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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific intergovernmental body tasked with reviewing and assessing the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It provides the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences, notably the risk of climate change caused by human activity. The panel was first established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), two organizations of the United Nations—an action confirmed on 6 December 1988 by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 43/53. The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President of the United States Al Gore.
The IPCC does not carry out its own original research, nor does it do the work of monitoring climate or related phenomena itself. A main activity of the IPCC is publishing special reports on topics relevant to the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international treaty that acknowledges the possibility of harmful climate change. Implementation of the UNFCCC led eventually to the Kyoto Protocol. The IPCC bases its assessment mainly on peer reviewed and published scientific literature. The IPCC is only open to member states of the WMO and UNEP. IPCC reports are widely cited in almost any debate related to climate change. National and international responses to climate change generally regard the UN climate panel as authoritative.
The principles of the IPCC operation are assigned by the relevant WMO Executive Council and UNEP Governing Council resolutions and decisions as well as on actions in support of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process.
The stated aims of the IPCC are to assess scientific information relevant to:
Human-induced climate change
The impacts of human-induced climate change
Options for adaptation and mitigation.
The Chair of the IPCC is Rajendra K. Pachauri, elected in May 2002; previously Robert Watson headed the IPCC. The chair is assisted by an elected Bureau including vice-chairs, Working Group co-chairs and a Secretariat (see below).
The IPCC Panel is composed of representatives appointed by governments and organizations. Participation of delegates with appropriate expertise is encouraged. Plenary sessions of the IPCC and IPCC Working Groups are held at the level of government representatives. Non Governmental and Intergovernmental Organizations may be allowed to attend as observers. Sessions of the IPCC Bureau, workshops, expert and lead authors meetings are by invitation only. Attendance at the 2003 meeting included 350 government officials and climate change experts. After the opening ceremonies, closed plenary sessions were held. The meeting report states there were 322 persons in attendance at Sessions with about seven-eighths of participants being from governmental organizations.
The IPCC has published four comprehensive assessment reports reviewing the latest climate science, as well as a number of special reports on particular topics. These reports are prepared by teams of relevant researchers selected by the Bureau from government nominations. Drafts of these reports are made available for comment in open review processes to which anyone may contribute.
The IPCC does not carry out research nor does it monitor climate related data. The responsibility of the lead authors of IPCC reports is to assess available information about climate change drawn mainly from the peer reviewed and published scientific/technical literature.
There are several major groups:
IPCC Panel: Meets in plenary session about once a year and controls the organization's structure, procedures, and work programme. The Panel is the IPCC corporate entity.
Chair: Elected by the Panel.
Secretariat: Oversees and manages all activities. Supported by UNEP and WMO.
Bureau: Elected by the Panel. Chaired by the Chair. 30 members include IPCC Vice-Chairs, Co-Chairs and Vice-Chairs of Working Groups and Task Force.
Working Groups: Each has two Co-Chairs, one from the developed and one from developing world, and a technical support unit.
- Working Group I: Assesses scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change.
- Working Group II: Assesses vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, consequences, and adaptation options.
- Working Group III: Assesses options for limiting greenhouse gas emissions and otherwise mitigating climate change.
Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories
The IPCC receives funding from UNEP, WMO, and its own Trust Fund for which it solicits contributions from governments.
People from over 130 countries contributed to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report over the previous 6 years. These people included more than 2500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors.
Of these, the Working Group 1 report (including the summary for policy makers) included contributions by 600 authors from 40 countries, over 620 expert reviewers, a large number of government reviewers, and representatives from 113 governments.
The IPCC concentrates its activities on the tasks allotted to it by the relevant WMO Executive Council and UNEP Governing Council resolutions and decisions as well as on actions in support of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process.
In April 2006, the IPCC released the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report or AR4. Reports of the workshops held so far are available at the IPCC website.
Working Group I:
Report was due to be finalized during February 2007 and was finished on schedule.
By May 2005, there had been 3 AR4 meetings, with only public information being meeting locations, an author list, one invitation, one agenda, and one list of presentation titles.
By December 2006, governments were reviewing the revised summary for policy makers.
Working Group II:
Report was due to be finalized in mid-2007 and was completed on schedule.
In May 2005, there had been 2 AR4 meetings, with no public information released.
One shared meeting with WG III had taken place, with a published summary.
Working Group III:
Report was due to be finalized in mid-2007.
In May 2005, there had been 1 AR4 meeting, with no public information released. The AR4 Synthesis Report (SYR) was finalized in November 2007. Documentation on the scoping meetings for the AR4 are available as are the outlines for the WG I report PDF (11.5 KB) and a provisional author list PDF (108 KB).
While the preparation of the assessment reports is a major IPCC function, it also supports other activities, such as the Data Distribution Centre and the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme, required under the UNFCCC. This involves publishing default emission factors, which are factors used to derive emissions estimates based on the levels of fuel consumption, industrial production and so on.
The IPCC also often answers inquiries from the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).
Criticism of IPCC
Various criticisms have been raised, both about the specific content of IPCC reports, as well as about the process undertaken to produce the reports. On 13 March 2010, an open letter, signed by over 250 scientists in the United States, was sent to U.S. federal agencies that "None of the handful of mis-statements (out of hundreds and hundreds of unchallenged statements) remotely undermines the conclusion that 'warming of the climate system is unequivocal' and that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." In 2010, an independent investigation into the IPCC recommended that the body focus more on explaining the science behind any changes in global temperature, and less on lobbying activities.
Projected date of melting of Himalayan glaciers; use of 2035 in place of 2350
A paragraph in the 2007 Working Group II report ("Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability"), chapter 10 included a projection that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.
Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world (see Table 10.9) and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate. Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2 by the year 2035 (WWF, 2005).
This projection was not included in the final summary for policymakers. The IPCC has since acknowledged that the date is incorrect, while reaffirming that the conclusion in the final summary was robust. They expressed regret for "the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance". The date of 2035 has been correctly quoted by the IPCC from the WWF report, which has misquoted its own source, an ICSI report "Variations of Snow and Ice in the past and at present on a Global and Regional Scale".
Rajendra K. Pachauri responded in an interview with Science.
Former IPCC chairman Robert Watson has said "The mistakes all appear to have gone in the direction of making it seem like climate change is more serious by overstating the impact. That is worrying. The IPCC needs to look at this trend in the errors and ask why it happened". Martin Parry, a climate expert who had been co-chair of the IPCC working group II, said that "What began with a single unfortunate error over Himalayan glaciers has become a clamour without substance" and the IPCC had investigated the other alleged mistakes, which were "generally unfounded and also marginal to the assessment".