In the first 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, attempts an exposé of the UN body.
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 IPCC.
The erstwhile Professor of Environment Development at the University of Reading in the UK joined EnviroNews’ growing list of distinguished guest writers in April 2019
The IPCC – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – is the United Nations body created to assess the scientific evidence related to climate change. It is an organisation of governments that are members of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), which is likewise a UN body.
The IPCC currently has 195 members, and its mandate is to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options.
The IPCC does not conduct its own research, rather its work involves reviewing and assessing scientific literature published on topics related to climate change to come to provide a comprehensive summary of what is known about the drivers of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and how adaptation and mitigation can reduce those risks.
The IPCC was created in 1988 by the WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) following the call from global scientists, policy makers and environmental non-governmental organisation (NGOs) for a better understanding of patterns of global climate variability and its potential impact on human wellbeing.
Until the early 1970s, interest in climate science and weather conditions averaged over a period of time (climatology) was very limited and confined to meteorologists, which is often regarded as a branch of the atmospheric sciences and a subfield of physical geography, which is one of the Earth Sciences.
However, as the global security and socio-economic implications of human-induced climate change became more widely known, climate change escaped the confine of narrow atmospheric science and became a matter of significant public interest and concern. This public interest in man-made global warming gave rise to stringent calls for worlds governments to take action to climate change which in turn resulted in climate change becoming a serious political and international relations issue.
The creation of the IPCC under the supervision of the United Nations was therefore seen by many as necessary to provide governments with comprehensive, balanced, and unbiased assessment of climate science as well as the range of policies that can be used to address the challenges posed by climate change.
Since its creation, the IPCC has published five Assessments Reports (AR1-AR5) all of which are generally regarded as the most comprehensive scientific reports about climate change produced worldwide. Crucially, the IPCC assessment reports are a key input into the international negotiations to tackle climate change.
The First Assessment Report (FAR) was published in 1990 and was hugely influential in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit) in 1992 and the creation of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).
The Second Assessment Report (SAR) was published in 1995 and helped to inform the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.
The Third Assessment Report was published in 2001, while the Fourth and Firth Assessment Reports were published in 2005 and 2014 respectively.
These Reports helped to shape Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In addition to these cycles of assessments, the IPCC also produces a range of Methodology Reports, Special Reports and Technical Papers, in response to requests for information on specific scientific and technical matters from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), governments and international organizations.
The IPCC’s Methodology Reports, provide practical guidelines for the preparation of greenhouse gas inventories which is central for tracking emissions around the world.
In 2018 alone, IPCC produced three special reports including: (i) a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty; (ii) a special report on climate change and land; and (iii) a special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.
The power of the IPCC comes through the quality and robustness of its assessments. Through years of meticulous and painstaking work, the IPCC is able to determine the state of knowledge on climate change, carefully identify where there is agreement in the scientific community on crucial topics related to climate change, and where further research is needed.
The reports are drafted and reviewed in several stages by both governments and the general public, thus guaranteeing objectivity and transparency (see Part 2 of the essay).
For more in-depth information on the IPCC and the work it does, please see https://www.ipcc.ch/