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Open Science

Open for Climate Science

Forest fires are becoming more frequent as a result of climate breakdown

Poppy Simon, Researcher Engagement Manager, shares her views on the role of Open Science in the climate justice movement and why the scientific community must treat climate breakdown with the same urgency and openness as Covid-19.

How do we become Open for Climate Justice?

More than simply addressing climate change in terms of climate science, the concept of climate justice is a recognition that the climate crisis will disproportionately affect certain communities more than others. As the UN explains, “the impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations.”1

Climate justice therefore considers climate change from a social science approach rather than through the natural and physical sciences: shifting the focus from ice cores and satellite data to how it will affect the most vulnerable people and communities, and, in turn, how they can best cope with their changing environments. This offers us the chance to consider not only how we can mitigate the impact of climate change, but also improve the living standards of marginalized communities around the world and address the root cause of these inequalities.

The role of Open Science in climate justice

According to youth activist Deon Shekuza, an ‘open system’ is needed to tackle climate change from a climate justice point of view to ensure that everyone feels welcome to join the fight1. We see open science as indispensable in this progress—it is marginalized people whose views and experiences are most needed, but who currently have the least access to science, despite this right being enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights2. Climate justice is an acknowledgement that many poorer nations hold less responsibility for the climate crisis while also tending to be less able to cope. Addressing climate injustice, however, also involves acknowledging power imbalances with regards to knowledge and its production, distribution and use.

Open Science therefore has an important role to play not just in publishing research to help us cope with the immediate and long-term impacts of climate change, but also in ensuring that knowledge reaches those who need it the most. Within a traditional subscription-based publishing model, knowledge is reserved for those with access to institutions that can afford to pay for it. Open Access publishing means that research is free to read and share by anyone, anywhere, from actors on the ground up to policymakers.

What can we do as an Open Access publisher to promote climate justice?

One of the key tenets of Open Science is open data. Making data publicly accessible not only provides datasets for underfunded researchers to include in their own analyses, but can also help to catalyze more research based on data from traditionally understudied regions. In a recent interview with Dr Jamie Cleverly, Chief Editor of Advances in Meteorology, she noted that one of the struggles for authors in the field can be making their study relevant to international audiences. Sharing data openly for other researchers to include as part of wider datasets, for example, could be one way of tackling this issue. As a publisher, we are working towards making data sharing standard practice across all our articles.

Publishers can also play a part in helping early career researchers, particularly those from marginalized communities, find their voice. As well as operating a sound science policy that prioritizes scientific validity over novelty, we support researchers in their roles as reviewers and editors. Webinars can be an easily accessible tool for early career researchers to learn from more experienced peers in order to improve their writing, reviewing and editing, all of which may lead to increased, as well as more diverse and representative, research outputs on climate science from those on the frontlines.

Special Issues and retrospective collections can also serve to increase the visibility and reach of climate change research, both within and across journals. After all, what good is research that is free to read if potential readers can’t find it in the first place?

Are we doing enough?

The theme of climate justice highlights one of the main issues within climate science – that the communities currently most impacted by climate change are often the least studied and the least able to conduct research themselves. As an Open Access publisher, we need to ask ourselves how we can bridge this knowledge gap when researchers must pay for the costs associated with producing and publishing peer-reviewed research.

Waiver policies for authors from low- and middle-income countries are therefore incredibly important in breaking down the barriers to publication for authors from less well-funded institutions. We support the Research4Life initiative in our waiver policy, offering authors from dozens of countries a full waiver on article processing charges across all our journals, and a 50% discount for many more countries.

It is important, however, to recognize that there may be countries not included within this waiver policy where wealth, power and knowledge are not distributed evenly, leaving many institutions and research communities underfunded. Ensuring that researchers in these areas are also represented within open access publishing has been a focus of industry-wide conversations. Across science as a whole, there is a recognized gap in the funding of social science research into climate mitigation versus that dedicated to natural and technical sciences – between 1990 and 2018, only 0.12% of climate science funding was spent on the social science of climate mitigation 3.Given that there are many other social science elements to climate change, this suggests a woeful lack of funding in climate justice.

On top of this, there are currently few journals from any publisher specifically aimed at climate justice, but that doesn't mean the answer is necessarily more journals. Instead, it’s important that existing journals across a range of subjects include climate justice within their scope. Interdisciplinary journals are key for the future of climate science research, as climate change will need to be considered from and within every aspect of our lives.

Treating the climate crisis as a crisis

The Covid-19 pandemic showed that publishers can work together at times of crisis to make sure the world benefits from scientific research. Expedited peer review, acknowledging the importance of pre-prints, and routinely publishing Covid-19 articles as free-to-read were just some of the ways publishers worked to ensure that research on how to cope with Covid-19 got out in the open as soon as possible.

With climate change now increasingly recognized as an urgent global crisis, it is time we applied these same principles to climate science—to work towards climate justice and a safe future for all generations to come.


  1. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/climate-justice/ [accessed 12th October]
  2. Universal Declaration on Human Rights, 1948 (https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights)
  3. Indra Overland, Benjamin K. Sovacool (2020) The misallocation of climate research funding, Energy Research & Social Science, 62:101349. DOI: 10.1016/j.erss.2019.101349.

This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Illustration adapted from Adobe Stock by David Jury.


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