Climate explained: how the IPCC reaches scientific consensus on climate change

image Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images  CC BY-ND

When we say there’s a scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing climate change, what does that mean? What is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and what do they do?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides the world’s most authoritative scientific assessments on climate change. It provides policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and risks, and options for cutting emissions and adapting to impacts we can no longer avoid.

The IPCC has already released five assessment reports and is currently completing its Sixth Assessment (AR6), with the release of the first part of the report, on the physical science of climate change, expected on August 9.

Each assessment cycle brings together scientists from around the world and many disciplines. The current cycle involves 721 scientists from 90 countries, in three working groups covering the physical science basis (WGI), impacts, adaptation and vulnerability (WGII) and mitigation of climate change (WGIII).

In each assessment round, the IPCC identifies where the scientific community agrees, where there are differences of opinion and where further research is needed.

IPCC reports are timed to inform international policy developments such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (First Assessment, 1990), the Kyoto Protocol (Second Assessment, 1995) and the Paris Agreement (Fifth Assessment, 2013-2014). The first AR6 report (WGI) will be released in August this year, and its approval meeting is set to take place virtually, for the first time in the IPCC’s 30-year history.

This will be followed by WGII and WGIII reports in February and March 2022, and the Synthesis Report in September 2022 — in time for the first UNFCCC Global Stocktake when countries will review progress towards the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep warming below 2℃.

During the AR6 cycle, the IPCC also published three special reports:

Graph of curent warming across the globe. The IPCC’s special report on global warming at 1.5 showed present-day warming across the globe. IPCC, CC BY-ND

How the IPCC reaches consensus

IPCC authors come from academia, industry, government and non-governmental organisations. All authors go through a rigorous selection process — they must be leading experts in their fields, with a strong publishing record and international reputation.

Author teams usually meet in person four times throughout the writing cycle. This is essential to enable (sometimes heated) discussion and exchange across cultures to build a truly global perspective. During the AR6 assessment cycle, lead author meetings (LAMs) for Working Group 1 were not disrupted by COVID-19, but the final WGII and WGIII meetings were held remotely, bringing challenges of different time zones, patchy internet access and more difficult communication.

The IPCC’s reports go through an extensive peer review process. Each chapter undergoes two rounds of scientific review and revision, first by expert reviewers and then by government representatives and experts.

This review process is among the most exhaustive for any scientific document — AR6 WGI alone generated 74,849 review comments from hundreds of reviewers, representing a range of disciplines and scientific perspectives. For comparison, a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal is reviewed by only two or three experts.

The role of governments

The term intergovernmental reflects the fact that IPCC reports are created on behalf of the 193 governments in the United Nations. The processes around the review and the agreement of the wording of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) make it difficult for governments to dismiss a report they have helped shape and approved during political negotiations.

Importantly, the involvement of governments happens at the review stage, so they are not able to dictate what goes into the reports. But they participate in the line-by-line review and revision of the SPM at a plenary session where every piece of text must be agreed on, word for word.

Acceptance in this context means that governments agree the documents are a comprehensive and balanced scientific review of the subject matter, not whether they like the content.

The role of government delegates in the plenary is to ensure their respective governments are satisfied with the assessment, and that the assessment is policy relevant without being policy prescriptive. Government representatives can try to influence the SPM wording to support their negotiating positions, but the other government representatives and experts in the session ensure the language adheres to the evidence.

Climate deniers claim IPCC reports are politically motivated and one-sided. But given the many stages at which experts from across the political and scientific spectrum are involved, this is difficult to defend. Authors are required to record all scientifically or technically valid perspectives, even if they cannot be reconciled with a consensus view, to represent each aspect of the scientific debate.

The role of the IPCC is pivotal in bringing the international science community together to assess the science, weighing up whether it is good science and should be considered as part of the body of evidence.

About The Author

Rebecca Harris, Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

POLITICS

A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
image
Climate explained: how the IPCC reaches scientific consensus on climate change
by Rebecca Harris, Senior Lecturer in Climatology, Director, Climate Futures Program, University of Tasmania
When we say there’s a scientific consensus that human-produced greenhouse gases are causing climate change, what does…
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
Court Takes Industry Bait, Caves to Fossil Fuels
by Joshua Axelrod
In a disappointing decision, Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled…
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
G7 Embraces Climate Action to Drive Equitable Recovery
by Mitchell Bernard
At Biden’s urging, his G7 counterparts raised the bar on collective climate action, pledging to cut their carbon…
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
Climate change: what G7 leaders could have said – but didn't
by Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science, Director of Oxford Net Zero, University of Oxford
The four-day G7 summit in Cornwall ended with little cause for celebration from anyone worried about climate change.…
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
How world leaders' high-carbon travel choices could delay climate action
by Steve Westlake, PhD Candidate, Environmental Leadership, Cardiff University
When UK prime minister Boris Johnson took a one-hour flight to Cornwall for the G7 summit, he was criticised for being…
Nuclear industry’s propaganda war rages on
by Paul Brown
With renewable energy expanding fast, the nuclear industry’s propaganda war still claims it helps to combat climate…
Shell ordered to cut its emissions – why this ruling could affect almost any major company in the world
Shell ordered to cut its emissions – why this ruling could affect almost any major company in the world
by Arthur Petersen, Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy, UCL
The Hague is the seat of government of the Netherlands and also hosts the International Criminal Court. NAPA /…

LATEST VIDEOS

The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
The Great Climate Migration Has Begun
by Super User
The climate crisis is forcing thousands around the world to flee as their homes become increasingly uninhabitable.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
Earth Has Stayed Habitable For Billions Of Years – Exactly How Lucky Did We Get?
by Toby Tyrrell
It took evolution 3 or 4 billion years to produce Homo sapiens. If the climate had completely failed just once in that…
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
How Mapping The Weather 12,000 Years Ago Can Help Predict Future Climate Change
by Brice Rea
The end of the last ice age, around 12,000 years ago, was characterised by a final cold phase called the Younger Dryas.…
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
The Caspian Sea Is Set To Fall By 9 Metres Or More This Century
by Frank Wesselingh and Matteo Lattuada
Imagine you are on the coast, looking out to sea. In front of you lies 100 metres of barren sand that looks like a…
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
Venus Was Once More Earth-like, But Climate Change Made It Uninhabitable
by Richard Ernst
We can learn a lot about climate change from Venus, our sister planet. Venus currently has a surface temperature of…
Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
The Five Climate Disbeliefs: A Crash Course In Climate Misinformation
by John Cook
This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality…
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
The Arctic Hasn't Been This Warm For 3 Million Years and That Means Big Changes For The Planet
by Julie Brigham-Grette and Steve Petsch
Every year, sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrinks to a low point in mid-September. This year it measures just 1.44…

LATEST ARTICLES

3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
3 wildfire lessons for forest towns as Dixie Fire destroys historic Greenville, California
by Bart Johnson, Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Oregon
A wildfire burning in hot, dry mountain forest swept through the Gold Rush town of Greenville, California, on Aug. 4,…
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
China Can Meet Energy and Climate Goals Capping Coal Power
by Alvin Lin
At the Leader’s Climate Summit in April, Xi Jinping pledged that China will “strictly control coal-fired power…
Blue water surrounded by dead white grass
Map tracks 30 years of extreme snowmelt across US
by Mikayla Mace-Arizona
A new map of extreme snowmelt events over the last 30 years clarifies the processes that drive rapid melting.
A plane drops red fire retardant on to a forest fire as firefighters parked along a road look up into the orange sky
Model predicts 10-year burst of wildfire, then gradual decline
by Hannah Hickey-U. Washington
A look at the long-term future of wildfires predicts an initial roughly decade-long burst of wildfire activity,…
White sea ice in blue water with the sun setting reflected in the water
Earth’s frozen areas are shrinking 33K square miles a year
by Texas A&M University
The Earth’s cryosphere is shrinking by 33,000 square miles (87,000 square kilometers) per year.
A row of male and female speakers at microphones
234 scientists read 14,000+ research papers to write the upcoming IPCC climate report
by Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
This week, hundreds of scientists from around the world are finalizing a report that assesses the state of the global…
A brown weasel with a white belly leans on a rock and looks over its shoulder
Once common weasels are doing a vanishing act
by Laura Oleniacz - NC State
Three species of weasels, once common in North America, are likely in decline, including a species that’s considered…
Flood risk will rise as climate heat intensifies
by Tim Radford
A warmer world will be a wetter one. Ever more people will face a higher flood risk as rivers rise and city streets…

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.