IPCC for the environment, for people

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an international scientific organization founded in 1988 by two UN bodies: World Meteorology Organization and the UN Environment Programme. It investigates the most recent knowledge on, causes of, and effects of climate change. Its task is to pass this knowledge to different countries and individuals or institutions interested in the questions, as well as the assessment of the risk related to the impact of human activities on climate, and formulation of world regulations aimed at reducing pollution emission into the atmosphere.

Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to IPCC on a voluntary basis. All the organization’s activities are coordinated by the Secretariat cooperating with governments. It currently has 195 member-countries. Based in Geneva, it is supported by UNEP and WMO.

Currently, IPCC’s operations are carried out in three Working Groups: the first assesses scientific grounds for natural and human factors affecting the climate, whether science is capable of attributing climate change to specific factors, and gives projections of climate change in the future: the second one assesses climate change: results, adaptation, and threats; while the third focuses on mitigating the effects of climate change. The Working Groups meet in plenary sessions at the governmental representatives level and the main decisions are made at these.

Approximately every five years the organization produces Assessment Reports summing up the works carried in its groups and related to climate change. The first published in 1990, was followed by subsequent ones in 1995, 2001, and 2007 respectively. In 2014 another such document is planned. The Reports have a great impact on establishing national and international climate programmes and policy of financing climate change.

IPCC’s analyses serve as grounds for international negotiations of agreements on climate change, such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

The last Fourth IPCC Assessment Report from 2007 puts the major responsibility for global warming on humans, mainly due to the emission of CO2. The probability of the human-induced climate change was assessed at 90%, with a much higher likelihood than in the 2001 Report where it was assessed at 66%. The IPCC Report is quite pessimistic about preventing the global warming. Once started, the process will continue for centuries to come, regardless of how much we reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

In September 2013, IPCC experts presented the first part of the 5th IPCC Assessment Report summing up our knowledge on climate change in the world.

The majority of experts continue to claim that global warming observed for over half a century is ‘most extremely likely’ caused by human activity, with the probability as high as 95%. This is the firmest formulation used by IPCC scientists since they started talking about climate change.

The experts stress that global warming can be clearly seen; it is best reflected in the increase of air and ocean water temperature. In their view, temperatures are likely to rise by at least one and a half degrees Celsius; while by the end of the century ocean levels will have risen between 26 to 82 cm, and not between 18 and 59, as assessed before.

IPCC experts claim the greenhouse gas emissions should be significantly reduced. In their forecasts they have used four scenarios of future changes with respect to greenhouse emission reduction. Depending on the scenario, by the end of the 21st c., world average temperature will have increased by between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees C. Two most optimistic scenarios, assuming the greatest reduction of the CO2 emission, allow to prevent the increase of temperature exceeding the average from the pre-industrial times by 2 o Cor more. Currently, the largest emission increase is observed in China and other developing countries.

At the same time, however, the Report authors admit that contrary to their earlier prediction, over the last 15 years temperatures around the globe have not increased. They do emphasize at the same time that this interval has been too short in order to justify claims that the global warming process has stopped, additionally since the last three decades have been gradually getting warmer.

Meanwhile, scientists do not all fully agree that man is the main cause of the currently observed climate change. Sceptics point first of all to the stop in global temperature increase since at least 1998 (despite the climate projections), the fact officially admitted in the IPCC Report. On the other hand, it still remains to be seen whether this is actually the end of global warming, or merely a short interval in the process. In the eyes of many scientists IPCC is not fully credible, as climate change can be accounted for by many natural factors, such as solar activity, vapour, and dust in the atmosphere, and not the man-emitted greenhouse gases.

IPCC is criticized for not being impartial when the Assessment Reports are worked out and that climate panellists do not have the background directly related to climate research. IPCC opponents point out to the fact that the organization is politically biased, while its research results cannot be treated as objective. With regard to earlier IPCC Reports also lack of reliable data collection had been raised.

The meeting of Working Group II will be held in Yokohama on 25-29 March 2014,  while that of Working Group III in Berlin on 7-11 April 2014. After these have released their respective Report sections, an official summing up will be released in Copenhagen on ca. 31 October 2014. At that point the whole of the Fifth IPCC Assessment Report will be presented.

The final agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gas emission is to be concluded in 2015. It remains unclear, however at the moment, whether the Agreement Parties, namely almost 200 states, manage to reach a consensus on the conditions, ways, and degree of the emission reduction. Meanwhile, the IPCC scientists have pointed to this as the essential condition for stopping the temperature increase, which, in turn, will allow to prevent the worst climate change effects.

On 12 October 2007, IPCC and former US Vice-President Al Gore were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ‘their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change’. 

Karolina Cygonek (PAP)

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