13 February 2023

How young and early career scientists communicate science on international level

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Chia-Chun Liang

A photo of the author with two other delegations (left: Janice & right: Mark) from AGU at COP 27 Ocean Pavilion. Photo credit: Chia-Chun Liang.

For many scientists, it is not easy to communicate science to non-scientists communities. And in this blog, I am going to focus on ways for young scientists to communicate or deliver plainspoken science to a particular group of non-scientists – policymakers from around the world.

For earth science field, the largest international gathering where you can find policymakers from different countries is the Conference of Parties (COP), which is an annual international gathering held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

COP has become my favorite place to talk science because as a person coming from a diverse background, I am passionate about the mixture of three topics: climate change, international policies, and a diverse group of people. In recent decades, solving climate change issues on international level has become more important as numerous studies and IPCCs have concluded the scale of the issues is global.

A few famous international agreements produced from COPs, for example, are, Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol. Many discussions and negotiations can always get political, but there are still various ways to deliver plainspoken science, particularly from young or early career scientists into COPs and make impacts. In the following, I am sharing two approaches that most benefit my journey in delivering science to international policymakers.

Cryosphere Pavilion at COP 27 held by ICCI. Photo credit: Chia-Chun Liang.

Approach #1: Start with potential COP participants, such as an NGO.

Besides negotiations, there are pavilions, side events, and exhibits etc. being hold at the same time at COPs. Usually these are held by NGOs, youth and indigenous groups, private industries, and others. If you know any of the organization that is going to COP, reach out to them and ask how you can contribute. Most of them are happy to have a scientist on the team to give feedbacks. In my case, I didn’t know which organization to start with before going to my first COP, but I was able to connect to an NGO, called International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) while attending my first COP. Short version of story, I walked by the pavilion, introduced my research, and started to get engaged. Students are always not confident about how much they can contribute. But in fact, they already have transferrable skills and a good amount of general scientific knowledge. This approach is usually more “indirect/long-term” to influence the negotiation outcomes (i.e., results of COPs); however, it is where the science foundation and community engagement are laid.

Inside a negotiation room during COP 27. One will have a good chance to chat with policymakers after the negotiations, but they usually don’t give you much time so be prepared to pitch your asks in a minute. Photo credit: Chia-Chun Liang.

Approach #2: Reach out political parties.

A heads-up warning – the result of this approach is highly non-linear and possibly chaotic! However, I personally think this is the most direct way to influence COP outcomes. The question is, how does one get in touch or start conversation with policymakers associated a negotiation team? In my experience, when I was at COP 27, I waited at places where you can find policy folks frequently – outside negotiation and plenary rooms, hallways, and countries’ rest area. After many trials and failures, I successfully connect with two countries’ national focal point and am in a process of discussing how I can be a part of their team this year. Besides myself, I’ve heard a few successful stories from around the world as well.

Science is not negotiable, but it is important to bring science onto the international negotiation table and fill the gap between current policy and climate change facts. I am still exploring and developing, but according to what I’ve seen, young scientists could always find ways to contribute and bring unique and precious values to the end results.

-Chia-Chun Liang is a PhD candidate in Earth System Science at UC Irvine