Room for climate debate : perspectives on the interaction between climate politics, science and the media

J.P. van der Sluijs, R. van Est, M. Riphagen

Research output: Book/ReportReportAcademic


The present study offers a picture of the complex interaction between climate politics, science and the media. During the 1970s and 1980s, politics and the sciences focused increasingly on the climate problem, at the time known as the greenhouse effect. Due to a lack of sufficient scientific evidence and absence of international policies, the Netherlands pursued a ‘no regrets’ climate policy. Measures such as energy savings, which were already justified in other policy domains, were sharpened. This all changed in the period between 1987 and 1994. Since then, the precautionary principle and the scientific consensus approach of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have determined how the political arena deals with scientific uncertainties in the field of climate change. The precautionary principle entails that in order to intervene to limit an environmental risk no full scientific knowledge of that risk is needed – clear scientific indications suffice. To create a clear scientific knowledge base for the development and legitimation of an international climate policy, the UN established the IPCC in 1988. This made political actions at an international level dependent on the scientific consensus within the IPCC. The first IPCC report from 1990 indicated that it is likely that continued emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases would lead to global warming. On the basis of this knowledge the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The second (1995), third (2001) and fourth (2007) IPCC reports showed a growing scientific evidence: instead of ‘likely’, the IPCC now considers ‘very likely’ that not intervening will cause ‘threats of serious or irreversible damage’. The interaction model between politics and science that was set up in domestic and international political arenas to deal with scientific uncertainties is also known as the linear or technocratic model. Its underlying assumption is that more scientific research will lead to more reliable knowledge and less uncertainty, and that that knowledge will then form a basis for political consensus and decision-making. One could say that, for the Netherlands, the linear model has worked for a long time, in the sense that it has provided a long-term and broad political consensus about climate policy.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationDen Haag
PublisherRathenau Institute
Commissioning bodyRathenau Institute
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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