Coffee Hour: Being a social scientist on the IPCC: Reflections from the conceptual frontline

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
At 3:30 p.m. Refreshments are offered in the E. Willard Miller seminar room, 319 Walker Building At 4:00 p.m. The lecture begins in the John J. Cahir Auditorium, 112 Walker Building

Being a social scientist on the IPCC: Reflections from the conceptual frontline


About the talk

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is preparing its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The first part of this report (Working Group I) covers the Physical Science Basis, released in September 2013. The second and third parts, dealing with Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (WGII) and Mitigation (WGIII), respectively, will be released in the spring of 2014. I am fortunate to be Penn State’s only coordinating lead author on the AR5, leading a new chapter in the IPCC’s 25 years of existence that assesses the state-of-the-art knowledge on the impacts of climate change and climate change responses on livelihoods and poverty. Being a social scientist in WGII brings both opportunities and challenges in navigating disciplinary understandings of fundamental yet evolving concepts such as vulnerability.


I first explain the structures and procedures within the IPCC, including the WG thematic foci as well as the sound review process and guidance documents from the Technical Support Unit to ensure consistency in the usage of complex constructs (e.g. traceability), and their degree of applicability to social science questions. I provide examples of conceptual advances that are of crucial significance for how the AR5 addresses vulnerability, inequalities, and risk and how these nuances are negotiated both in texts and in graphical representations in the Summary for Policy Makers and the Technical Summary. Finally, I explain how these past 2.5 years on the AR5 have further shaped my own research on the intersections between feminist political ecology, climate change adaptation, and poverty reduction.


 About the speaker

Tschakert, Petra 2013Petra Tschakert is an associate professor of geography and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) at Penn State and a Senior Research Fellow with the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research Oslo (CICERO) in Norway. She received her MPhil in 1991 in Geography & Economics and French from the Karl Franzens Universität in Graz, Austria, and her PhD in Arid Lands Resource Sciences with a minor in Applied Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 2003.

Tschakert directs several research initiatives that explore and facilitate co-generative inquiry, adaptive capacity, and livelihood resilience among resource-poor men and women land users in Africa and the Himalayas. With support from NSF, she has been exploring anticipatory learning under climatic uncertainty and coupled social-ecological dynamics in the context of climatic extremes, land disturbance through mining, and disease. She also led a research initiative on limits to adaptation and is part of a network on gender and climate change, both supported by the Worldwide Universities Network (WUN). Tschakert works at the intersection of political ecology, climate change adaptation, social-ecological resilience, environmental justice, livelihood security, and participatory action research and learning within a development context.