The politics of anticipation: the IPCC and the negative emissions technologies experience

Silke Beck, Martin Mahony

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82 Citations (Scopus)
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Non-technical summary: In the post-Paris political landscape, the relationship between science and politics is changing. We discuss what this means for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), using recent controversies over negative emissions technologies (NETs) as a window into the fraught politics of producing policy-relevant pathways and scenarios. We suggest that pathways and scenarios have a ‘world-making’ power, potentially shaping the world in their own image and creating new political realities. Assessment bodies like the IPCC need to reflect on this power, and the implications of changing political contexts, in new ways.

Technical summary: Following the adoption of the Paris Agreement of December 2015, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has begun to reconsider its role in the climate regime. Based on work in Science and Technology Studies (STS), we reconstruct how the IPCC has historically positioned itself between climate science and policy-making. We then discuss particular challenges raised if the IPCC is shifting along the spectrum from attributing causes and detecting impacts of global warming towards projecting policy solutions, including emerging technologies, by examining recent controversies over negative emissions technologies (NETs). We conclude that the IPCC exercises a ‘world-making’ power by providing new, politically powerful visions of actionable futures, for example, based on speculative technologies of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). The task of providing future pathways poses great challenges to conventional ideals of scientific neutrality. We argue that the growing political demand for pathways, and their political
significance, requires rethinking modes of assessment that go beyond expert-driven neutral input. Assessment processes must take into account their political contexts and implications in a systematic way.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8
JournalGlobal Sustainability
Early online date27 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • adaptation and mitigation
  • earth systems - land water and atmospheric
  • land use
  • modelling and simulation
  • policies
  • politics and governance

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