How relevant is climate change research for climate change policy? An empirical analysis based on Overton data


Climate change is an ongoing topic in nearly all areas of society since many years. A discussion of climate change without referring to scientific results is not imaginable. This is especially the case for policies since action on the macro scale is required to avoid costly consequences for society. In this study, we deal with the question of how research on climate change and policy are connected. In 2019, the new Overton database of policy documents was released including links to research papers that are cited by policy documents. The use of results and recommendations from research on climate change might be reflected in citations of scientific papers in policy documents. Although we suspect a lot of uncertainty related to the coverage of policy documents in Overton, there seems to be an impact of international climate policy cycles on policy document publication. We observe local peaks in climate policy documents around major decisions in international climate diplomacy. Our results point out that IGOs and think tanks–with a focus on climate change–have published more climate change policy documents than expected. We found that climate change papers that are cited in climate change policy documents received significantly more citations on average than climate change papers that are not cited in these documents. Both areas of society (science and policy) focus on similar climate change research fields: biology, earth sciences, engineering, and disease sciences. Based on these and other empirical results in this study, we propose a simple model of policy impact considering a chain of different document types: The chain starts with scientific assessment reports (systematic reviews) that lead via science communication documents (policy briefs, policy reports or plain language summaries) and government reports to legislative documents.

Jan Minx
Jan Minx