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Explained: Role of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, its significance

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IPCC reports are synced to international policy developments such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (First Assessment, 1990), the Kyoto Protocol (Second Assessment, 1995) and the Paris Agreement (Fifth Assessment, 2013-2014).

Explained: Role of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, its significance

Climate change is real and it’s triggering intense heatwaves across the world. The upper atmosphere is shrinking and Antarctica hit record-high 18.3 degree Celsius in February due to climate change. It will only get worse if we don’t fix our ways.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which provides data and assessment on climate change based on scientific evidence, the risks, impact and options for cutting down on emissions to policymakers across the world, has released five reports and is expected to release the first part of their sixth report in August. This report will delve into the physical science of climate change.

How does the IPCC assess climate change?

The IPCC has roped in scientists from around the world in various disciplines from academia, industry to government, and non-governmental organisations.  They are leading experts in their respective fields and have a publishing record and stellar international reputation. The current cycle involves 721 scientists from 90 countries.

They have been divided into three working groups -- Physical Science Basis (WGI); impact, adaption, and vulnerability (WGII); and mitigation of climate change (WGIII). The IPCC then assesses the agreements and disagreements of the scientific community. If there is a disagreement or a difference of opinion, the discussion mandates further research if needed.

The teams meet four times throughout the writing cycle for discussions and arguments. The report acknowledges the pandemic did affect the working groups as they had to resort to virtual meetings.

The reports that are generated undergo an extensive peer-review process. Each chapter in a report undergoes two rounds of scientific review and revisions. The first revision is by expert reviewers followed by government representatives and experts. The AR6 – WGI report alone generated 74,849 review comments from hundreds of reviewers.

IPCC reports are synced to international policy developments such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (First Assessment, 1990), the Kyoto Protocol (Second Assessment, 1995) and the Paris Agreement (Fifth Assessment, 2013-2014).

The first AR6 report (WGI) is expected to be released in August, and its approval meeting will take place virtually, a first in the IPCC’s 30-year history.

The AR6’s WGII and WGIII reports will be released in February and March 2022. One more report, the Synthesis Report, will be released in September next year, just in time for the first-ever UNFCCC Global Stocktake event, when countries will review the progress towards the goals that were agreed at the Paris Agreement. The Paris agreement is targeting to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

The IPCC has also published special reports on global warming of 1.5℃ (2018), oceans and the cryosphere in a changing climate (2019) and climate change and land (2019).

The IPCC reports are generated on behalf of the 193 governments currently in the United Nations. The governments can’t dismiss a report that they are part of in the first place.

Though governments cannot dictate what goes into a report, they have to participate in the line-by-line review and revision of the SPM. All text has to be agreed upon at the plenary session and by accepting this, governments agree they will abide by the same irrespective of whether they like the content.

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