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Climate Science Meets Geopolitics

Amid rising geopolitical tensions and accelerating deglobalization, governments will need to ensure that they have the infrastructure and human capital necessary to maintain a comparative advantage in earth sciences. Superiority in this field could prove decisive in any new cold war.

LONDON – Climate science matters in more ways than you might think. It has set the pace and targets for the most ambitious economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution: the transition to a carbon-free economy. Ever since the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, climate data and models have been a global public good – an instrument of economic power with growing normative value. Climate targets are increasingly being enshrined in law and cited in jurisprudence.

Climate science is also a necessarily global discipline, because it uses mathematical physics to predict the combined behavior of the planet’s atmosphere and ocean – two commons that know no borders. Over the last two decades, the field has expanded to incorporate hydrology, ecology, and biogeochemistry in an interdisciplinary earth-systems science that requires substantial infrastructure – from observational systems to monitor the state of the whole planet, to vast computational resources to integrate ever more sophisticated models.

It is a science well-suited for a globalized world, and climate scientists have long focused their attention on the agenda set by international institutions – from the WMO and the IPCC to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (created in 1992) – to guide humanity toward decarbonization.