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IPCC governance structure and paths to selection as author

In this third of a four-part series on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Professor Chukwumerije Okereke, IPCC author and Director, Centre for Climate Change and Development, Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ebonyi State, Nigeria, sheds some light on IPCC governance structure, and how one can become an author with the organisation

Prof. Okereke was IPCC Lead Author for IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, and the Special Report on 1.5. He is currently Coordinating Lead Author (CLA) for the Sixth Assessment Report

Nigeria IPCC
Nigerian IPCC authors with IPCC chief: L-R: Prof. Professor Chukwumerije Okereke, Dr. Sanusi Ohiare, Dr Hoesung Lee (Chair of IPCC), Dr. Ogheneruona E. Diemuodeke and Dr Chioma Daisy Onyige

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a United Nation’s body that has 195 countries as members. In addition, there are also several international organizations, and non-governmental organisations that have observer status.

We saw in Part 2 of this series that much of the scholarly work of the IPCC is done by thousands of scientists from all over the world contributing to the work of the three main Working Groups (climate science, climate impact, and climate policy) and the Task Force on Emission Inventory.

While the activities of these Working Groups provide the bulk of the opportunities for academics and researchers to get involved in the work of the IPCC, individuals and countries stand much better chances of increasing their engagement with, and profiting from the work of the IPCC by understanding IPCCs governance structure.

The highest governance body of the IPCC is the IPPC plenary. The Plenary comprises the 195 member states of the IPCC. Each of the 195 is expected to nominate a National Focal Point who serves as the primary link between the member country and the IPCC. The Plenary meets at least once every year and meetings are attended by relevant ministers, departments, agencies and research institutions of members states. Governmental and Non-Governmental Organizations with observer status can also attend the IPCC Plenary.

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IPCC Plenary is the highest decision-making organ of the IPCC. The Plenary decides the work programme, scope of work for the Panel and the outline of the report that should be produced. The Plenary also approves the budget, and accepts the report when it is eventually completed the relevant Working Group.

The Plenary elects the IPCC Chairman, Vice Chairs, Co-Chairs and Vice Chairs of the three Working Groups. These elected officials constitute the Bureau of and the Executive Committee of the IPCC and work under the guidance of the IPCC Chairman.  The current IPCC Chairman is Hoesung Lee from South Korean who is a professor in the economics of climate change, energy and sustainable development in the Graduate School of Energy, Environment, Policy & Technology at Korea University in the Republic of Korea.

Together, the Bureau and the Executive Committee oversee the day to day running of the IPCC with the support of a Secretariat that is based in Geneva. The Bureau and the Executive Committee provide technical, scientific and organizational guidance to the Plenary. In electing the Bureau, the IPCC endeavours to ensure that all the regions of the world are adequately represented, while also taking care to ensure that the Bureau’s scientific expertise covers the whole spectrum relevant for IPCC work. The number of Bureau members was recently increased from 31 to 34 in order to provide space for two Africans and one Asian to be members of the Bureau.

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There are three paths to becoming an IPCC Author. The first and primary way to become IPCC Author is through nomination by the National Focal Point of one’s own country. As stated, the IPCC National Focal Point for Nigeria is in the Ministry of the Environment.  Governments and observer organizations are requested to send nominations of authors after the outline of the IPCC report is approved. It is therefore advisable that those who wish to become IPCC Authors should ensure they are on the database of their country’s focal point as climate scientists and that the focal point know their areas of expertise.

It should be recalled (see Part one of the Series) that expertise in climate change starches very wide from basic climate science through management to social sciences and humanities. In addition to being on the database, scholars need to be endeavour to be conversant and follow the work of the IPCC.

It is important to stress that being nominated by the Focal Point of one’s country does not automictically guarantee that one will be nominated as an IPCC Lead Author. The Bureau typically receives hundreds of thousands of applications for each round of the assessment cycle and have to rigorously scrutinise all the applications/nominations to ensure that they chose scientists that are eminently qualified to produce a high quality and comprehensive report of the calibre expected of the IPCC. In doing so the Bureau works hard to try and achieve geographical and gender balance among the authors. They also try to ensure there is balance across the relevant academic disciplines, between senior and junior academies, and between previous and new Lead Authors.

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In other to maximise their chances of having their top scientists selected as IPCC Authors, some countries make an open call and run a pre-qualification process designed to ensure that they are sending their best team of scientists for consideration of the IPCC Bureau. There has been concern expressed in the past that most African countries do not put enough effort into publicising the IPCC nomination process, searching out and nomination their best scientists for consideration by the IPCC Bureau.

The second way to become IPCC Author is through direct invitation and by the IPCC Bureau. Despite receiving thousands of nominations from member states, it is often the case that expertise can be lacking in critical areas needed to provide a balanced and comprehensive report. In such cases the Bureau itself will search the internet for experts on various areas of related to climate change and extend invitation to such experts to come IPCC Lead Authors.

Finally, one can also become an IPCC Author through self-nomination. The IPCC process allows scientists who feel that they have expertise in an area that is relevant for the completion of a given report to send their applications when a call for nomination is made.

It is important to once again stress that IPCC Authors work on voluntary basis and are not paid either by their countries or the UN. However, being nominated as an IPCC Authors is a maker of prestige and recognition in the academic community and provides intellectual stimulation which is difficult to reproduce by any other means. In the next piece in the series I will cover the production process of the IPCC report and other ways through which individuals can get involved in the work of the IPCC besides being a Lead Author.

For more in-depth information on the IPCC and the work it does please see


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