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ARTICLE: Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC)
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 03:37

Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC)

The fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, which is to be published in October, 2014, is underway. On 18th November 2011, in the 34th session of the IPCC in Kampala, the first joint session of Working Groups I and II to approve and accept the ICC Special Report on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” were held. The session also took consideration of the IPCC review, among other matters.

The session is expected to be the last one before government negotiators meet in Durban (17th UN Summit on Climate Change) to try to agree on finding a replacement for the Kyoto protocol that expires in 2012 and to agree on binding targets on emissions by countries in order to stem global warming. Ahead of critical talks in Durban, most of the world’s leading economies now privately admitted that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020. In this context the IPCC reports may expect to play major role in making them abreast of the global climate scenario which in turn will lead to passing an agreement to replace Kyoto protocol. The IPCC which has continued to provide scientific, technical and socio-economic advice to the world community, and in particular to the 170-plus Parties to the UNFCCC through its periodic assessment reports, play major role in policy discussions of climate change, and their forecasts play an important role in setting benchmarks for international action…

Therefore, in the backdrop of IPCCs 34th session, Durban summit the climate change issue again became the highlights in the newspapers. Keeping this in mind in the current issue we discuss the academic of IPCC in detail.


Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), the leading international body for the scientific assessment of climate change was established by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.


How does it Work:

IPCC is an intergovernmental body which is opened to all the member nations of UN and WMO. Representatives of 194 participating governments make up the Panel, which sets the scope of the assessments, elects the Bureau that oversees them, and approves the Summaries for Policy markers that accompany the massive assessment reports themselves, which are prepared by thousands of scientists who volunteer for three Working Groups. None of them is a paid by the IPCC. The IPCC itself neither conduct any research nor monitor any climate related data or parameters.


It bases its assessment mainly on published and peer reviewed scientific technical literature. The IPCC has three working groups and a Task Force:

  • Working Group I assesses the scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change.
  • Working Group II addresses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change.
  • Working Group III assesses options for limiting greenhouse gas emission and otherwise mitigating climate change.
  • The Task Force of National Greenhouse Gas Inventories oversees the National Greenhouse Gas Inventories    Programme.


In addition to the Working Group and Task Force, further Task Groups and Steering Groups may be established for a limited or longer duration to consider a specific topic or question. The Panel meets in plenary sessions about once a year. It accepts/approves IPCC reports, decides on the mandates and work plans of the working groups, the structure and outlines of reports, the IPCC Principles and Procedures, and the budget. It also elects the IPCC Chairman and the Bureau.


Sessions of the IPCC and the IPCC Working Groups are also attended by representatives of observer organizations. Organizations which already have an observer status with WMO; UNEP or United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are considered as observers of the IPCC if they request so, and subject to acceptance by the Panel. UN bodies and organizations are admitted as observers if they request so. The IPCC has at present 29 observer organizations among UN bodies and organizations, and 66 non-UN observers.


The Bureau:

The Bureau is elected by the Panel and its term is about five to six years. It corresponds to the cycle for the preparation of an Assessment Report. The Bureau reflects balanced geographic representation. The IPCC Bureau is headed by the IPCC Chair. Members of the Bureau are elected on the basis of appropriate scientific and technical qualifications and experience relevant to the work of the Bureau, as defined by the Panel. There are presently 31 members elected by the Panel during a Plenary Session. The Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories has its own Task Force Bureau (TFB) composed of 12 Members. The TFB Co-Chairs are members of the IPCC Bureau.


The function of the Bureau is to provide guidelines to the Panel on the scientific and technical aspects of its work to advice on related management and strategic issues, and to take decisions on specific issues within its mandate, in accordance with the Principles governing IPCC Work. The Bureau advises the Panel and the Chair of the IPCC regarding scientific and technical aspects of the IPCCs Programme of Work; the conduct of the Session of the Panel; progress in and coordination of the work of the IPCC; the application of the principles and procedures of the IPCC; and technical or scientific communications matters. The Bureau and individual Working Group and Task Force on National Gas Inventories (TFI) assessment reports and methodology guidelines; identification and selection of authors, review editors and expert reviewers; management of working group and TFI activities and it report outcomes.


IPCC Secretariat:

The IPCC Secretariat provides administrative support for all IPCC activities. Its role is to plan, coordinate and oversee all IPCC activities. The IPCC has a core staff of 10 people.


It is based in Geneva Switzerland, and is hosted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The IPCC sponsoring organizations, WMO and UNEP, provide the Secretary with the IPCC Secretary and the Deputy secretary respectively.


Finding Procedure of IPCC:

Following up on a proposal of the IPCC first session in November 1988, the IRCC Trust Fund was established and financed by mutual agreement between the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Governments provide further substantial support for activities of the IPCC, in particular through hosting Technical Support Units, supporting the participation of experts from their country in IPCC activities, hosting meeting, etc. If WMO and UNEP decide to terminate the IPCC Trust Fund, they shall so advise governments at least six months before the date of termination so decided. The Panel shall decide, in consultation with WMO and UNEP, on the distribution of any uncommitted  balance after all liquidation expenses have been met.


The IPCC Trust Fund finances the Panel and its activities. Its annual budget is decided by the Panel at Plenary Session. Information about contributions received and expenditures incurred is provided by the Secretariat to the Panel. These informations are contained in the documents on programme and budget.


Function of IPCC:

Main task of IPCC has been to produce regular Assessment Report (AR). To date, four have been published. Each one is deemed to be the most comprehensive analysis of climate change at the time of publication and is used as a tool in the formulation of climate change policy by national governments and international bodies. The scientific evidence brought up by the first IPCC Assessment Report of 1990 unveiled the importance of climate change as a topic deserving a political platform among countries to tackle its consequences. It therefore played a decisive role in leading to the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the key international treaty to reduce global warming and cope with the consequences of climate change.


Since then, the IPCC has delivered on a regular basis the most comprehensive scientific reports about climate change produced worldwide, the Assessment Reports. It also continued to respond to the need of the UNFCCC for information on scientific technical matters through Special Reports, Technical Papers and Methodology Reports. Methodologies and guidelines were prepared to help Parties under the UNFCCC in preparing their national greenhouse gas inventories.


Assessment Report:

A first draft of report is prepared by Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors based on available scientific, technical and socio-economic information. Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors are selected by the relevant Working Group / Task Force Bureau, the Panel, from those experts cited in the lists provided by governments and participating organizations, and other experts as appropriate, known through their publications and works. In preparing an IPCC report, Lead Authors clearly identify different views for which there is significant scientific or technical support. Contributing authors may be invited to submit further material. The participation of the scientific community in the work of the IPCC has been growing greatly, both in terms of authors and contributors involved in the writing and the reviewing of the reports and of geographic distribution and topics covered by the reports.


Since climate change is a sensitive and controversial issue in policy and science, achieving credibility is an important and necessary goal for the IPCC report.


Procedure of Preparation of AR:- The IPCC report is prepared through complex procedures to successfully synthesize all relevant issues related to climate change with agreement of stakeholders.


Through its assessment reports, the IPCC has gained enormous respect and even shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for informing climate policy and raising public awareness worldwide. However, amid an increasingly intense public debate over the science, impacts, and cost of climate change, the IPCC has come under heightened scrutiny about its impartiality with respect to climate policy and about the accuracy and balance of its report. In response, the United Nations and the IPCC commissioned the Inter Academy Council to convene a Committee to review the processes and procedures of the IPCC.


Following the publication of the Inter Academy Council (IAC) Review in August 2010 on the processes and procedures to review and propose amendments to Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work, the “Procedures for the Preparation, Review, Acceptance, Adoption, Approval and Publication of IPCC”, with a view to respond to the IAC recommendations.


Based on the proposals of the Task Groups, the Panel at its 33rd Session, which was held from 10-13 May 2011 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, decided that for the selection of Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors to enhance the criteria by adding the notion of gender balance, and a balance in the mixture of scientific experts with and without experience in the IPCC process. Furthermost, the Panel decided to strengthen and enforce its procedures on the use of unpublished and non-peer reviewed literature, the socalled grey literature, contained in Annex 2 of Appendix A.


The IPCC first Assessment Report there are many uncertainties in its predictions particularly with regard to the timing, magnitude and regional patterns of climate change, especially changes in precipitation because of incomplete understanding of sources and sinks of greenhouse gases and the responses of clouds, oceans and polar ice sheets to a change of the radiative forcing caused by increasing greenhouse gas concentration. The Report found that-


  • Emissions resulting from human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide. These increases will enhance the greenhouse effect, resulting on average in an additional warming of the Earth’s surface. The main greenhouse gas, water vapour, will increase in response to global warming and further enhance it.
  • Stabilization of equivalent carbon dioxide concentrations at about twice the pre-industrial level would occur towards   and end of the next century. Methane concentrations would be stabilize with a 15-20% reduction.

Taking into consideration of large-scale natural events such as El Nino, population explosion it assesses the potential impacts of climate change. These have the features of:

(i)   An effective doubling of  in the atmosphere between now and 2025 to 2050;

(ii)  A consequent increase of global mean temperature in the range of 1.5 C to 4.5 C;

(iii) An unequal global distribution of this temperature increase, namely a smaller increase of half the global mean in the tropical regions and a larger increase of twice the global mean in the polar regions;

(iv) A sea-level rise of about 0.3-0.5 m by 2050 and about 1 m by 2100, together with a rise in the temperature of the surface ocean layer of between 0.2 C and 0.5 C.


Its Second Assessment Report, Climate Change 1995, provided key input to the negotiations, which led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC in 1997. The IPCC also prepares Special Reports and Technical Papers on topics where independent scientific information and advice is deemed necessary and it support the UNFCC through its work on methodologies for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. The IPCC Second Assessment Report of 1995 provided key input in the way to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.


The third Assessment Report “Climate Change 2001” provides a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of the policy-relevant scientific, technical, and socio-economic dimensions of climate change. It concentrates on new findings since 1995, pays greater attention to the regional (in addition to the global) scale, and non-English literature. The three Working Groups contributions have been published in July 2001.


The fourth Assessment Report finds that it is “very likely” that emission of heat-trapping gases from human activities have caused “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century.” Evidence that human activities are the major cause o recent climate change is even stronger than in prior assessments. The report concludes that it is “unequivocal” that Earth’s climate is warming, “as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level.” The report also confirms that the current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and methane, two important heat-trapping gases, “exceeds by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years”. Since the dawn of the industrial era, concentrations of both gases have increased at a rate that is “very likely to have been unprecedented in more than 10,000 years.”


Additional IPCC Findings on Future Climate Change:

  • The full range of projected temperature increase will be 2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius) by   the end of the century.
  • The best estimate range of projected temperature increase, which extends from the midpoint of the lowest emission scenario to the midpoint of the highest, will be 3.1 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 to 4.0 degrees Celsius) by the end of the century.
  • “Warming is expected to be greatest over land and at most high northern latitudes, and least over the Southern (formerly Antarctic) Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean.”
  • Sea ice is projected to shrink in both the Arctic and Antarctic under all model simulations. Some projections show that by the later part of the century, late summer Arctic sea ice will disappear almost entirely.


The content of fourth Assessment Report came under close scrutiny in 2010 after it came to light that the 3,000 page publication contained a number of errors, including the melt rate of glaciers in the Himalayas. This led to questions being raised about the overall credibility of the report’s findings, prompting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to  ask the Inter Academy Council to convene a panel of experts to conduct an independent review.


The work is underway for fifth Assessment Report. The Synthesis Report will be finalized in October 2014. The decision to prepare a Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was taken by the IPCC at its 28th Session in April 2008. Compared to previous reports, the AR5 will put greater emphasis on assessing the socio-economic aspects of climate change and implications for sustainable development, risk management and the framing of a response through both adaptation and mitigation. It will aim to provide more detailed information on regions, including on climate phenomena such as monsoons end El Nino. To enhance overall integration some aspects, including water and the Earth system, carbon cycle; ice sheets and sea level rise; and Article 2 of the UNFCCC will be addressed in a cross cutting manner. Attention will also be given to consistent evaluation of uncertainties and risks; costing and economic analysis; and treatment of scenarios.


International Climate Regime:

The IPCC Assessment Report make the world aware of the current scenario the global emission and other climate issues. The IPCC in its Assessment Report has called for a reduction in emissions to limit the increase in global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). In order to achieve this target the world needs an effective climate change regime as the current regime that is guided by Kyoto Protocol, is going to expire on 2012. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the EU to reduce emission of greenhouse gas (GHG) with an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over a five year period (2008-2012). But US is not signatory to this agreement. The U.S., along with other developed economies like Japan and Canada, argues that it won’t make its industries or consumers pay for carbon emissions if other countries (like China, the world’s largest emitter) don’t do the same China responds that climate change doesn’t reflect only today’s emissions but summarizes cumulative emissions from over the last 250 years of global industrialization. On a cumulative basis, calculated since 1751, China’s emissions are still roughly only one-third those of the U.S.


In order to tackle such situation the world demands distribution of global emissions which in turn need for broad multilateral cooperation in mitigating climate change on the one hand; and on the other, carbon pricing, one surefire way to cap emission. In November 2011, the International Energy Agency has warned that the world may be fast approaching a tipping point concerning climate change, and suggested that the next five years will be crucial for greenhouse gas reduction efforts. The current centerpieces for multilateral action against climate change are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCFFF), it’s associated Kyoto Protocol, and the Copenhagen Accord proved to be inadequate.

The variance between commitment and action remains an obstacle to the development of a comprehensive solution. Although leaders at Copenhagen and Cancun used the same number to determine their mitigation pledges, the current growth in emissions, absence of significant action on climate change will cause an average rise in global temperatures of 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the most recent analysis produced by the Climate Interactive Scoreboard.


The situation demands leadership of central players in the climate change debate as countries remain focused on recovering from the global financial crisis. The IPCC reports are central in policy discussions of climate change, and their estimates play an outsized role in setting benchmarks for international action. The IPCC also produces occasional reports on urgent subjects such as carbon capture and technology transfer.


In May 2011, the IPCC announced institutional reforms pursuant to the findings of an independent review undertaken by the Inter Academy Council, which found that the IPCC should take steps to ensure its credibility. Reforms include a more comprehensive review of assessment reports, a more transparent communications approach, along with the inclusion of alternative scientific perspectives and the acknowledgement of scientific uncertainties.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 03:45