Transforming environmental research to avoid tragedy

Esther Turnhout*, Myanna Lahsen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    15 Citations (Scopus)
    306 Downloads (Pure)


    According to a recent article in this journal, the failure of policy action on climate change despite scientific consensus points to a broken science–society contract. To avoid this ‘tragedy of climate science’, the authors call for a moratorium on its production. As scholars of, and participants in, global science–policy interfaces, we recognize the authors’ assumptions and reasonings but also see an urgent need for a deeper understanding of the current limitations of environmental research, and the challenges of connecting knowledge to policy and society. Rather than a blanket moratorium, we argue that what is needed is a profound transformation of environmental research. This entails a shift in research priorities towards currently marginalized approaches in social sciences, humanities and participatory research, to generate a much-needed understanding of obstacles to action and just and equitable strategies for overcoming them with due consideration of issues of justice and equity. We also propose a new science–society contract that recognizes the politics of environmental knowledge. This is necessary to enable critical reflection on what interests environmental research serves whose knowledge needs are excluded, and with what consequences. We recognize that our proposal can be uncomfortable and that it challenges deeply held beliefs in the neutrality of science. However, deep reprioritization in environmental science and science policy are urgently needed to strengthen the contribution of environmental research to the transformative changes that it calls for.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)834-838
    Number of pages5
    JournalClimate and development
    Issue number9
    Early online date6 May 2022
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2022


    • Institutions
    • IPBES
    • IPCC
    • Knowledge politics
    • Knowledge sharing
    • Participation
    • Science–policy interface
    • Sustainable development
    • Transformative change
    • 22/3 OA procedure


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