Although the first European Union Framework Programme (FP) for research and technological development was created in 1984, it was the second FP (FP2) in 1987 that devoted resources to climatological research for the first time. The start of FP2 coincided with the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988, aimed at providing a comprehensive assessment on the state of knowledge of the science of climate change. FP-funded research was not an end in itself but a means for the European Union (EU) to achieve common objectives based on the principle of cross-border research cooperation and coordination to reduce fragmentation and effectively tackle common challenges. Since 1987, climate science has been present in all nine FPs (as of 2023) following an evolutionary process as goals, priority areas, and financial and implementation instruments have constantly changed to adapt to new needs. A research- and technology-oriented Europe was gradually created including in the area of climate science. There has historically been a strong intrinsic link, there has been a strong, intrinsic link between research and environmental and climate policies. Climate science under the FPs, focusing initially on oceans, the carbon cycle, and atmospheric processes, has increased tremendously both in scope and scale, encompassing a broad range of areas over time, such as climate modeling, polar research, ocean acidification, regional seas and oceans, impacts and adaptation, decarbonization pathways, socioeconomic analyses, sustainability, observations, and climate services. The creation and evolution of the EU’s FPs has played a critical role in establishing Europe’s leading position on climate science by means of promoting excellence, increasing the relevance of climate research for policymaking, and building long-lasting communities and platforms across Europe and beyond as international cooperation has been a key feature of the FPs. No other group of countries collaborates on climate science at such scale. Due to their inherited long-term planning and cross-national nature, the FPs have provided a stable framework for advancing climate science by incentivizing scientists and institutions with diverse expertise to work together, creating the necessary critical mass to tackle the increasing complex and interdisciplinary nature of climate science, rationalizing resource allocation, and setting norms and standards for scientific collaboration. It is hard to imagine in retrospect how a similar level of impact could have been achieved solely at a national level. Looking ahead and capitalizing on the rich experience and lessons learned since the 1980s, important challenges and opportunities need to be addressed. These include critical gaps in knowledge, even higher integration of disciplines, use of new technologies and artificial intelligence for state-of-the-art data analysis and modeling, capturing interlinkages with sustainable development goals, better coordination between national and EU agendas, higher mobility of researchers and ideas from across Europe and beyond, and stronger interactions between scientists and nonscientific entities (public authorities, the private sector, financial institutions, and civil society) in order to better communicate climate science and proactively translate new knowledge into actionable plans.
Elisabeth Lipiatou and Anastasios Kentarchos
International climate negotiations seek to limit warming to an average of two degrees Celsius (2°C). This objective is justified by the claim that scientists have identified two degrees of warming as the point at which climate change becomes dangerous. Climate scientists themselves maintain that while science can provide projections of possible impacts at different levels of warming, determining what constitutes an acceptable level of risk is not a matter to be decided by science alone, but is a value choice to be deliberated upon by societies as a whole. Hence, while climate science can inform debates about how much warming is too much, it cannot provide a definitive answer to that question. In order to fully understand how climate change came to be defined as a phenomenon with a single global dangerous limit of 2°C, it is necessary to incorporate insights from the social sciences. Political economy, culture, economics, sociology, geography, and social psychology have all played a role in defining what constitutes an acceptable level of climate risk. These perspectives can be applied through the framework of institutional analysis to examine reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other international organizations. This interdisciplinary approach offers the potential to provide a comprehensive history of how climate science has been interpreted in policy making. An interdisciplinary analysis is also essential in order to move beyond historical description to provide a narrative of considerable explanatory power. Such insights offer a valuable framework for considering current debates about whether or not it will be possible to limit warming to 2°C.