What is the IPCC?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is part of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

The IPCC is a scientific body, its purpose it to review and assess the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information on climate change, however it does not conduct any research itself.

Nearly 4000 scientists from 194 countries contribute to the work of the IPCC, presenting different viewpoints which are reflected in the IPCC reports.

This process offers a focus to scientific research on climate change, and has generated crucial reports with a global scope, incorporating contributing factors, impacts and solutions to prevent and reduce climate change.

These reports are valuable because they compile large amounts of evidence from various scientific disciplines that might not otherwise be connected.

Nevertheless, some consider IPCC reports to be conservative estimates, while the effects of climate change are in reality more severe than represented.

A scientist’s credibility depends on never making a statement that is not supported with sound evidence.

This pressure means that scientists are reticent to put forward their ideas without years of research. Within the IPCC, which negotiates amongst thousands of scientists, these conservative tendencies are multiplied.

In addition, the IPCC is constrained by slow reactions to new information, because being such a large organisation, the review process cannot function unless submissions are received a year in advance.

This means that if governments develop targets and treaties based on IPCC reports, their actions are based on data which is already four years old.

Indeed, as the next IPCC report is planned for 2014, governments may be basing their policy decisions on science up to ten years old.

Considering that climate change science is advancing almost as rapidly as climate change itself, the IPCC process is far too slow to inform necessary policy responses.

Because of high levels of uncertainty, the IPCC excluded the impact of non-linear rates of change from their climate models.

For instance, positive feedbacks that contribute to runaway climate change, such as forest fires and melting ice, could not be calculated by IPCC climate models.

This explains why the IPCC’s projections tend to seriously underestimate climate change.

References

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘Organization’, http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization.htm

The Union of Concerned Scientists, ‘The IPCC: Who Are They and Why Do Their Climate Reports Matter?’, January 2007, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/ipcc-backgrounder.html

John Collee, ‘The Mammoth in the Freezer’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 2009, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/the-mammoth-in-the-freezer-20090605-byhl.html

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘Fifth Assessment Report (AR5)’, http://www.ipcc.ch/activities/activities.htm#1

John Collee, ‘The Mammoth in the Freezer’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 2009, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/the-mammoth-in-the-freezer-20090605-byhl.html