With the recent leak of the upcoming IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, people are asking, what is the IPCC?
Related questions include IPCC credibility, history and funding as well as who are the IPCC members and scientists.
I’m going to answer some of these questions to clarify the meaning, function and significance of the IPCC and the regular reports they produce.
What is the IPCC?
The IPCC is part of the United Nations and its function is to assess the science related to climate change.
The acronym IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The IPCC does not conduct research, instead, it is a collaboration of governments and researchers who work together to contribute to peer-reviewed reports.
They publish evidence and science-based reports which assess the causes of climate change, current and projected future impacts and risks, along with the potential actions required to achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation.
These reports are used to inform policy at all levels of government and are open for the public to read.
Mitigation vs Adaptation
Climate change mitigation means limiting greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere and reducing greenhouse gases that are already in the atmosphere. Mitigation basically means the things we need to do to stop global warming.
Whereas climate change adaptation means adjusting to the impacts of climate change, both the impacts we are experiencing right now and those we expect in the future. In short, adaptation means learning to live in a changing climate and making widespread changes to lessen the negative impacts as much as possible.
The History of the IPCC
The IPCC was formed in 1988 to provide science-based information to help governments develop climate policies.
A number of so-called ‘Assessment Reports’ have been published during this time with the latest report being the Fifth Assessment Report.
The Sixth Assessment Report is due in 2022.
There are currently 195 member countries of the IPCC and 134 observer organisations.
The countries are members of the United Nations. You can view the full list of IPCC members here.
IPCC scientists are experts in their fields and come from the 195 member countries.
The scientists are volunteers who work to assess the relevant scientific papers which are published in their field each year.
These scientists are divided into three Working Groups that specialise in particular aspects of climate change.
- Working Group I – The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change
- Working Group II – Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
- Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change
The scientists and governments work together to be as complete and objective as possible in their assessments.
A diverse range of scientists with diverse views and expertise review the papers and reports to form a scientific consensus on climate change causes, impacts, risks and solutions.
Their assessments include ratings for confidence levels; unlikely, likely, medium confidence, high confidence and very high confidence. They also indicate where there are uncertainties and further research is needed.
This article explains how they reach scientific consensus.
Who Funds the IPCC?
The IPCC is transparent regarding its funding and you can read the latest IPCC Trust Fund and Budget here.
Member governments and organisations make voluntary contributions annually. Contributions vary from year to year as there are no specified contribution amounts.
If you are curious, you can read the full financial report regarding funding. The majority has come from the United States while France, Germany and the UNFCCC have also made significant contributions.
What is the Sixth Assessment Report?
The IPCC publishes Assessments Reports every 5 to 7 years.
The last major report was published in 2014 and the upcoming Sixth Assessment Report is due to be published in 2022.
The reports go through strict review and control processes, hence the long period between major reports.
A number of reports will be published as part of the Sixth Assessment including:
- AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis – due August 2021
- AR6 Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability – due February 2022
- AR6 Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change – due in March 2022
- AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2022 – due in September 2022
Interim IPCC Reports
Due to the long delay between major reports, the IPCC publishes a number of specialised interim Special Reports.
If you want to read and understand the most important issues regarding climate change and global warming, these reports are a great place to start.
They are more current than the Fifth Assessment Report which was published in 2014 and the Summary for Policymakers uses clear, easy to understand language.
I recommend reading the Summary for Policymakers from these three reports in particular:
- Global Warming of 1.5°C [View or Download] – “Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”
- Climate Change and Land [View or Download] – “Since the pre-industrial period, the land surface air temperature has risen nearly twice as much as the global average temperature (high confidence). Climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions (high confidence).”
- The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate [View or Download] – “All people on Earth depend directly or indirectly on the ocean and cryosphere. The global ocean covers 71% of the Earth surface and contains about 97% of the Earth’s water. The cryosphere refers to frozen components of the Earth system. […] Over the last decades, global warming has led to widespread shrinking of the cryosphere, with mass loss from ice sheets and glaciers (very high confidence), reductions in snow cover (high confidence) and Arctic sea ice extent and thickness (very high confidence), and increased permafrost temperature (very high confidence).”
The Climate Change Report that Matters
There are thousands of scientists and organisations around the world who are working in climate change research.
The IPCC essentially brings all the scientific evidence together where it is strictly peer-reviewed to form a scientific consensus.
The IPCC Assessment and Special Reports are vital reports for informing government policy as we work towards limiting global warming to 1.5°C below pre-industrial levels, as per the Paris Agreement of 2015.
If you ever need verification of the evidence or want to share it with others, you can read the reports in detail along with the original journal articles which form the basis of the reports.
A leaked draft version of one of the reports highlights the urgency we now face and the necessity for transformational change.
It will be interesting to see the latest data and recommendations when the finalised reports are published in 2022.