All about Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Disclaimer: Copyright infringement not intended.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations. Its job is to advance scientific knowledge about climate change caused by human activities. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the IPCC in 1988. The United Nations endorsed the creation of the IPCC later that year.
The IPCC Bureau
The IPCC Bureau comprises the IPCC Chair, the IPCC Vice-Chairs, the Co-Chairs and Vice-Chairs of the Working Groups and the Co-Chairs of the Task Force. The IPCC Bureau is chaired by the IPCC Chair.
The purpose of the Bureau is to provide guidance to the Panel on the scientific and technical aspects of its work, to advise on related management and strategic issues, and to take decisions on specific issues within its mandate, in accordance with the Principles Governing IPCC Work.
The member states elect a bureau of scientists to serve through an assessment cycle. A cycle is usually six to seven years. The bureau selects experts to prepare IPCC reports. It draws the experts from nominations by governments and observer organisations. The IPCC has three working groups and a task force, which carry out its scientific work.
The IPCC informs governments about the state of knowledge of climate change. It does this by examining all the relevant scientific literature on the subject. This includes the natural, economic and social impacts and risks. It also covers possible response options. The IPCC does not conduct its own original research. It aims to be objective and comprehensive. Thousands of scientists and other experts volunteer to review the publications. They compile key findings into "Assessment Reports" for policymakers and the general public, Experts have described this work as the biggest peer review process in the scientific community.
The IPCC is an internationally accepted authority on climate change. Leading climate scientists and all member governments endorse its findings. Media, governments, civil society organisations and businesses cite its reports. IPCC reports play a key role in the annual climate negotiations held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report was an important influence on the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015. The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for contributions to the understanding of climate change.
In 2015 the IPCC began its sixth assessment cycle. It will complete it in 2023.
The predecessor of the IPCC was the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG). Three organizations set up the AGGG in 1986. These were the International Council of Scientific Unions, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The AGGG reviewed scientific research on greenhouse gases. It also studied increases in greenhouse gases. Climate science was becoming more complicated and covering more disciplines. This small group of scientists lacked the resources to cover climate science.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency sought an international convention to restrict greenhouse gas emissions. The Reagan Administration worried that independent scientists would have too much influence. The WMO and UNEP therefore created the IPCC as an intergovernmental body in 1988. Scientists take part in the IPCC as both experts and government representatives. The IPCC produces reports backed by all leading relevant scientists. Member governments must also endorse the reports by consensus agreement. So, the IPCC is both a scientific body and an organization of governments. Its job is to tell governments what scientists know about climate change. It also examines the impacts of climate change and options for dealing with it. The IPCC does this by assessing peer-reviewed scientific literature.
The United Nations endorsed the creation of the IPCC in 1988. The General Assembly resolution noted that human activity could change the climate. This could lead to severe economic and social consequences. It said increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases could warm the planet. This would cause the sea level to rise. The effects for humanity would be disastrous if timely steps were not taken.
Structure of IPCC
The IPCC has the following structure:
- IPCC Panel: Meets in plenary sessionabout twice a year. It may meet more often for the approval of reports. It controls the IPCC's structure, procedures, work program and budget. It accepts and approves IPCC reports. The Panel is the IPCC corporate entity.
- Chair: Elected by the Panel. Chairs the Bureau and other bodies. Represents the organization.
- Bureau: Elected by the Panel. It currently has 34 members from different geographic regions. Besides the Chair and three IPCC Vice-Chairs, they provide the leadership for the IPCC's three Working Groups and Task Force.It provides guidance to the Panel on the scientific and technical aspects of its work.
- Working Groups: Each has two Co-Chairs, one from a developed and one from a developing country. A technical support unit supports each Working Group. Working Group sessions approve the Summary for Policymakers of assessment and special reports. Each Working Group has a Bureau. This consists of its Co-Chairs and Vice-Chairs, who are also members of the IPCC Bureau.
- Working Group I: Assesses scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change.
- Working Group II: Assesses the impacts of climate change on human and natural systems. Assesses adaptation options.
- Working Group III: Assesses how to stop climate change by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. (Known as "mitigation".)
- Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Develops methodologies for estimating greenhouse gas emissions. Co-Chairs: Kiyoto Tanabe and Eduardo Calvo Buendía
- Task Force Bureau: Comprises the two Co-Chairs, who are also members of the IPCC Bureau, and 12 members.
- Executive Committee: Comprises the Chair, IPCC Vice-Chairs and the Co-Chairs of the Working Groups and Task Force. It addresses urgent issues that arise between sessions of the Panel.
- Secretariat: Administers activities, supports the Chair and Bureau, point of contact for governments. Supported by UNEP and the WMO.
The IPCC receives funding through a dedicated trust fund. UNEP and the WMO established the fund in 1989. The trust fund receives annual financial contributions from member governments. The WMO, UNEP and other organizations also contribute. Payments are voluntary and there is no set amount required. The WMO covers the operating costs of the secretariat. It also sets the IPCC's financial regulations and rules. The Panel sets the annual budget.
Activities other than report preparation
The IPCC bases its work on the decisions of the WMO and UNEP, which established the IPCC. It also supports the work of the UNFCCC. The main work of the IPCC is to prepare assessment and other reports. It also supports other activities such as the Data Distribution Centre. This helps manage data related to IPCC reports.
The IPCC has a "Gender Policy and Implementation Plan" to pay attention to gender in its work. It aims to carry out its work in an inclusive and respectful manner. The IPCC aims for balance in participation in IPCC work. This should offer all participants equal opportunity.
Communications and dissemination activities
The IPCC enhanced its communications activities for the Fifth Assessment Report. For instance it made the approved report and press release available to registered media under embargo before the release. And it expanded its outreach activities with an outreach calendar. The IPCC held an Expert Meeting on Communication in February 2016, at the start of the Sixth Assessment Report cycle. Members of the old and new Bureaus worked with communications experts and practitioners at this meeting. This meeting produced a series of recommendations. The IPCC adopted many of them. One was to bring people with communications expertise into the Working Group Technical Support Units. Another was to consider communications questions early on in the preparation of reports.
Following these steps in communications, the IPCC saw a significant increase in media coverage of its reports. This was particularly the case with the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C in 2018 and Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, the Working Group I contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report, in 2021. There was also much greater public interest, reflected in the youth and other movements that emerged in 2018.
IPCC reports are important for public awareness of climate change and related policymaking. This has led to a number of academic studies of IPCC communications, for example in 2021.
Between 1990 and 2022, the IPCC has published six comprehensive assessment reports reviewing the latest climate science. The IPCC has also produced 14 special reports on particular topics. Each assessment report has four parts. These are a contribution from each of the three working groups, plus a synthesis report. The synthesis report integrates the working group contributions. It also integrates any special reports produced in that assessment cycle.
The Assessment Reports, the first of which had come out in 1990, are the most comprehensive evaluations of the state of the earth’s climate.
This Geneva-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment reports gives the periodic status check that are most widely accepted scientific view of the state of the Earth’s climate.
Hundreds of experts go through every available piece of relevant, published scientific information to prepare a common understanding of the changing climate.
The four subsequent assessment reports, each thousands of pages long, came out in 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2015. These have formed the basis of the global response to climate change.
The fourth assessment report, which came out in 2007, won the IPCC the Nobel Peace Prize.
IPCC reports form the scientific basis on which countries across the world build their policy responses to climate change. These reports, on their own, are not policy prescriptive: They do not tell countries or governments what to do.
The First Assessment Report led to the setting up of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the umbrella agreement under which international negotiations on climate change take place every year.
The Second Assessment Report was the basis for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
The Fifth Assessment Report of 2014, guided the Paris Agreement.NThe Paris Agreement, seeks to keep the rise in global temperatures “well below” 2°C from pre-industrial times, while “pursuing efforts” to limit it to 1.5°C.
Key findings and impacts
Assessment reports one to five (1990 to 2014)
- The IPCC’s First Assessment Report(FAR) appeared in 1990. The report gave a broad overview of climate change science. It discussed uncertainties and provided evidence of warming. The authors said they are certain that greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere because of human activity. This is resulting in more warming of the Earth's surface. The report led to the establishment of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
- The Second Assessment Report(SAR), was published in 1995. It strengthened the findings of the First Assessment Report. The evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on the global climate, it said. The Second Assessment Report provided important material for the negotiations leading to the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol.
- The Third Assessment Report(TAR) was completed in 2001. It found more evidence that most of the global warming seen over the previous 50 years was due to human activity. The report includes a graph reconstructing global temperature since the year 1000. The sharp rise in temperature in recent years gave it the name “hockey stick”. This became a powerful image of how temperature is soaring with climate change. The report also shows how adaptation to the effects of climate change can reduce some of its ill effects.
- The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report(AR4) was published in 2007. It gives much greater certainty about climate change. It states: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal..." The report helped make people around the world aware of climate change. The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize in the year of the report’s publication for this work.
- The Fifth Assessment Report(AR5) was published in 2013 and 2014. This report again stated the fact of climate change. It warned of the dangerous risks. And it emphasized how the world can counter climate change. Three key findings were for example: Firstly, human influence on the climate system is clear. Secondly, the more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. And thirdly, we have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable The report's findings were the scientific foundation of the UNFCCC’s 2015 Paris Agreement.
Sixth assessment report (2021/2022)
The IPCC's most recent report is the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The first three instalments of AR6 appeared in 2021 and 2022. Its final synthesis report is due in March 2023.
The IPCC published the Working Group I report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, in August 2021. It confirms that the climate is already changing in every region. Many of these changes have not been seen in thousands of years. Many of them such as sea-level rise are irreversible over hundreds of thousands of years. Strong reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would limit climate change. But it could take 20-30 years for the climate to stabilize. This report attracted enormous media and public attention. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described it as “code red for humanity”
The IPCC published the Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, in February 2022. Climate change due to human activities is already affecting the lives of billions of people, it said. It is disrupting nature. The world faces unavoidable hazards over the next two decades even with global warming of 1.5ºC, it said.
The IPCC published the Working Group III report, Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, in April 2022. It will be impossible to limit warming to 1.5ºC without immediate and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It is still possible to halve emissions by 2050, it said.
In a nutshell,
- The first partof the report was centred around the scientific basis of climate change.
- The second parttalks about climate change impacts, risks and vulnerabilities, and adaptation options.
- The third and final part of the report will look into thepossibilities of reducing emissions.
- It has warned of multiple climate change-induced disasters in the next two decades even if strong action is taken to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Over 3.5 billion people, over 45% of the global population, were living in areas highly vulnerable to climate change.
- India as one of the vulnerable hotspots, with several regions and important cities facing very high risk of climate disasters such as flooding, sea-level rise and heat-waves.
- For the first time, it has made an assessment of regional and sectoral impacts of climate change. It has included risks to, and vulnerabilities of, mega-cities around the world.
- For example, Mumbai is at high risk of sea-level rise and flooding, while Ahmedabad faces serious danger of heat-waves.
- Several cities, including Chennai, Bhubaneshwar, Patna and Lucknow, approaching dangerous levels of heat and humidity.
- For the first time, the IPCC report has looked at the health impacts of climate change. It has found that climate change is increasing vector-borne and water-borne diseases. Deaths related to circulatory, respiratory, diabetic and infectious diseases are likely to increase with a rise in temperature.
- It has found gaps in adaptation due to lack of funds and political commitment and absence of reliable information and a sense of urgency.
The report is a dense with numbers, charts and graphs; even the summary for policy makers (SPM) is so. But the central message is this — We need “immediate and deep” reduction in greenhouse gases if we must keep the world from warming to more than 1.5°C than average temperatures in the pre-industrial era (the mid-nineteenth century).
Scientists have determined that if the rise in global warming is limited to 1.5°C higher than pre-industrial levels, we are kind of safe. This is the “1.5°C target” or “1.5° scenario”. If global warming is limited to 2°C, then it is bad but mankind can still muddle through. Anything beyond 2°C is extremely bad.
How bad? What can happen?
This is best answered in the words of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterras. In a recorded message to the IPCC press conference of Monday, he described the climate disaster as major cities under water, unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages, and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals.
What else does the report say?
It speaks about the alarming rise in greenhouse gas emissions which cause global warming. For example, it notes that between 1850 and 2019, the world emitted greenhouse gases equivalent to 2,400 billion tons of carbon dioxide but 42 per cent of this occurred in the last 30 years and 17 per cent in the last ten. To meet the 1.5°C target, the world can only emit 500 billion tons more (called carbon budget); anything more will breach the target, with all its deleterious effects.
It speaks about the possibilities of mitigation — renewable energy, EVs, climate-friendly buildings (those built with materials produced with lesser energy, and those that require less energy to keep cool), climate-friendly cities (compact cities where people walk or cycle, or use of electrified mobility rather than burn fossil fuels), and climate-friendly agricultural practices.
It speaks of the inequality in the world, noting (among other things) that 35 per cent of people live in countries whose per capita emissions exceed the equivalent of 9 tonnes of CO2 while 41 per cent live in countries where the emissions are under 3 tonnes, implying that the impact of those who emit more is felt most by the poor. Incidentally, India’s per capita emissions are 1.8 tonnes.
Is there any hope then?
Climate change is here today, reshaping our world in ways big and small—but that doesn’t mean our future is predetermined. We still have the ability to limit further warming—and to help communities around the world adapt to the changes that have already occurred. Every fraction of a degree counts.
We must accelerate the global transition to clean energy and reach “net zero” emissions as soon possible. But as the latest IPCC report shows, we’ll not only need to cut out emissions—we’ll have to remove some of the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. Fortunately, nature created a powerful technology that does just that: photosynthesis. Plants naturally absorb carbon from the air and store it in their roots and in the soil. In fact, our green allies could provide nearly a third of the emission reductions we need to stay within the 1.5C threshold.
The most urgent thing we can do to help nature fight climate change is protect the natural habitats around the world that store billions of tons of this “living carbon.” We can also help by changing the way we manage working lands like farms and timber forests so they retain more carbon, and restore natural habitats on lands that have been cleared or degraded.
What can we do to stop climate change?
A global challenge like climate change requires global solutions. It will require movement-building and on-the-ground action, as well as new national policies and economic transformations. Here’s a few things that communities, governments, and business can do.
- When it comes to working with nature to fight climate change, we cannot achieve effective action without the leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities(IPLCs).
- These communities are some of the most important protectors of the world’s living carbon, as lands owned or managed by IPLCs often have much lower deforestation ratesthan government protected areas. In fact, Indigenous-managed lands support about 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity and 17 percent of the planet’s forest carbon.
- To help Indigenous groups keep playing this crucial role, governments must formally recognize their land and resource rights, and funding for climate action should include support for their communities.
- The latest IPCC report shows that only 24 countries in the world are actually reducing their emissions. All countries—but especially the wealthy countries that generate the most emissions—must create more ambitious climate action plansto eliminate emissions and pull more carbon from their atmosphere.
- One effective way to do this is to invest more in nature. The IPCC estimates it would cost about $400 billion to make the changes to agriculture, forestry and other land uses required to limit emissions. That sounds like a lot—but it’s less than the government subsidies these sectors are already receiving.
- The best part? Many of these natural climate solutions benefit society in other ways, like improving air and water quality, producing more food and protecting the variety of natural life we all depend on.
- Like national governments, businesses must first and foremost commit to reaching net-zero emissions in their operations—they have to stop putting more carbon into the air.
- The most direct way to do this is to switch to clean energy sources. Transitioning to renewable energy provides a low-cost, low-carbon, low-conflict pathway to meet global energy needs without harming nature and communities.
- Those sectors that will have a hard time reducing their emissions today—like airlines, for example—should find ways to offset their impact.
- Carbon markets offer one way to achieve this. Carbon markets allow businesses and other polluters to purchase “offsets” for their unavoidable emissions, which pay to protect natural lands that would have otherwise been cleared without that funding or restore those that would not recover.
Finally, the critical recognition reflected in the report regards the central necessity of inclusive decision-making on climate, centering equity, justice, indigenous peoples and traditional knowledge in climate action. The report stresses with unprecedented emphasis that participation and those sources of knowledge and engagement in locally-driven climate action are necessary for effective adaptation and climate-resilient development. Therefore, it is imperative from the perspective of civil society that public participation be addressed effectively both in the process leading up to the COP, and during the COP through meaningful engagement of civil society and indigenous peoples. Moreover, the decisions adopted at COP and throughout this year, need to provide strong mandates to support and enhance community-based and participatory responses to adaptation and loss and damage, essential for effective climate action and justice. Therefore, governments, members of civil society, the private sector must cooperate to realize the near-term immediate efforts needed to avoid overshoot and to center human rights and people-based solutions without which no effective climate is possible.