The Need for Social Sciences in Climate Policy

by Becky Strong

In 2015, David G. Victor, a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego wrote about the importance of looking into the social sciences when seeking to implement policies about climate change. Victor believes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has become irrelevant to climate policy due to its focus on only the most well-known facts about climate change and avoidance of controversy.
He believes that in order to find insights that truly matter regarding climate change, one must look beyond the natural sciences. Looking into fields in the social sciences such as political science and sociology is the best way to understand how people react to climate change, and therefore how to implement the best policy. Victor claims that so far, the only field outside of the natural science represented in the IPCC deliberations is economics. He feels that many other disciplines have knowledge of many policy relevant questions. The problem with using only scientists in climate change research is that they are under the intense scrutiny of governments, leading them to steer clear of the controversial topics which could be pivotal in good decision making. The social sciences, he writes, can help provide answers to questions such as how voters will react to changes in climate policy and which countries will be most affected by climate change. Victor believes that it is important for the IPCC to incorporate social scientists in climate policy development because they can provide approaches different from those suggested by natural scientists, some of which would be more effective and relevant. Victor thinks that the IPCC displays major bias in the way it only focuses on “known knowns and known unknowns” instead of on deeper uncertainties that might stir the pot. The social sciences may not have much literature on climate change, but the IPCC needs to be able to ask social scientists the right questions in order to find relevant answers that would prove to be very helpful in climate policy.


Victor, G. D., 2015. Embed the social sciences in climate policy. Nature 520, 27-29.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s