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Climate Change Assessments and the ‘Best Available Knowledge’: The challenge of bridging disciplines and knowledge systems

3 November 2014, UNESCO, Paris, France

Patau Rubis speaking on traditional weather forecasting in Borneo, with Joelle Smadja of CNRS.
Photo by Doug Nakashima, 2014.


In the face of global climate change, its impacts and uncertainties, access to the ‘best available knowledge’ is often cited as an essential requirement for decision-making. Until recently, however, climate change assessments and actions have been primarily if not exclusively informed by the bio-physical sciences. Other relevant disciplines, notably the social sciences, as well as other knowledge systems such as local and indigenous knowledge, have remained on the sidelines.

In the last decade, there has been increased recognition of the need to reach out to a broad range of social sciences as well as to local and indigenous knowledge systems. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in its Fifth Assessment Report that indigenous knowledge systems ‘are a major resource for adapting to climate change’. This recognition is reinforced by the need for multi-scalar approaches across time and space, which can bridge the gap between the local observations provided by indigenous knowledge holders and field-based disciplines, and the global observations of the climate sciences.

● How can assessments on climate change better take into account contributions from the social sciences and from indigenous knowledge?

● How can adaptation initiatives on the ground appropriately incorporate indigenous knowledge and a fully interdisciplinary approach?

The workshop is co-organized by UNESCO and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) With generous support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Denmark, and Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR), France.