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Expertise under Controversy: The Case of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Kari De Pryck, Bruno Latour, Géraldine Pflieger

In the last decades, international expertise has been essential to put global environmental problems on the international agenda. These assessments are often contested, especially on issues where facts and values are profoundly entangled. This thesis investigates the case of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one of the most authoritative, albeit contested expert organisation. It is more generally interested in how these organisations construct and maintain their authority, drawing on insights from Science and Technology Studies and sociological approaches to international organisations. A central argument is that, partly as a result of the controversial universe in which it has evolved, the IPCC has grown into an international bureaucracy. The thesis identifies four institutional arrangements on which the organisation has relied to maintain its authority. First, it has strived for a balanced representation of all nations, and in particular between developed and developing countries. Second, it has put in place governing mechanisms that allow governments to play a central role in the assessment process, encouraging the ‘ownership’ of its conclusions. Third, it has increasingly proceduralised the assessment, to formalise the role of its different parts and protect the organisation against criticism. Four, it has been more attentive to the management of the information displayed about its work. These arrangements are regularly renegotiated in the context of new challenges and controversies. Beyond the IPCC, they provide relevant lenses to observe the intertwining of political and epistemic authority at the international level.