Guest Article #36

The Work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Future Perspectives

While it may be regarded as an important first step, the outcome of last December's 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) – the Copenhagen Accord – is not strong enough to ensure an adequate global response to climate change. And yet, the urgency to act may be increasing faster than the public had anticipated. As the first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2012, and as 2015 – the year that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) estimates global emissions will need to peak in order to ensure stabilization of temperatures at 2.0 – 2.4°C – draws closer, we may be confronted today with a greater urgency to act than we have ever faced before. In light of this, 2010 will be a crucial year for increasing the momentum to respond to climate change, and the IPCC, as an intergovernmental body designed to present the public with policy-relevant scientific assessments, is uniquely suited to help increase the dissemination of its findings, so that the public and world leaders can make informed choices. IPCC must help disseminate understanding and awareness about climate change among human society at large and world leaders in particular, so that science forms the basis for action.

Due to the IPCC's organizational capacity, robust processes, and proven mechanisms for review, it has been able to assess a great deal of scientific information about climate change and draw several important conclusions rooted in scientific facts. 2007 was an important year for the IPCC, as it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along withFormer US Vice-President Al Gore, even as the results of the AR4, which established that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” were disseminated widely. However, since 2007, the ability of the IPCC to provide policy relevant material and contribute to the drive for a response to climate change has surely increased for a number of reasons. Firstly, governments are currently more involved in the IPCC process than ever before, which has provided the Panel withextremely valuable insights on issues that should be covered in the  Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). This direct government input has certainly improved the IPCC's policy relevance. Secondly, the Copenhagen Accord that came out of COP 15 was an implicit recognition of the scientific assessment presented in the AR4. In this Accord, Heads of State recognized that the world must not exceed a 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels. This important recognition signals the willingness of the international community to accept the impacts of climate change and mitigation options established by the IPCC's processes.

The primary task at hand for the IPCC in 2010 is to continue work on the AR5, which is due to be completed in 2014. The previous reports have each had considerable impact on international climate change negotiations. As the AR5 is expected to reduce uncertainties and gaps in knowledge with regards to climate change science, it is expected that it will have an even more significant effect on policy makers and society at large than earlier assessment reports. As before, the AR5 will include information from three Working Groups: WG I focused on the physical science basis; WG II focused on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and WG III focused on mitigation. As compared with previous assessments, the AR5 will provide significant regional detail, ensure coverage of socioeconomic and humanitarian dimensions of climate change, and assess a wide range of various scenarios related to climate change. In addition, in contrast to the AR4, work has already begun on the Synthesis Report of the AR5, so that the end product will be much more than simply a sum of its parts and can serve as a relevant reference for policymakers and society at large.

2010 will also see a necessary increase in the IPCC's outreach activities, as disseminating the findings of the IPCC is crucial for achieving widespread consensus about climate change and for strengthening support for appropriate action. In addition, the IPCC's recently founded Climate Education Programme will take off in 2010. Launched in December 2009, the Climate Education Programme draws on funding from the IPCC's Nobel Peace Prize winnings and is designed to strengthen the ability of developing and least developed countries to contribute to climate change science and research by awarding scholarships to young scientists from developing countries. The first round of scholarships from this programme will be awarded in the second term of the 2010–2011 Academic Year. By supporting scientists from developing countries, the IPCC will be able to strengthen regional and local expertise from developing countries where science is often lacking, thus improving knowledge about the consequences of climate change and reinforcing the IPCC's own scientific assessments.

Science has provided us with a clear mandate to provide knowledge and information, and the IPCC is uniquely positioned to create a platform from which society can judge the scientific imperatives for action. In 2010, the IPCC will work to improve knowledge about climate change and to further disseminate AR4 findings, contributing to the momentum that will hopefully culminate in a global climate change agreement in Mexico at the end of 2010.