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Last update: 01.05.2011


Review process to ascertain the quality and transparency of IPCC reports

The review process of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is continuing. At the IPCC Plenary Session held in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) from 10 to 13 May, government representatives from almost 200 countries agreed to strengthen the IPCC processes and procedures.

An Executive Committee will be permanently established to ensure that the IPCC will also be able to take action between plenary sessions. The rules for drawing up scientific reports will become more transparent and more uniform and will cover the selection of authors and review procedures as well as the handling of mistakes in published reports. A communications strategy will ensure comprehensive information of the public on the work and findings of the IPCC. In future scientists will make public all areas where a conflict of interest may arise.

The regularly published IPCC reports form the scientific basis for international climate policies. The occurrence of occasional mistakes or inaccuracies in the several thousand pages strong Forth Assessment Report and the - since disproved - allegations that the report was manipulated, led to criticism of the IPCC in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009. In 2010 The United Nations and the IPCC responded to the allegations by launching a review process which is now being implemented on the basis of recommendations issued by the Inter Academy Council (IAC), a body of independent science academies and research councils. The next comprehensive assessment report is on its way and will be published in three parts in 2013 and 2014.

Current public debate

Since the end of last year the alleged or actual errors in the last IPCC Report have been a focus of media, internet and public debate. So far, analyses conducted in international scientific circles have verified these allegations in two cases. Many of the other claims made by the media (especially in Great Britain and the US) have since been disproved (for instance, those regarding the link between climate change and the increase in natural disasters, the decline of the Amazon rain forest and the impact of climate change on food and water supply in Africa).

In response to the public debate over the accusations of inaccuracy in IPCC reports, on 10 March the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon and the Chair of the IPCC Rajendra Pachauri, requested the umbrella organisation of science academies the Inter Academy Council (IAC) to set up a group of experts to review the IPCC's working processes and procedures. This Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) will deliver a report by the end of August which will be discussed at the next IPCC plenary session in October. This action aims to further improve the quality of the reports and help restore public confidence in the IPCC.

The IEG consists of 12 renowned experts from various countries and disciplines and is led by Harold T. Shapiro, economist and former president of the Universities of Princeton and Michigan. Germany is represented by biochemist Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, Secretary General of the Human Frontier Science Program Organization.

IPCC - a scientific forum

To evaluate the latest findings of worldwide climate research, the international community set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The panel is a scientific forum, but does not itself conduct any scientific research work. Its role consists in gathering and assessing the latest results of global climate research. To this end, the IPCC regularly compiles reports and technical papers which serve as a scientific basis for international climate negotiations. The most important of these are the Assessment Reports, which are produced and published every 6 or 7 years. They are three-volume reports offering comprehensive information on climate change and its causes and consequences, as well as options for action and for specific measures needed to limit the impacts of climate change.

In its 4th Assessment Report of 2007 the IPCC summarised the status of global climate research: the report proved beyond doubt that global warming is increasing and reiterated that mankind is primarily responsible for these climatic changes.

IPCC prepares 5th Assessment Report

Work on the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC AR5) is currently underway. It is scheduled to be published in 2013/2014. For the most part, AR5 will retain the main structure and subjects of the three working groups found in previous reports. The Working Group I Report will deal with the scientific aspects of climate research, while the Working Group II Report will describe future and already occurring impacts of climate change, and discuss options for adaptation. The Working Group III Report aims to describe the different strategies for dealing with climate change. This will focus primarily on the political and technological measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Working Group III will be chaired by German economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The chairmanship of a working group will last for the AR5 compilation period (2008-2014). The structure of the three Working Group Reports was adopted in October 2009. The complete structure of AR5 will be finalised after the structure of the Synthesis Report has been adopted at the next IPCC plenary session in October 2010.

The nomination process for the authors of the Assessment Report was completed in March 2010. More than 3000 experts were nominated by the member states' national focal points and observer organisations. All 194 IPCC member states are entitled to nominate scientists as authors and review editors of the Assessment Report. Author selection for AR5 took place in early summer 2010 and aimed to ensure a broad range of viewpoints and expertise, and adequate representation of scientists from both industrialised and developing countries. Now that the authors and review editors have been appointed, the actual work on the Working Group and Synthesis Reports can begin.

For the AR5 period the IPCC will also draw up two Special Reports. "Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation" is scheduled to be published in February 2011, while the Special Report on “Management of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation" is expected to appear at the end of 2011.

Changes compared to the 4th Assessment Report

A new aspect compared to previous assessment reports is that the Working Group I Report will focus more on climate change on a regional scale, making greater use of electronic mapping. For the first time there will be some chapters on aerosols and clouds, changes in sea level, the carbon cycle and short-term and long-term projections.The proposed structure of the Working Group II Report has evolved considerably since AR4: the list of contents shows a better integration of the scientific foundations of climate change and its impacts. The latter are defined more broadly, with extreme events, disasters and adaptation issues being taken into greater account. Regional aspects of climate change are dealt with thoroughly in a separate volume, and more consideration is given to the ocean systems and social aspects.

The Working Group III Report shows major improvements compared to AR4: an entire chapter is dedicated to the social, economic and ethical aspects of climate change, which will be comprehensively discussed. In addition, greater emphasis will be placed on political, institutional and financial issues. The Working Group III Report will also take a closer look at regional aspects, especially in relation to development.

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