Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international panel of scientists and researchers that provide advice on climate change to the international community. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about an issue that had become increasingly complex and controversial. The IPCC does not conduct any research, nor does it monitor climate change-related data or parameters. Its role is to assess on a comprehensive, open and transparent basis the latest scientific, technical and socioeconomic literature produced worldwide, with a view to better understanding (1) the risks of anthropocentric climate change, (2) its observed and projected impacts (3) and options for adaptation and mitigation. Significance: The most significant work of the IPCC is in publishing reports, the most important being Assessment Reports. Hundreds of scientists all over the world contribute to these reports as authors and reviewers, drawing mainly on reviewed and published scientific literature. Four Assessment Reports have been produced to date, with a Fifth Assessment Report being developed for publication in

  • 2014: IPCC First Assessment Report: 1990. This played a decisive role in leading to the FCCC, which was opened for signature at the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ in 1992.

  • IPCC Second Assessment Report: Climate Change 1995. This provided key input for the negotiations that led to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

  • IPCC Third Assessment Report: Climate Change 2001. This provided further information relevant to the development of the FCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.

  • IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007. This provided more evidence of the link between climate change and anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.

The wide membership of the IPCC, its reputation for objectivity and its reliance on worldwide scientific expertise gives the IPCC unrivalled influence in shaping how the international community understands, and responds to, the issue of climate change. In this respect, it has played the leading role in building a consensus amongst scientists and national politicians about the existence of climate change and the fact that it is a consequence of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and is therefore linked to the burning of fossil fuels. Its influence can thus be seen in the growing acceptance that climate change is an issue that demands the attention of the international community, making it increasingly difficult for countries such Russia, Australia, USA, China and India to remain outside the climate change regime.

The IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, together with Al Gore, the former US Vice President.

The IPCC has also attracted criticism, however. Some argue that its emphasis on already published scientific data and on exacting reviews (the Fourth Assessment Report took six years to produce) means that its judgements and conclusions are dangerously out of date, and therefore tend to underestimate the seriousness of the climate change challenge. The Summary for Policy Makers, the only bit of an Assessment Report that is read by most politicians and journalists, is a politically negotiated document that sometimes omits controversial judgements found in the larger report. Some scientists also challenge the basis on which IPCC projections and conclusions are developed; for example, IPCC projections about global warming are founded on assumptions about the capacity of the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide that many environmentalists dismiss as unsound. The IPCC has also been criticized for overstating its claims (not least the claim, found in the 2007 Report but retracted in 2010, that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035) and for sacrificing its reputation for scientific neutrality by being seen to campaign for radical cuts in emissions.