imbalances. For example, the “sensation-seeking” media and the uncontrolled social media have provided platforms for condemning the so-called “climate conspiracy”, a view that has gained significant public support, in particular after a few factual errors and inaccuracies were discovered in the WGII Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and were used to cast doubt on climate science in its entirety (see Cogley et al. 2010). In addition, several political actors have managed to incriminate science by “shopping” for scientific studies, in which they choose only those that support their political agenda, while at the same time defaming studies that are opposed to it. Instigated by the political narratives of populist groups, for example on climate conspiracy, a significant portion of society now sees climate science as based on false and manipulated data that merely aims to suppress dissent (BBC News 2016; see Robertson 2016).

A current trend indicates that although governments have become knowledgeable about the importance of addressing climate change and sustainable development, these issues are still not the top priorities of national governments. A discussion is therefore needed as to whether the power of knowledge in setting the policy agenda is misleading, if not overstated. For example, the 2017 Report Card on International Cooperation of the Council of Councils (2018), a survey of global think tank leaders on which global issues were prioritized by world leaders in 2017, climate change and development are ranked merely 5th and 8th respectively. Preventing nuclear proliferation and preventing and responding to violent conflict between states have taken the top two positions in the ranking. In addition, the survey included an assessment of global issues in terms of how they are effectively addressed through international cooperation. Mitigation and adaptation to climate change was given a grade of C+ in 2017 compared to B in 2016 (with A+ as highest grade). This low grade (and deterioration) is attributed to the United States’ climate policies, the end of US funding for the Green Climate Fund, and its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Moreover, development as a global issue also witnessed a decline, from B– in 2016 to C+ in 2017. This decline is attributed to the failure of 22 members of the OECD to meet their development assistance target of 0.7% of gross national income. In addition, aid to least-developed countries fell by 3.9% in real terms from 2015.

Knowledge diplomacy in the post-factual era needs to revisit the social mandate of knowledge. Emerging narratives that couple knowledge with elitism are supported by arguments that target legitimacy deficits on how knowledge is generated, distributed and used to justify political decisions. Knowledge diplomacy is a multi-level (e.g., global and national) process of joint decision-making, using the art and science of negotiations, whereas knowledge serves as a facilitating agency to structure complexity and uncertainty. In addition, scientific communities need to take an active role in defining these narratives and to break the increasing monopoly of “anti-intellectualist” groups that abuse knowledge to serve their own political agenda. But for this to happen, an extensive multi-disciplinary academic discourse is inevitable. The following sections aim to identify issues that can be the subject of such a discourse.

5.1 Knowledge Diplomacy and Consensual Knowledge

Knowledge diplomacy on climate change is evident in various forms and stages. The most intuitive type of knowledge diplomacy refers to negotiators (or decision-makers in a collective setting) consulting scientific knowledge experts as the basis for agenda-setting and the resolution of issues through agreements. The context pertains to sociotechnical narrative that the objectivity of knowledge can be trusted to ensure efficiency and legitimacy of decisions. Knowledge serves as agency or facilitator by providing a framework for complexity and uncertainty. For example, the RAINS model introduced by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) was used in the complex negotiations on long-range air pollution in Europe to address acid rain problems (Anstey et al. 2009). The approval of the audience is deemed evident, because decisions based on objective indicators are perceived to be less arbitrary. At the national level, most governments appoint technical experts in Scientific Advisory Committees to help government departments and agencies as well as other executive public bodies to access, interpret and understand the full range of relevant scientific information, and to make judgements about the relevance, potential and application of policy instruments (UK GOS 2011).

Looking at the process level, knowledge diplomacy can also refer to the efforts to collect appropriate consensual knowledge to prepare for upcoming negotiations. This type of knowledge diplomacy also focuses on the utility of consensual knowledge, including standards and norms. With clear consensual knowledge (e.g., the 2 °C threshold), future joint decision-making can save resources on procedures and concentrate on concrete solutions. One example is the IPCC process involving numerous assessment reports and special reports (see Schulte-Uebbing et al. 2015). The IPCC’s Summary for Policymakers undergoes an approval session at the IPCC, with country negotiators directly verifying each word and sentence of the text of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) in close collaboration with IPCC scientists. The SPM, as will be discussed later, becomes the departing point of upcoming UNFCCC negotiations.

One example of knowledge diplomacy refers to consultations through regional forums, which may not be directly connected to the UNFCCC. Prior to UNFCCC COP meetings, regional forums such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the EU are used as preparatory spaces for upcoming COP meetings, where initial direction of consensual knowledge on several topics is harmonized and determined. For example, prior to the COP15 negotiations in Copenhagen, members of APEC used its November 2009 Summit to come up with a common agenda for COP15. Serving as a “political barometer”, the APEC Summit did not produce any substantial agreement and this failure motivated the UNFCCC and the COP15 chair to lower their expectation, which may have motivated them to take a more pragmatic approach to reduce potential frustration (Penetrante 2010). Regional forums also include formal and informal coalitions such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

Another type of knowledge diplomacy refers to epistemic communities, including think tanks, NGOs, universities, research institutions and even the private sector, which actively seek to influence policy-makers (e.g., selection of policy objectives). In contrast to the IPCC, where scientists merely present policy-relevant knowledge without seeking to direct policy-making, there are certain epistemic communities that actively participate in forging policies through various formal channels available. For example, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Germany, which is the local response to the global initiative for the United Nations, was formally launched in 2014 to promote the sustainable development of Germany as well as German efforts for sustainable development worldwide (SDSN 2018). This network aims to serve as a catalyst or accelerator of cooperation between research institutions working on sustainable development. The group involves leading think tanks, research institutions, foundations and networks, and maintains close partnership with government agencies and private sector stakeholders.

SDSN Germany can also be taken as an example of another type of knowledge diplomacy, in which scientists and experts cooperate with each other to produce evidence-based consensual knowledge. In this type of knowledge diplomacy, a process of consensus building occurs between different subgroups coming from different fields and disciplines. For example, social scientists have but a shallow knowledge of the natural scientific issues that are addressed by policy-makers. Therefore, the assistance of natural scientists is recommended to improve their capacity as issue experts. Similarly, natural scientists need to reach out for social-scientific knowledge in order to increase the actual operational usability of scientific knowledge (Anstey et al. 2009). Natural scientists strive to structure uncertainty by means of probability estimates, whereas policymakers tend to prefer unstructured certainty. In their capacity as process experts, negotiation analysts are, for example, in a position to help natural scientists to develop methods to cope with obstacles impeding their communication with the critical actors in an international organization (Anstey et al. 2009).

Other types of knowledge diplomacy are latent. For example, in the global level, achieving consensual knowledge for sustainable development is a process that involves convergence of norms, standards and practices that can also be achieved through knowledge or technological spill-overs through cooperation mechanisms such as the International Development Assistance (ODA) (see Carraro et al. 2006; Easterly 2007). A type of knowledge diplomacy can be observed in technological cooperation projects as well as technology-transfer activities. On the one hand, countries providing technologies can learn from recipient countries, allowing the further development and maturation of technologies involved. On the other hand, recipient countries can acquire the necessary human capital and technical expertise to initiate further technological development that is more tailored to local parameters. This is, however, highly dependent on how the transfer of ownership is envisaged.

5.2 Negotiation Perspectives on Consensual Knowledge

“Knowledge diplomats” or “knowledge entrepreneurs” are scientists and professional experts, often referred to as members of “epistemic communities”, who have become central pillars of both international and national policy-making (see Adler & Haas 1992; Haas 1992; Sebenius 1992a; Haas 2010). Knowledge diplomacy is not a fully new concept in international diplomacy, but its increased importance in achieving global agreements related to climate change and sustainable development is leading to changes in how bargaining between countries is strategized or how individual bargaining games relate to specific policy games. For example, the profile of diplomats participating in climate negotiations has shifted from traditional diplomats sent by Foreign Ministries to delegation members recruited from a wide range of ministries who do not necessarily have the diplomatic training but do have the technical expertise on the core issues that are important to them. Interestingly, smaller countries tend to concentrate on selected specific issues, as reflected by the expertise of the members of their delegations. For example, during the COP23 meeting in Bonn, Germany, among the nine members of the Azerbaijan delegation, three represented the oil sector of the country. In the same meeting, as distinct from most countries, which have delegations led by their Environmental Ministry, Sri Lanka’s delegation was led by representatives from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, reflecting the country’s different outlook on addressing climate change. In addition, some countries have found a hybrid type of diplomats. For example, during the COP23 meeting, among Australia’s delegation was H.E. Mr. Patrick Suckling, the country’s “Ambassador for the Environment” (UNFCCC 2017).

Consensual knowledge establishes the parameters within which decisions can be made. Hence, it assumes a facilitating function in the multi-level transformation towards sustainability, because many issues addressed in various multilateral talks related to climate change and sustainable development need to be assessed in scientific terms to structure complexity and contingencies. This structuring is a requirement before these issues can be objects of functional, institutional and bargaining interactions that lead to collective decisions (see Zartman 1994b; Sjöstedt 2009). Consensual knowledge’s acquisition of a facilitator role enables a negotiation outlook on consensual knowledge as an agency of transformation towards sustainability. To provide a comprehensive overview of knowledge diplomacy, Gunnar Sjöstedt (2009) initially suggested that two negotiation perspectives on knowledge diplomacy can be identified: power-base and systems perspective. The next sub-section synthesizes and further expands the previous collaboration between Gunnar Sjöstedt and the author of this book by elaborating these two perspectives and by defining how (consensual) knowledge facilitates the achievement of collective decisions through bargaining.

5.2.1 Power-Based Perspective on Consensual Knowledge

Knowledge can be seen as a critical component of the power base of individual actors involved in a game of diplomacy. After calculating the utility of engaging in negotiations, the next step is the estimation of one’s power relative to that of one’s counterparts. Although power is a merely a perception (see Dahl 1957), it still influences the behavior of actors. Even though the outcome of negotiations tends to benefit those actors with more power (see Habeeb 1988), as argued by I. William Zartman and Jeffrey Z. Rubin (2000), the clarification of power asymmetry motivates negotiating parties to know their roles and correspondingly prepare strategies to achieve their intended appropriate benefits. Furthermore, Zartman and Rubin contend that conflicts can be resolved more efficiently with clarified power asymmetry, because parties will avoid wasting time sending signals about their power.

In addition, the definition of power as an act designed to cause the other party to move in a desired direction allows a more detailed analysis to be made of preferences. Through a definition of power that separates power as a concept from its source and its effects, strategies can be forged to “equalize” power in a way that ensures that negotiation pay-offs justify the efforts made. For example, connecting different issues together allows one actor to have a bigger pool of possible concessions for bargaining. By focusing on co-benefits and synergies, negotiators can be more willing to accept concessions on one issue, when they anticipate pay-offs in other issues. However, this can only work if reciprocity has already been established and formalized. Another example of possible strategies to address more powerful actors is to build coalitions and alliances to balance the more powerful actor (see Dupont 1994). Such coalitions and alliances can share individual capabilities and the expertise of members, allowing them to improve their overall leverage.

Gunnar Sjöstedt (2009) identifies the international negotiations leading to the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution in the 1970s as well as to the achievement of its eight protocols that concretize commitments as an example of where the power-equalizing characteristic of knowledge was demonstrated. The Convention, which was composed of a series of multi-lateral treaties, is witness to how 49 Parties were able to cooperate in developing scientific understanding of the problems related to long-range transboundary air pollution (Sliggers & Kakebeeke 2004). The negotiations involved many scientists representing different issues, whose contributions were used as a foundation on which policy-makers have based their negotiations on emission-reduction commitments. For example, the elaboration of the effects-based or critical loads approach, as well as the extensive use of integrated assessment models as the basis for policy-making, provided negotiators with objective indicators that addressed existing caveats due to uncertainty.

Negotiations on the Convention were known to be “arduous” (Sliggers & Kakebeeke 2004 p. 20). “Hard negotiations” were expected against the backdrop of the Cold War, where the lack of antecedent negotiation frameworks and experiences on a similar scale was aggravated by mistrust, particularly when procedures were being established. In addition, politicians and environmental experts were far from unanimous, which can be attributed to the lack of experience of cooperation and gaps in professional cultures (see Sjöstedt 2003; Penetrante 2014). Nevertheless, the negotiations also demonstrated different dynamics in the power game among the countries that participated (Sjöstedt 2009), which, although smaller in scale, can be compared to the climate change negotiations. In the acid rain negotiations, access to scientific and expert knowledge was linked to power, with smaller and weaker countries able to circumvent traditional power logics and assume leadership or to adopt an assertive negotiating style due to their technical expertise on certain issues. Another possible enabling factor was that the leadership of neither Norway nor Sweden was perceived as a threat by the United States and the USSR. The Convention was eventually signed by 34 governments of European countries, Canada and the United States, as well as by the European Economic Community (EEC).

The knowledge-based “convening power” of Norway and Sweden was supported by antecedents. Because Scandinavian countries were the first ones to experience the negative effects of acidification due to air pollution, these countries had large stakes in the negotiations. Therefore, Norway and Sweden were not only keen to participate, but they have indeed actively sought and demonstrated clear leadership. This tactical leadership was not only skillful in terms of diplomacy, but it also effectively addressed the critical power-base component of negotiations through access to expert knowledge on relevant issues related to the acidification problem and its international causes. This expert knowledge of Norway and Sweden was the outcome of interested and concerned individuals, organizations, and agencies in Norway and Sweden that analyzed and assessed the issue of acid rain earlier than other countries (Sjöstedt 2009). With expert knowledge, these two countries were successful in linking policy games with simple bargaining games, which further facilitated the negotiation process. In addition, with expert knowledge, Norway and Sweden were able to compete with more powerful countries and take the initiative in determining the negotiation agenda and the solution formula as reflected by their proposals for the agreements.

Similar dynamics can be observed with both the climate negotiations and the international talks on sustainable development. During the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen, in particular, Scandinavian countries demonstrated leadership not only because of Denmark’s chairmanship but also through the technical expertise they had built through their experiences of previous environmental negotiations. However, it became evident that this expertise was not yet enough to achieve a comprehensive emission reduction agreement. Nevertheless, the COP15 meeting produced important consensual knowledge, such as the 2 °C threshold that set the stage and empowered “change agents” in achieving the Paris Climate Agreement.

5.2.2 Systems Perspective on Consensual Knowledge

The negotiation outlook also evinces the systems perspective on collective decision-making. The establishment, for example, of the climate regime is not only reliant on consensual knowledge but also runs parallel to the establishment of consensual knowledge on individual issues, which, in concert, “fuel” the phases of negotiation. For example, the Paris Agreement was preceded by numerous formal and informal agreements on roadmaps and procedures that specifically required procedural knowledge. In addition, when relevant issues are particularly complex, such as is the case with climate change, consensual knowledge scientific knowledge assumes a relatively high degree of authority and acceptance. Consensual knowledge not only legitimizes the outcomes of decision-making, but also the process that unfolds to achieve such outcomes. Gunnar Sjöstedt (2009) identifies the GATT/WTO regime as an example of how the neo-classical trade theory has provided direction to multilateral trade negotiations in the last 50 years. This theory, which argues, for instance, that all obstacles to the free exchange of goods and services on the world markets are to be eliminated, is acknowledged by brief references inserted into the treaty texts.

Another example is Provision 20 of the Johannes Declaration on Sustainable Development. The provision declares the commitment to ensure that women’s empowerment, emancipation and gender equality are integrated in all the activities encompassed within Agenda 21, the Millennium Development Goals and the Plan of Implementation of the Summit. It can be argued that this provision has benefitted from the public discourse that was initiated by the suffrage movement at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Serving as an antecedent, the consensual knowledge on women’s empowerment as a necessity for sustainable development has successfully debarred counter-arguments against Provision 20.

In this regard, several negotiation frameworks are dependent on their capability to “borrow” or “absorb” theoretical concepts and empirical models to build consensual knowledge that will accordingly give direction to the negotiation process. Consensual knowledge represents the common but specific understanding that parties have of the issues, and it subsequently defines the “tolerable window” for present and future decisions as well as the agenda and formula for functional, institutional, and bargaining interactions. Therefore, it can be argued that negotiation frameworks are built on a system of multiple consensual knowledge, which further highlight the strategic importance of the ability to influence the generation and systemic distribution of consensual knowledge. Serving as anchors, “negotiation lock-ins” can be established, which may increase the power of those who installed these anchors and at the same time impede the power of the others (e.g., market barriers established by “first movers”).

5.3 Case Study: The IPCC and the Generation of Consensual Knowledge for Climate Negotiations

Negotiators and decision-makers on climate change issues are aware of their heavy reliance on science and research. This reliance opens new demands for accountability, as the lack of adequate knowledge management can distort existing social contracts. This section analyzes the IPCC process of generating consensual knowledge for climate negotiations. It highlights the power-based and systems perspective on consensual knowledge. Some of the analyses made in this section is based on the author’s anecdotal experience as a chapter scientist, contributing author and informal reviewer of the Fifth and Sixth Assessment Reports. The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2007 (shared with Albert Arnold “Al” Gore) “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change” (Nobel Media AB 2014). The Nobel Prize Committee based its assessment on the scientific reports published by the IPCC over the preceding years, which had created an “ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming” (Nobel Media AB 2014). While the prize confirmed the mandate not only of the IPCC, but also of scientific bodies providing policy relevant knowledge, it also placed them under more intense public scrutiny.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, several scientific communities expressed concern about the potential severity of the increased CO2 emission. The issue garnered political attention when the 1978 Carter administration sought to use domestic coal to solve the energy crisis, prompting the early forms of “knowledge diplomacy”, in which evidence-based decisions are preferred, leading to various consultations with scientific communities. Increased public awareness following prominent environmental problems, such as the smog problem in London, the Minamata-sickness in Japan and the Waldsterben (death of forests) in Germany have further motivated national governments to listen to the scientific communities, as restrictive actions require a new basis of legitimacy.

The establishment of the IPCC by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 was a direct response to the increasing number of climate-change-related studies as well as to the increasing demand for the knowledge needed for policy-making. The IPCC is designed to provide necessary assessments of findings within fields and disciplines relevant to climate change, and to elucidate multiple linkages between possible policy actions and desired outcomes (Haas 2010 p. 186). As Evan Schofer (1997) as well as Gili Drori et al.  (2006) referred to in relation to international organizations, the IPCC’s aim includes the broad development of societies that promote the rationalization of decision-making.

The IPCC produces assessment and special reports by engaging thousands of scientists and experts worldwide, with recognized expertise and competence, who have been nominated by their national governments, appointed by the IPCC secretariat after it considers geographical balance, and have committed themselves to participate in the assessment-writing process without any form of financial remuneration. This voluntary participation of scientists reflects the shared set of normative and principled beliefs, which provide a value-based rationale for the social action of community members (Haas 2010 p. 186). The IPCC does not conduct its own studies, and its reports are constituted to reflect the international standard of scientific knowledge within a given time period.

While a mandate was given to the IPCC to provide reliable and policy-relevant scientific inputs through its various reports, national governments are able to influence the types and scope of scientific knowledge codified in the “Summary for Policy-makers” (SPM) during the IPCC approval session. Because this SPM is formally used as the basis of subsequent climate negotiations, most countries are keen to block certain technical information in the SPM that opposes their political interests or that can limit their future leverage. For example, Brazil, as a major bioenergy producer, is usually highly “vigilant” when wordings on bioenergy in the SPM are at stake, as are the United States, France and Austria regarding wording on nuclear energy. In the approval session of the Third Working Group of the IPCC in April 2014, several countries, for example China, India, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, South Africa, Ecuador and Bolivia, were “unhappy” with some chapters that used country classification based on income in the context of climate mitigation. These countries argued that the presumed political consequences of this reference include the “thinning out” of the “historical responsibility” of developed countries, because mitigation actions will no longer be defined by past emissions, but by the current country income.

Most importantly, due to the reliance on science and research when understanding the consequences of climate decisions, most climate negotiators are required to be experts on climate science. In various cases, IPCC lead authors are often later (or were earlier) invited to be members of country delegation in UNFCCC negotiations. Negotiators need to understand the scientific evidence as well as the methodologies used to come up with certain policy scenarios. The disparity among regions is further reinforced by the fact that most developing countries from Asia and Africa, without an extensive pool of scientific experts in their countries, are unable to send “experts” as negotiators. While some developing countries often hire Europeans or Americans as consultants or expert-members of their delegation, others are dependent on their diaspora, which is usually based in developed countries, while some have opted to tap “patronage countries” from the “North” to gain access to scientific knowledge.

When providing a synthesis of available literature, the IPCC assessment reports concentrate on peer-reviewed materials. Peer-review is one of the mechanisms to guarantee the reliability of the scientific literature (see Brembs et al. 2013). However, non-peer-reviewed materials, such as reports and data from international organizations, national governments and their agencies, and international non-state organizations—also called “grey literature”—are included in IPCC reports if these materials are deemed to meet the high standards of quality demanded by the lead authors of the reports. Nevertheless, the existing inequalities among regions are also reflected in the scientific literature, with scientists and experts from Africa, Latin America and Asia heavily relying on non-peer-reviewed materials, due to their lack of access to journals, which mostly require subscription fees. In addition, scientists and experts from developing countries have less opportunity to publish their works in peer-reviewed journals due to language barriers and the tendency of journal editors to reject papers that mostly cite grey literature.

At first glance, the analysis of the IPCC working process suggests that while there is political motivation to engage scientific experts from, for instance, Africa and Asia, most climate knowledge is generated in North America, Europe and Oceania. Among the 830 coordinating lead authors, lead authors and review editors of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), 301 (36%) are from developing countries (including countries labelled as economy-in-transition, such as Russia, Poland and other EU members from Eastern Europe). The regional distribution of all AR5 author teams further support this claim: Africa (8%), Asia (16%), South America (6%), North America, Central America and Caribbean (28%), South West Pacific (7%), and Europe (34%) (see IPCC 2017).

On a practical level, more than 69% of the authors and expert reviewers of the AR5 are from the “Global North”. This implies that members of epistemic communities from the “North” have more opportunities to influence international and domestic climate policies. As they are able to “illuminate the salient dimension of issues from which the decision-makers may then deduce their interests” (Haas 2010 p. 187), they increase the likelihood of convergent behavior of states that “listen” to experts who are mostly from the Global North. This condition is structurally driven and path dependent, and the question is whether “better” alternatives are available. The scientific works assessed in the Fifth Assessment Reports of the three Working Groups were, with few exceptions, peer-reviewed as a requirement for them to fulfil the necessary scientific quality standard.

In addition, because the three IPCC Working Groups mainly consider peer-reviewed journal articles published in English, there is a rather high proportion of cited articles published in Anglo-Saxon countries. While some lead authors are willing to cite non-English sources, it is difficult for reviewers to assess the quality of the content cited, because only abstracts of non-English studies are provided in English. Therefore, the content will most likely not garner support from other lead authors and expert reviewers in the multiple draft-writing (e.g., zero, first, second order drafts) and review stages, and will be unlikely to be included in later versions of the report. As radical constructivists contend, the use of English language in IPCC outputs implies a socially constructed “material reality” that corresponds to the social circumstances under which descriptions, terminologies and concepts of English-speaking nations were inherited, which further alienates the applicability of concepts and models to peripheral countries (see Knorr-Cetina & Mulkay 1983; Woolgar 1988).

Moreover, the bias against journals not published in English is among others already institutionalized as defined by the current journal ranking system. The quality of academic journals is claimed to be determined by its impact factor, which serves as proxy to reflect the place of a specific journal within its field. The impact factor suggests the level of prestige of being able to publish one’s article in that specific journal. It reflects the average number of citations to articles published in science and social science journals. Because of this, some journals adopt editorial policies to maximize their impact factors, including the “by invitation only” policy under which senior scientists, who tend to come from, or work in, developed countries, are invited to publish “citable” papers to increase the journal impact factor (see Moustafa 2015).

Because publication in peer-reviewed journals has become the major criterion of research evaluation in Anglo-Saxon countries and most of Europe (which determines one’s competitiveness in attracting funding or employment), additional grants and resources such as language editing are provided by universities and research institutions to boost their publication performance, not to mention the professional grant application writers and consultants usually hired to improve the success rate of grant applications (e. g., the Euro 80 billion worth EU Research and Innovation Program called Horizon 2020). Journal articles often become both outputs of successful grants and inputs, simultaneously indicating a scholar’s or research institution’s ability to attract grants. In comparison, most researchers from developing countries, who are usually employed in universities, tend to spend most of their time teaching and fulfilling administrative tasks. For example, according to numerous interviews, Filipino scholars in Philippine universities are confronted by their heavy teaching load (an estimated 80% of their time, not including administrative tasks) as well as the lack of research grants (and experience in preparing for grant applications) which prevent them from doing substantial and internationally competitive research. Furthermore, most of the research done by local scholars is limited to local topics, which further limits the attractiveness of their research for international journals. In addition, there are usually fewer financial and structural resources available to support scholars in most developing countries to write peer-reviewed journal articles published in a language other than their own native language, not to mention their lack of access to expensive journals, which should be cited for their paper submissions to be accepted.

Moreover, journals published outside Europe and the Anglo-Saxon region and which are published in English are most likely to publish articles written by English native speakers or Europeans with excellent language skills or who can afford language-editing services. Furthermore, many of these journals have editors originating from Europe or the United States to save the cost of the necessary English-language editing (see Belcher 2009). In many cases, peer-reviewed journals do not offer language-editing services and the acceptance of submitted journal articles is therefore significantly dependent on the quality of English language. In cases where language-editing services are offered, researchers will need to bear these costs, adding further barriers to publication for non-English speaking researchers from Asia, Latin America and Africa. In addition, most journals often cater for certain methodologies and theoretical approaches when accepting submitted articles. Expertise on specific methodologies, such as modelling, or specific “theoretical schools” (e.g., Chicago school, Copenhagen school) is often established over a long period of time and is usually concentrated in a few research institutions and universities in Europe and the United States, promoting the tendency that articles written by scholars affiliated with these few institutions are preferred.

In the various AR5 meetings of the different IPCC working groups, this issue has often been raised not only by scientists from developing countries, but also by the IPCC secretariat. Efforts were made, for example, to ensure North–South balance by nominating and appointing Coordinating Lead Authors (CLA) of the different chapters, with one CLA coming from a developing country. Nevertheless, this CLA from a developing country needs to be equally qualified and there were often some shortcomings in this regard. In addition, the appointment of the CLAs, lead authors and chapter reviewers also took into consideration geographical balance. However, some CLAs and lead authors during the AR5 writing process expressed the view that some appointed authors from developing countries who provided no input in the writing process, nor participated in sessions for various reasons, were nevertheless included in the list of authors. The geographical representation reflected on paper is not always effectively translated into the process of building consensual knowledge.

The experiences from the IPCC AR5 writing process conceptualize a type of knowledge diplomacy demonstrated when synthesizing knowledge on climate change. It allows the convergence of shared notions of validity: intersubjective, internally defined criteria for weighing and validating knowledge in the domain of expertise (Haas 2010 p. 186). In addressing various shortcomings, the IPCC requested the InterAcademy Council (IAC) to perform an independent review of its processes and procedures, after which the IPCC adopted various changes to its processes and procedures. However, this resulted in even higher workloads for those involved in preparing the assessments and further becoming dependent on developed countries, which provided “chapter assistants” to CLAs from their countries (Schulte-Uebbing et al. 2015). As such, it becomes apparent that generating knowledge on climate change can also be a question of analyzing power relations and power asymmetries.

Because the IPCC experiences suggest that acceptable scientific quality standards for IPCC reports are dependent on what is currently “best” available, the IPCC process unintentionally reproduces or even reinforces structural imbalances and unequal inputs from regions in the generation of knowledge. While the transboundary character of climate change demands a global response, as codified through a global agreement, for example, solutions are dependent on regional and local actions, and decisions need to be coordinated and best practices exchanged between actors coming from various regions. Therefore, a transregional perspective towards knowledge generation and deployment and towards power relations in climate change negotiations can be helpful in understanding how knowledge becomes a subject of climate diplomacy.

5.4 Interim Conclusion: Convergence of Knowledge Frameworks as Opportunities and Risks—The Preceding Step Towards Global Convergence

While effective knowledge diplomacy is generally contingent on balance of power in terms of generating and applying knowledge, the critical assessment of the IPCC process as a type of knowledge diplomacy to address climate change has demonstrated that additional mechanisms are still needed to address certain legitimacy gaps of knowledge diplomacy. Such legitimacy gaps include the unintended reproduction of structural inequities due to structural imbalances that are systemic in nature and are therefore difficult to correct. While there are intentions to resolve these gaps, additional efforts are inevitable to “compensate” disadvantages. However, the ontological baggage of the concept of “compensation” aggravates these legitimacy gaps, because compensation connotes the admittance of guilt, which complicates any reform process.

Solutions need to be found and there are already conceptual impulses that can be further explored. For example, while the generation of knowledge relevant for climate negotiations is still concentrated in the “Global North,” peripheral regions can still circumvent knowledge gaps by focusing on sub-frameworks of climate negotiations that address specific topics relevant to climate change. Furthermore, with regards to the norms, rules and practices institutionalized by the SDGs, developing countries are increasingly discovering regional bodies and forums through which to gain access to needed technical knowledge. Therefore, a further examination of regional knowledge generation and the way it promotes transformation towards sustainability in the global level would be beneficial.