Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Perspective
  • Published:

Steps to overcome the North–South divide in research relevant to climate change policy and practice


A global North–South divide in research, and its negative consequences, has been highlighted in various scientific disciplines. Northern domination of science relevant to climate change policy and practice, and limited research led by Southern researchers in Southern countries, may hinder further development and implementation of global climate change agreements and nationally appropriate actions. Despite efforts to address the North–South divide, progress has been slow. In this Perspective, we illustrate the extent of the divide, review underlying issues and analyse their consequences for climate change policy development and implementation. We propose a set of practical steps in both Northern and Southern countries that a wide range of actors should take at global, regional and national scales to span the North–South divide, with examples of some actions already being implemented.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Affiliations of first authors of scientific papers published in 2000–2014 in relation to countries' economic status and by country.
Figure 2: Affiliations of authors of scientific articles about climate change in relation to countries' economic status.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Wollfers, I., Adjei, S. & van der Drift, R. Health research in the tropics. Lancet 351, 1652–1654 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Jeffery, R. Authorship in multi-disciplinary, multi-national North-South research projects: issues of equity, capacity and accountability. J. Comp. Int. Educ. 44, 208–229 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Karlsson, S. in Global Environmental Governance: Options and Opportunities (eds Esty, D. C. & Ivanova, M. H.) 53–76 (Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, 2002).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Karlsson, S., Srebotnjak, T. & Gonzales, P. Understanding the North–South knowledge divide and its implications for policy: a quantitative analysis of the generation of scientific knowledge in the environmental sciences. Environ. Sci. Policy 10, 668–684 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cash, D. W. et al. Knowledge systems for sustainable development. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100, 8086–8091 (2003).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Pasgaard, M. & Strange, N. A quantitative analysis of the causes of the global climate change research distribution. Global Environ. Change 23, 1684–1693 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Corbera, E., Calvet-Mir, L., Hughes, H. & Paterson, M. Patterns of authorship in the IPCC Working Group III report. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 94–100 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Hulme, M. & Mahony, M. Climate change: what do we know about the IPCC? Prog. Phys. Geog. 34, 705–718 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Agarwal, A., Narain, S. & Sharma, A. (eds) Green Politics: Global Environmental Negotiations (Centre for Science and Environment, 1999).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Crossley, M. & Sprague, T. Education for sustainable development: Implications for small island developing states (SIDS). Int. J. Edu. Dev. 35, 86–95 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Butler, D. Call for North/South code of research ethics. Nature 406, 337 (2000).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. KFPE Guidelines for Research in Partnership with Developing Countries. 11 principles. (Swiss Commission for Research Partnership with Developing Countries, 1998).

  13. Binka, F. North–South research collaborations: a move towards a true partnership? Trop. Med. Int. Health 10, 207–209 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development A/RES/70/1 (United Nations, 2015).

  15. World Development Indicators (World Bank, accessed 28 May 2016);

  16. Research Co-operation Between Developed and Developing Countries in the Area of Climate Change Adaptation and Biodiversity (OECD, 2014).

  17. Jentsch, B. & Pilley, C. Research relationships between the South and the North: Cinderella and the ugly sisters? Soc. Sci. Med. 57, 1957–1967 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Teferra, D. & Altbach, P. G. African higher education: challenges for the 21st century. High. Edu. 47, 21–50 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Glänzel, W., Leta, J. & Thus, B. Science in Brazil Part 1: a macro-level comparative study. Scientometrics 67, 67–86 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Forero-Pineda, C. & Jaramillo-Salazar, H. The access of researchers from developing countries to international science and technology. Int. Soc. Sci. J. 171, 129–140 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Barrett, M., Crossley, H. & Dachi, A. International collaboration and research capacity building: learning from the EdQual experience, Comp. Educ. 47, 25–43 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Aviles, L. A. Epidemiology as discourse: the politics of development institutions in the epidemiological profile of El Salvador. J. Epidemiol. Community Health 55, 164–171 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Hassan, M. H. A. Can science save Africa? Science 292, 12–13 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Mullan, F. The metrics of the physician brain drain. N. Engl. J. Med. 353, 1850–1852 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Seguin B., Singer, P. A. & Daar, A. S. Scientific diasporas. Science 312, 1602–1603 (2006).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Landau, L. B. Communities of knowledge or tyrannies of partnership: reflections on North–South research networks and the dual imperative. J. Refugee Stud. 25, 555–570 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Edejer, T. T.-T. North-South research partnerships: the ethics of carrying out research in developing countries. BMJ 319, 438–441 (1999).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Steinberg, P. F. in Transnational Relations and Biodiversity Policy in Costa Rica and Bolivia Ch. 1, 3–26 (MIT Press, 2001).

    Google Scholar 

  29. Karlsson, S. I. Institutionalized knowledge challenges in pesticide governance: the end of knowledge and beginning of values in governing globalized environmental issues. Int. Environ. Agreements Polit. Law Econ. 4, 195–213 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Kandlikar, M. & Sagar, A. Climate change research and analysis in India: an integrated assessment of a South-North divide. Global Environ. Change 9, 119–138 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Sarewitz, D., Pielke R. A. Jr The neglected heart of science policy: reconciling supply of and demand for science. Environ. Sci. Policy 10, 5–16 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Moreno, E., Gutiérrez, J. M. & Chaves-Olarte, E. The struggle of neglected scientific groups: ten years of NeTropica efforts to promote research in tropical diseases in Central America. PLoS Negl. Trop. Dis. 5, e1055 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Swartz, S. Navigational capacities in contexts of adversity: establishing a consortium of global South youth scholars (COGSYS) (HSRC, 2016).

    Google Scholar 

  34. World Bank Country and Lending Groups (World Bank, accessed 28 May 2016);

Download references


We would like to thank A. Engelmann and M. Stråhle from the SLU University Library for the help with the bibliographic analysis.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.B., R.J.S., G.M. initiated the study; G.M. conducted the analysis with help of M.B. and R.J.S.; M.B. and R.J.S. wrote the paper and contributed equally to this work. All other authors contributed to the text, and provided practical examples for inclusion in the article.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Grzegorz Mikusiński.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Steps to overcome the North–South divide in research relevant to climate change policy and practice (PDF 217 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Blicharska, M., Smithers, R., Kuchler, M. et al. Steps to overcome the North–South divide in research relevant to climate change policy and practice. Nature Clim Change 7, 21–27 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing