Global North and Male Researchers Dominate in Climate Science

Image: UNU-WIDER from Helsinki, Finland, via Wikimedia Commons

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The scientists behind the 100 most highly cited climate research papers in the past five years are overwhelmingly men from the global north. According to an analysis by Carbon Brief, less than 1% of the authors are based in Africa, and fewer than 25% are female. Research is expensive, and “arguably, the most obvious issue with running climate studies from countries in the global south is the lack of funding,” writes Carbon Brief. When looking at who has been doing climate research as it pertains to Africa, the dynamic is evident:  from 1990-2020, 78% of all funding has gone to European and North American institutions, while 14.5% has gone to African institutions..


Why This Matters: Climate research is fundamental to how we understand climate change. Ideally, it’s also the basis for climate policy. But if the science is primarily being done by men from the global north — when climate change is disproportionately impacting developing countries — then our lens and approach will be fundamentally skewed. 


As Carbon Brief’s Ayesha Tandon, who did the analysis, told the BBC

If the vast majority of research around climate change is coming from a group of people with a very similar background, for example, male scientists from the global north, then the body of knowledge that we’re going to have around climate change is going to be skewed towards their interests, knowledge, and scientific training.


Barriers to Entry

Because these patterns don’t exist in a vacuum, the analysis describes the roadblocks for researchers in developing countries, including:

  • “Colonial” or “parachute” scientific practices, where researchers from the global north extract the data they need from other countries, then return to their home countries to publish without building the scientific capacity of the places studied. 
  • English language barriers, which can pose a challenge for researchers who speak and write English as a second language but do not meet the style and standards of the global north.
  • Journals as expensive gatekeepers — access to top-tier work can be costly. Nature recently announced a new, open-access model. Still, it requires authors to pay a €9,500 fee — a sum that researchers from Western universities could have covered by their institutions, while researchers in the global south could not. 
  • And even if researchers can get past the language and financial barriers, “many top-tier journals still remain a type of ‘old-boys club’ and are not quite open to voices from the developing world,” Dr. Quan-Hoang Vuong, a researcher at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Social Research in Phenikaa University in Vietnam, told Carbon Brief.


A big part of the solution: decolonizing climate science and building collaborations that aren’t extractive. Researchers can design, fund, and execute a project together — if true partnership is the intention from the beginning.


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