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Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also known as the IPCC, is the United Nations' scientific intergovernmental body created to evaluate climate change science. The IPCC was established in 1988, and was later endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 43/53. It is the leading international body for assessing climate change across an array of scientific, socio-economic, environmental and other relevant aspects.
Running the IPCC
To run the IPCC, there is a Secretariat based in Geneva, at the WMO headquarters. As well as the three Working Groups (discussed in the following section), there is a Task Force and a Task Group. The Technical Support Unit (TSU) coordinates and administrates the activities for both the Working Groups and the Task Force. The IPCC is administered under United Nations rules and procedures, which includes abiding by codes of conduct and ethical principles.
This Secretariat is also based in three universities, each focused on a different Working Group (these are explained in the following section). Thus, the secretariat for Working Group 1 (or I) is based in the University of Bern, the secretariat for Working Group 2 (or II) is based in Stanford's Carnegie Institute for Science and the third Working Group is based in the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (WG 3 or III).
The IPCC reports process
Since its establishment, the IPCC has produced reports that support the science for the actions taken pursuant to implementing obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Scientific evidence is sourced from peer-reviewed scientific literature and, in some cases, relevant material that has not been peer reviewed. However, wherever the material is sourced from, it is subject to intense scrutiny by hundreds of scientists through the Working Groups and by the thousands of scientists who contribute voluntarily to the reports produced. This review is essential to objectivity, currency and completeness of the process of informing Governments and the public about the state of climate change. In addition, the IPCC liaises with Governments. The IPPC "aims to reflect a range of views and expertise".
As noted already, the role of the IPCC includes assessing research undertaken on climate change by thousands of scientists from around the world. The assessment is then synthesised into key assessment reports that are released around every five to seven years, as research, analysis and discussion of the conclusions reached takes years. These reports are worked on by scientists in specific working groups and come out in three volumes based on the work of each working group.
- Working Group 1 or I (WG 1 or WG I): This group is responsible for assessing the scientific evidence for climate change, as well as looking for the evidence of human activity as the cause of accelerated climate change.
- Working Group 2 or II (WG 2 or WG II): This group is responsible for working through the existing and potential impacts of climate change. This group uses scientific evidence to examine the ways in which humans, animals and plants can adapt to climate change.
- Working Group 3 or III (WG 3 or WG III): This group is responsible for focusing on mitigation measures.
Specifics of the Working Group assessments
The following summaries are drawn from http://www.ipcc.ch/working_groups/working_groups.shtml:
- IPCC Working Group 1 or I (WG 1 or WG I): Physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change. Mainly: greenhouse gas and aerosol changes in the atmosphere; air, land and ocean temperature changes; changes in the levels of rainfall, ice sheets, glaciers, oceans and sea level; historical and paleoclimatic information about climate change (examining the past); bio-geochemistry, carbon cycle, gases and aerosols; examination of data gained from satellite, plus additional data sources; climate modelling, projections; and the causes and attribution of climate change, including human activities.
- IPCC Working Group 2 or II (WG 2 or WG II): Socio-economic and natural systems vulnerability to climate change. This includes assessing the negative and positive consequences of climate change and adaptation possibilities. This group considers the interrelationship between vulnerability, adaptation and sustainable development. The assessment is done by way of sectors and regions.
- Sectors: Ecosystems, water resources, food and forests, coastal systems, industry, human health.
- Regions: Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, North America, the Polar regions and small island states.
- IPCC Working Group 3 or III (WG 3 or WG III): Mitigation. This involves assessing the ways in which greenhouse gas emissions can be prevented or minimized, along with ways in which existing greenhouse gas emissions might be removed from the atmosphere. This includes assessing the major economic sectors of energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management. Cost-benefit approaches are used to assessed mitigation options, as well as attempting to find the right instrument and policy mixes that might assist in encouraging successful mitigation outcomes.
Finding your own way around the IPCC
Leaving aside the technical and administrative speak so easily slipped into when discussing the IPCC, its scientific approach and the reports, it is important that the average person knows how to find the IPCC work and feel comfortable with it. Here are some suggestions to help you navigate your way around the IPCC site and works:
- Visit the IPCC main site at: http://www.ipcc.ch/index.htm. Have a good look around and get to know the site well. The whole reason it is there is to be transparent and to provide you, as much as any member of government or business, with information.
- Find the IPCC Assessment Reports, with ease, at: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/publications_and_data_reports.shtml. It is very straightforward in terms of finding them. At the top of the IPCC Reports page is the latest group of Assessment Reports (as at 2015, the report at the top refers to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, which will be current for a few years past its release in parts in late 2013 to 2014). Each of the parts shown form the report as a whole:
- Prior reports (4 down to the first one) can be found beneath the fifth assessment report
- Keep scrolling down past all of the Assessment Reports to find specialised reports
Other materials include:
- Presentations and speeches at: http://www.ipcc.ch/presentations_and_speeches/presentations_and_speeches.shtml
- Activities at: http://www.ipcc.ch/activities/activities.shtml
Getting answers about the IPCC or its workings
Ask questions. If you need to know something, send an email or some snail mail to the Secretariat and they'll work out who can answer your question. Here is the link to their contact details: http://www.ipcc.ch/contact/contact.shtml.
More details on the Secretariat can be found here: http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization_secretariat.shtml.
Sources and citations
Research for this article is based on: