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Last update: 25.08.2014

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

In 1988, with a view to providing political decision makers with scientifically founded information on climate change, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) came together and established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As a scientific forum, the IPCC's role consists of gathering the latest results of global climate research and showing the impacts of climate change and possibilities for mitigation and adaptation strategies. The panel does not itself conduct any scientific research work. The IPCC comprises internationally renowned scientists and government representatives from the 195 member countries, which are either members of UNEP or WMO. The focus of their work is the IPCC assessment reports. The IPCC is currently working on its 5th Assessment Report. The Synthesis Report, which briefly summarises the outcome of the assessment report, will be published October 2014.

Organisation of IPCC

Ice floes in the Atlantic Ocean

The IPCC holds a plenary session each year that is attended by government representatives of the member countries. The plenary session elects the IPCC Chair and IPCC Bureau and appoints the chairperson of each working group and of the task force. The plenary session also decides on topics to be covered in future reports, adopts assessment reports and addresses the rules of procedure for reporting. The Executive Committee is responsible for implementing the decisions taken. Three working groups are involved in preparing the assessment reports and special reports. The IPCC task forces are set up to tackle certain topics within a specific time frame. For instance, the IPCC currently has a task force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories to improve the methods for calculating national greenhouse gas emissions. The working groups and the task forces work on the basis of mandates adopted by the plenary session.

The IPCC executive board (IPCC Bureau, IPCC Plenary, Executive Committee) is supported in its work by the Secretariat in Geneva and the national IPCC contact points - in Germany the contact point is the Federal Environment Ministry. The Federal Environment Ministry in its role as the IPCC contact point, receives support from the German IPCC-Coordination Office, which it runs together with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Assessment Reports

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General information

The assessment reports are published by the three working groups at intervals of 6 to 7 years. Working Group I deals with the scientific bases of climate change. Working Group II is concerned with the impacts of climate change and possible adaptation strategies whilst Working Group III focuses on the possibilities for climate change mitigation. Each working group presents a volume and a fourth volume, the Synthesis Report, summarises the outcomes and puts them into perspective.

Rules of procedure for reporting

The preparation of reports must comply with certain rules of procedure. Firstly, the plenary session decides on the reports to be prepared and which topics the working groups will deal with. Then the teams of authors are selected for each working group. The governments of the 195 member states and around 100 accredited observer organisations may nominate suitable authors. The executive staff of each working group chooses the author from the experts nominated. Some 830 authors were selected to prepare the 5th Assessment Report, including 40 experts from German universities and research institutions and also from the private sector. When assembling the team of authors, value is placed not only on expertise, but also on ensuring that the authors chosen represent a broad range of viewpoints. In addition to this, different world religions and both genders must be represented in each team to ensure that author teams are balanced. In preparing the report, the authors should use articles from peer-reviewed scientific journals. If this is not possible, then the sources used should be verified by authorities or international organisations. Disparate views within an author team need to be included in the documentation accompanying the report.

Preliminary drafts prepared by the working groups must be repeatedly reviewed by experts and government representatives and continually improved. Each report is summarised for the policy makers and adopted line by line by the governments. This means that the governments are familiar with the scientific statements of the assessment report. Finally, the IPCC adopts and publishes the report.

5th Assessment Report

In the years 2013/2014 the IPCC adopted its 5th Assessment Report (AR5). The report supports the existence of climate change caused by mankind and describes the impacts of and strategies for adaptation to climate change as well as mitigation possibilities.

The first volume of the 5th Assessment Report on the scientific bases of climate change was published in September 2013 in Stockholm. Volumes II and III were adopted in March 2014 in Yokohama and April 2014 in Berlin respectively. The meeting in Berlin was led by Ottmar Edenhofer, professor of economics from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), who is also a chairman of the IPCC Working Group III. At present, the IPCC is preparing its synthesis report, which is due to be adopted in Copenhagen in October 2014.

Reforms 2010-2012

Picture of a blue sky with clouds and sun

From 2010 to 2012, the IPCC underwent a comprehensive reform process. Grounds for this reform were some (alleged) errors and inaccuracies in the 4th Assessment Report, published in 2007. In two of the cases cited, the errors were verified as such by scientists. This led to the work of the IPCC being publicly criticised. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, subsequently commissioned the Inter Academy Council (IAC), an international umbrella organisation of science academies, to come up with proposals for reform. The reforms proposed by the IAC related to reporting rules of procedure, management and governance structures of the IPCC, potential conflicts of interest among IPCC members and the IPCC communication strategy. The IAC proposals were discussed at several plenary sessions in the years 2010 to 2012 and decisions were taken by the plenary on their implementation. With regard to preparing reports, modifications were made to the process of selecting authors, the review process and the handling of errors in previously published reports. The IPCC management was supplemented with an executive committee to ensure the IPCC has the capacity to act between plenary sessions. Scientists are to be clear about conflicts of interest in future. A new communication strategy aiming at comprehensive information for the public on the work of the IPCC was put in place.

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