Climate Change History 101: the IPCC

Before you buy or sell a home, you have it assessed or appraised. The same goes for our climate… only no one person can buy the sky above our heads.

We make assessments in climate science to evaluate climate change risks, impacts, vulnerability and the adaptive capacity of our environments. This information is provided to those making the decisions, be it land owners, organizations, or governments.

I introduced the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in my last post, which also touched on the evolution of climate change science. This organization was built for climate assessments and has become our international initiative to evaluate climate change  hazards, adaptation and recommendations for decision makers living in our ever-changing world.

Completely voluntary, expert reviewed and politically unbiased, this org is literally the best thing since sliced bread.

History of the IPCC

Before the IPCC was created in 1988, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) began discussing their concerns over globalization’s impact.

The “…continued expansion of human’s activities on Earth may cause significant extended regional and even global changes of climate.”

As a result, they decided at the World Climate Conference in 1979 to team up and do something about it. After all, with new insights and methods for monitoring long-term climate trends, it’s hard to not notice compelling evidence.

The WMO called for the next steps to form a “…global cooperation to explore the possible future course of global climate and to take this new understanding into account in planning for the future development of human society.”

The conference on the “Assessment of the Role of Carbon Dioxide and of Other Greenhouse Gases in Climate Variations and Associated Impacts”, held in 1985, brought together the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), WMO, and the International Council for Science (ICSU). Past and current events, as it appeared, had already contributed enough green house gas to steer our climate on a seemingly inevitable warming trend.

In 1985, leading organizations UNEP, WMO, and ISCU concluded that, “as a result of the increasing greenhouse gases, it is now believed that in the first half of the 21st century a rise of global mean temperature could occur which is greater than in any man’s history.

Pretty juicy, right? But wait, it gets better. Grab the popcorn.

Here’s a bullet point list of all the bad news:

  • Past climate data may no longer be reliable to use in long term projections
  • Climate changes and sea level rise are closely linked to to other major environmental issues
  • Some climate warming is seemingly inevitable
  • This seemingly inevitable warming will be strongly effected by whatever policy comes out the office regarding greenhouse gas emissions

And so, the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases (AGGG) was born. This ensured that, every once in a while, the state of climate change knowledge and its implications would be reviewed.

By 1987, the WMO Executive Council as the Secretary General of WMO in co-ordination with the Executive Director of UNEP to establish an intergovernmental mechanism to provide scientific assessments of climate change. They agreed and created two difference streams for these efforts: one for available scientific information and the other for response strategies. The following year, the IPCC Secretariat was established in Geneva in WMO’s headquarters.

Bring on the IPCC

With full support by UNEP and WMO, the IPCC formed three working groups and one task force to prepare assessment reports on:

  1. Available scientific information on climate change (Group 1)
  2. Environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change (Group 2)
  3. Formulation of response strategies (Group 3)
  4. Task force to monitor, evaluate and report green house gas inventories

The assessment reports began to flow in over the next couple decades, with the organization expanding to include a representative from each country involved in WMO and UNEP. For each working group, a representative from both a developed and a developing nation was selected for balance. The first report came out in 1990, followed by 1995, 2001, and 2007, which featured 500 lead authors and earned a Nobel Peace Prize. The last report was in 2014 and we’re due for a sixth report in 2022.

Check out the latest assessment report here >>

Nothing but the best

Who contributes to these assessment reports, you may ask? Teams of authors are nominated or selected based on their expertise. Each report is then reviewed twice, first by experts in the field (can nominate yourself) and then second by experts and governments. Each report has a section called Summaries for Policymakers, which is approved line by line. Staying objective, unbiased, and out of politics is very important when providing stakeholders, policymakers, and governments with these reports!



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