UN climate reports are increasingly unreadable

The climate summary findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are becoming increasingly unreadable, a linguistics analysis suggests.

IPCC summaries are intended for non-scientific audiences. Yet their readability has dropped over the past two decades, and reached a low point with the fifth and latest summary published in 2014, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change.

The study used the Flesch Reading Ease test, which assumes that texts with longer sentences and more complex words are harder to read. Reports from the IPCC’s Working Group III, which focuses on what can be done to mitigate climate change by cutting carbon dioxide emissions, received the lowest marks for readability.

Confusion created by the writing style of the summaries could hamper political progress on tackling greenhouse-gas emissions, thinks Ralf Barkemeyer, who led the analysis and works on sustainable business management at the KEDGE Business School in Bordeaux, France. The readability scores “are not just low but exceptionally low”, he says. (For comparison, Barkemeyer says that the team analysed a few seminal physics papers by Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, all of which ranked significantly higher than the IPCC documents on readability.)

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