New to Climate Change?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) collects, reviews, and summarizes the best information on climate change and its impacts, and puts forward possible solutions. The IPCC was created by the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988 and is widely considered the world’s top authority on climate science. Its reports are written for policymakers and scientists, but they are available to everyone. They often provide useful knowledge and data for teachers and journalists, like an encyclopedia.
How does the IPCC write its reports?
All IPCC reports are written by volunteer groups of hundreds of scientists around the world. The IPCC has 195 participating countries, all of which nominate scientists to represent them in panel meetings. These representatives then recruit experts to write the reports. The experts are divided into three groups. One focuses on the physical science of climate change, one on the effects climate change will have on people and the planet, and one on ways to slow or prevent climate change. There is also the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, which tracks different countries’ greenhouse gas emissions and whether they are reducing those emissions.
In every IPCC report, scientists lay out the “state of knowledge” on climate change by summarizing current and relevant findings in the field. They find where the scientific community agrees and where further research is needed. The result is a report which contains many years of research collected from thousands of research papers and scientists around the world. One strength of the IPCC reports is that they consider how likely each scientific prediction is to be true based on the collected data.
IPCC reports are drafted and reviewed in several stages. It can be a long process, with many rules, changes, and reviewers. Much care is taken to guarantee objectivity and transparency. By rule from the U.N., reports must remain neutral on policies and do not suggest any particular political action. They instead focus on spelling out scientific findings that might help policymakers make decisions. The IPCC cannot tell leaders what to do, only what can be done. This is important because each country involved has its own needs based on its economic or political situation.
“[T]he more human activities disrupt the climate, the greater the risks of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems... [W]e have the means to limit climate change and its risks, with many solutions that allow for continued economic and human development. However, stabilizing temperature increase to below 2°C relative to pre-industrial levels will require an urgent and fundamental departure from business as usual.”
- The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report
Updated December 16, 2021.