Review of 130,000 climate change research papers in last 30 years shows shift towards mitigation and adaptation

A comprehensive literature review conducted by researchers confirms a shift towards adaptation and mitigation solutions.  The review spans over three decades and encompasses nearly 130,000 articles published between 1990 and 2021. It is led by Danial Khojasteh of the University of South Wales and co-authored by Robert Nicholls, director of the Tyndall Centre at the University of East Anglia. The review was published on WIREs Climate Change.

They confirm that there has been a relative shift in academic climate change research from understanding the physical science basis of climate change towards evaluating risks and responses – adaptation and mitigation. However, despite more countries contributing to climate change research (203 countries from 2016-2021 versus 153 countries from 1990-2009), low-income vulnerable countries remain underrepresented. Of all publications produced during 1990–2021, 40% were from Europe, 28% from North America, 19% from Asia, 6% from Oceania, 4% from Africa, and 3% from South America.

“There needs to be more representation of the Global South in climate change research. This can unlock diverse perspectives and forge inclusive solutions to safeguard populations facing climate change impacts,” said Robert.

The research employs a systematic approach to interrogate about 130,000 international peer-reviewed climate change articles published between 1990 and 2021. It examines the time– space evolution of climate research topics and the nature of collaborations, providing insights into broad-scale climate change research themes, and how they are developed and/or are interconnected.

Looking at climate change research topics per decade, in 1990, climate variability, long-term climate, ocean overturning circulation, land use/cover change, and terrestrial ecosystems were the most popular topics of research. 

In 2000 this shifted to water resources, biodiversity, mid-to-high latitude climate, and climate models. 

In 2010 and 2020, there was an increase in interdisciplinary research, with particular attention to the rate of warming and sea-level, human/ecosystem health, agriculture and food security, adaptive management, public perception, tropical cyclones, and mountains including their rapidly disappearing glaciers.

Emerging areas such as biodiversity, climate extremes, food security, vulnerability and adaptation, public health and perception, sea-level change, and high mountains are also gaining prominence in current climate change research. 

Additionally, the analysis highlights a growing trend of international collaboration in climate research, emphasising the importance of global cooperation in addressing the challenges of climate change. Climate change research has also become significantly more international in nature and cross-nation collaborations are now the norm.

“This literature review underscores the critical need for interdisciplinary collaboration and concerted global efforts in tackling the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change. As we witness a shift towards adaptation and mitigation strategies, it is crucial that researchers, policymakers, and stakeholders work together to develop innovative solutions and address knowledge gaps,” said Robert.

The review also underscores the urgent need for a clear, coupled, and global adaptation-mitigation framework to guide future research and policy initiatives.

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