The agency is meeting next week to review and validate a summary of the first part of its first major evaluation in seven years.
Representative image. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, addresses the Copenhagen meeting in 2014. Image: IPCC
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) compiles comprehensive reviews of the scientific literature on climate change, past and future.
The agency is meeting next week to review and validate a summary of the first part of its first major evaluation in seven years. Here is a miniature profile of the panel.
The IPCC was created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Its mandate is to provide policymakers with neutral science-based updates on global warming – physical science, climate impacts, and scenarios to control the problem. Providing explicit policy recommendations is not part of its mandate.
As an intergovernmental body, the IPCC currently has 195 member countries.
Based in Geneva, the panel is chaired by South Korea’s Hoesung Lee, an expert on the economics of climate change.
Their reports are compiled by thousands of atmospheric scientists, climate modelers, oceanographers, ice specialists, economists, and public health experts, mostly from universities and research institutes. They work on a voluntary basis.
The IPCC does not conduct new research, but instead analyzes thousands of published studies and summarizes the key findings, indicating degrees of probability and confidence.
It is often described as the largest peer review exercise in the world.
Every five to six years, the IPCC produces comprehensive summaries, usually several thousand pages long. The first came out in 1990, the most recent in 2014.
Three separate teams, or “working groups,” look at the physical science of global warming, the impacts of climate change, and options for tackling the problem. The report of each working group is published separately, followed by a final “synthesis report”.
The sixth evaluation cycle, like the previous ones, will produce reports in four facilities: the findings of working group one will be made public on August 9; working group two in February 2022; working group three in March 2022; and a final synthesis in the fall of 2022.
Summary for Policymakers
The IPCC concludes each review with a crucial summary for policymakers that undergoes multiple rounds of editing, first by scientists and then by government officials.
The latest draft is presented to a plenary session of the IPCC, which reviews it line by line before approval by consensus.
Governments can seek amendments to the summary, which are approved if the argument is supported by what is in the underlying report written by the scientists.
Member countries can request so-called “special reports” between major evaluations. Since 2014, there have been three.
In October 2018 a special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius was published; one on land use, agriculture and food security in August 2019; and another in the oceans and icy regions of the Earth, known as the cryosphere, in September 2019.
Nobel laureate and critics
Proponents of the IPCC say its comprehensive work and a summary for policymakers endorsed by the world’s governments give it exceptional influence.
“He’s unique in science, and he’s exceptionally powerful in science,” Peter Thorne, lead author of the sixth assessment and a professor at Maynooth University in Ireland, told AFP.
“There is no other field that for decades has undertaken such a robust evaluation process.”
Their 2014 report provided the scientific basis for the landmark Paris Agreement, signed outside the French capital in 2015.
The 2007 edition earned the IPCC a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with former US Vice President and climate activist Al Gore.
The IPCC image was subsequently damaged by several minor errors discovered in the report that provided ammunition for skeptics who claim that the IPCC is flawed or biased.
More recently, some scientists have said that the panel is too conservative, leading it to underestimate the threat of climate change.
The latest published report, for example, did not take into account the potential contribution to sea level rise – widely recognized today – by the melting of the ice sheets in West Antarctica and Greenland.