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Last update: 23.10.2015

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the scientific body compiling the current state of climate change and providing orientation to policymakers for their decisions. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the IPCC in 1988. Since then, the IPCC has published five Assessment Reports and several special reports. They lay out the latest findings of climate research and point out risks and consequences of climate change and options for mitigation and adaptation strategies. The IPCC itself does not conduct any scientific research work. With transparency and diligence, many internationally renowned scientists compile reports based on scientific publications from various journals. For this purpose, they use peer-reviewed journals as far as possible. Publications that have not been approved by independent reviewers such as authorities or international organisations, have to be reviewed very carefully. Government representatives of the 195 parties to UNEP or WMO are given the opportunity to comment on the drafts of IPCC reports before publication and to negotiate the phrasing of summaries for policymakers.

After the Fifth Assessment Report by the IPCC was concluded in 2013 and 2014, the IPCC is ready, now that the new executive committee was elected in October 2015, to start working on the 6th Assessment Report which is to be published in 2022 at the latest. 

Organisation of IPCC

Ice floes in the Atlantic Ocean

There is a total of three working groups, each of which produces one volume of the assessment reports. Working Group I deals with the physical science basis of climate change. Working Group II assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, and options for how mankind can adapt to global warming. Working Group III deals with options for mitigating climate change. In addition, IPCC task forces may be set up to address selected topics - generally within a specific time frame. For example, one task force was established to develop methods for calculating national greenhouse emissions for national greenhouse gas inventories. The working groups and the task forces work on the basis of mandates adopted by the plenary session. Government representatives from the parties regularly get together for plenary sessions. During these sessions, the plenary determines the topics for future assessment reports, adopts summaries of the respective assessment reports for political decision makers and consults on rules of procedure, for example, for drawing up reports. The plenary session also elects the IPCC bureau.

In October 2015, Hoesung Lee was elected as new chair of the IPCC. German biologist and climate researcher Hans-Otto Pörtner of the Alfred Wegener Institute was elected as co-chair of working group II. The office term covers the duration of the assessment cycle up to the presentation of the 6th IPCC Assessment Report in 2022.

The IPCC, its executive committee and bureau are supported in their work by the Secretariat in Geneva and the national IPCC focal points - in Germany that is the Federal Environment Ministry. The German IPCC Coordination Office, run jointly by the Federal Environment Ministry and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, supports the IPCC focal point in its work.

Assessment Reports

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General information

So far, five assessment reports have been completed. The assessment reports are drawn up by the three working groups at intervals of five to seven years. The synthesis report contains the reports drawn up by the working groups, summarises the results and puts them in an overarching context.

5th Assessment Report

In 2013/2014 the IPCC adopted its 5th Assessment Report (AR5). The report substantiates human influence on the climate system and therefore confirms the reality of an anthropogenic climate change. It also describes the associated risks and consequences as well as strategies for adaptation and mitigation. The first volume of the 5th Assessment Report on the physical science basis of climate change was published in Stockholm in September 2013. Volumes II and III were adopted in Yokohama in March 2014 and in Berlin in April 2014 respectively. The session in Berlin was presided over by German economist Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), co-chair of IPCC Working Group III during the assessment cycle for the 5thAssessment Report. The overarching synthesis report was presented in Copenhagen in October 2014.

Reporting procedures

The preparation of reports must follow certain procedures. First of all, the plenary session makes the decision to prepare a report and determines the scope for the working groups. Authors are then selected for the three working groups. The governments of the 195 member and around 100 accredited observer organisations may suggest suitable authors. The working group bureaux select the authors from the list of nominees.

These teams are composed of many experts - the co-chairs of the working groups, coordinating lead authors and lead authors, contributing authors and reviewers for the respective chapters. Some 830 authors were involved in preparing the 5th Assessment Report, including 40 experts from German universities, research institutes and the private sector. In addition to pertinent expertise, the composition of the groups of authors also makes sure that they represent a mix of different points of view.

Gender and religion are also taken into account to ensure that the groups of authors are well-balanced. To compile a report, authors mainly draw from articles from peer-reviewed journals. Authors have to agree on a way to present and scientifically assess the facts. Disparate views, knowledge gaps and uncertainties are explicitly mentioned in the report. The first drafts prepared by the working groups are reviewed several times by experts and government representatives and revised in the process.

The summaries for policy makers of the working group contributions are also approved by governments line by line. In doing so, the governments recognise the scientific statements in the assessment report. The report can then be published and presented.

Miscellaneous and outlook

Picture of a blue sky with clouds and sun

Due to just a few mistakes and inaccuracies in the 4th Assessment Report, which resulted in great public criticism, although they do not call into question the main statements of the IPCC, IPCC underwent a comprehensive reform process between 2010 and 2012. With regard to reporting, procedures for the selection of authors, the review process and addressing errors in previous reports were modified. In addition, the IPCC executive committee was established to facilitate timely and effective implementation of the IPCC programme of work between plenary sessions. Also, conflicts of interests of scientists have to be disclosed in future. A new communication strategy was developed to ensure that the public is informed thoroughly about the work of the IPCC.

It is the wish of new chair Hoesung Lee and many members that in future the IPCC focus on solutions, thereby creating a stronger link to political practice.