Delegates to IPCC Working Group 1 finalising summary for policymakers

Scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are meeting to finalise the initial part of its first major climate assessment in seven years. On the fourth day last week, delegates continued their consideration of the Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group I (WG I) contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Regular updates are available on the Earth Negotiations Bulletin from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

Two plenary sessions took place during the day, addressing:   

  • a box on scenarios, climate models, and projections;
  • a subsection on impacts of human-induced climate change;
  • a subsection on human influence on the climate system; and
  • a subsection on ocean and land carbon sinks.

These elements had each been taken up first in plenary, and subsequently in dedicated author meetings and contact group sessions earlier in the week, before being taken up again in plenary for approval.

 This second round of plenary discussions started with the co-facilitators of the different contact groups reporting back on progress in reaching agreement on the paragraphs assigned to them. Building on this, the respective subsections were considered paragraph by paragraph and sentence by sentence, culminating with consideration of the main headline statement of each subsection. Where needed, WG I Co-Chairs Valérie Masson-Delmotte and Panmao Zhai set up so-called “huddles” to foster consensus. These huddles consisted of (virtual) breakout groups among a small group of delegates. Progress made in these huddles was captured in writing and reported back to plenary. Additional contact group sessions were scheduled to advance progress on outstanding elements.

 Two contact group sessions also took place during the day, respectively addressing a subsection on global surface temperature increase in the near term and on changes in “climatic impact-drivers,” which are physical climate system conditions that affect an element of society or ecosystems.

 To get a short introduction to what the IPCC is,Ajit Niranjan and Stuart Braun have prepared a short summary on the Deutsche Welle website.


What is the IPCC and what does it do?

Its findings influence governments, business leaders and even young protesters  on arguably the biggest issue facing the planet: the climate crisis.

But many people may never have heard of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC is a UN body that evaluates climate science. Its scientists look at the current impacts and future risks of a changing climate, presenting options to mitigate the damage and adapt to global heating.

Founded in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program, the IPCC produces major assessments every few years. These are presented in a non-technical style for broad readership, especially by policymakers.

The IPCC selects hundreds of scientists from across the world to prepare the reports after evaluating peer-reviewed scientific literature and, less often, government and industry reports. Thousands of studies are considered when developing the IPCC’s comprehensive assessments of the state of climate change.

The most recent publications include a series of special reports published over recent years. They cover living on a planet with 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming, and the effects of climate change on land, oceans and icy places.

Projections, not predictions 

IPCC climate scientists stress that they do not tell governments what to do, but rather assess possible policy options. They also say their conclusions for the future are projections — based on different warming scenarios — not predictions.

Before releasing assessments, the IPCC also publishes summaries for policymakers that are prepared by experts and reviewed line-by-line in marathon plenary sessions by UN member states — who must then unanimously approve them. These documents guide decision-makers.

These reviews are essential to the comprehensive assessments published by the IPCC every few years on the state of climate change.

The last assessment report, the fifth, was released in full in 2014. It laid the groundwork for the 1.5-degree Celsius warming target set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Next major assessment

In late July 2021, almost 200 nations began vetting the first part of the IPCC’s sixth comprehensive assessment report on climate change. Published in August, it will likely inform decisions made at the pivotal COP26 in Glasgow in November. The entire sixth assessment is due for release in 2022.

The IPCC also comes in for criticism, with scientists and climate experts recently arguing, for example, that it has failed to call out the fossil fuel companies that have lobbied to obstruct emission reductions.

But in the scientific community and media, its reports are broadly viewed as the most comprehensive and reliable assessments of climate change. In 2007, the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

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