The Importance and Difficulty of Communication
between Researchers and Others

June 2010

Global environmental issues such as climate change are the subjects of research in a wide range of natural sciences and social studies. Every day, new research outcomes and policy recommendations are popping up in various world media. These motivate public opinion and influence international negotiations on a solution to global environmental problems. It leads to change in social and political trends, which in turn becomes subjects of new research. There is probably no other topic that promotes such dynamic interaction between the research community and the general public.

Being in the middle of the above situation, I have become aware of how important and difficult communication between researchers and others is.

Many researchers throughout the world devise new concepts and systems to solve the problems, and create new words and abbreviations to effectively express them in a bid to promote their dissemination. This flood of new words and acronyms sometimes causes confusion not only amongst non-researchers, but also between the researchers themselves. Phrases such as carbon offset, carbon neutral and co-benefits have all gained high recognition as keywords, but even these are sometimes interpreted differently depending on who is using them, which causes disputes in discussion.

It goes without saying that any message sent out by the researchers and their community to the general public and policy-makers can have a huge impact, even though they are not necessarily understood correctly. For example, it seems that many people consider that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended reduction of emissions from developed countries by 25 to 40% by 2020 in its fourth assessment report issued in 2007. However this is a misunderstanding (or might be even a distortion in some cases). The IPCC's principle is to be policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive, and the "25 to 40% reduction (by Annex I countries by 2020)" was presented in the context of one of the scenarios for stabilisation of GHG concentration in the atmosphere, based on scientific knowledge. It is in no way a recommendation of "what should be done".

The cause of these kinds of problems may lie with the recipient of the message, but researchers on the dissemination side should always do their best to make their message duly understood. As a policy-oriented research institute that goes beyond mere academic research, IGES is an advocate for "positive outreach and realisation of research results" and so should be extra careful with regard to how it communicates its message.


    1. IPCC TFI Technical Support Unit (TSU)
      Established within IGES in 1999, TSU supports the activities of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (TFI). The unit develops, publishes and promotes guidelines for the calculation and reporting of national greenhouse gas emissions and removals.

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