The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. In the same year, the UN General Assembly endorsed the action by WMO and UNEP in jointly establishing the IPCC.
The IPCC is a scientific body under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters.
Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis. Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information. IPCC aims to reflect a range of views and expertise. The Secretariat coordinates all the IPCC work and liaises with Governments. It is supported by WMO and UNEP and hosted at WMO headquarters in Geneva.
The IPCC is an intergovernmental body. It is open to all member countries of the United Nations (UN) and WMO. Currently 195 countries are members of the IPCC. Governments participate in the review process and the plenary Sessions, where main decisions about the IPCC work programme are taken and reports are accepted, adopted and approved. The IPCC Bureau Members, including the Chair, are also elected during the plenary Sessions.
Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a huge and yet very small organization. Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis as authors, contributors and reviewers. None of them is paid by the IPCC. The work of the IPCC is guided by a set of principles and procedures.
The Panel takes major decisions at Plenary Sessions of government representatives. A central IPCC Secretariat supports the work of the IPCC.
The IPCC is currently organized in 3 Working Groups and a Task Force. They are assisted by Technical Support Units (TSUs), which are hosted and financially supported by the government of the developed country Co-Chair of that Working Group/Task Force. A TSU has also been established to support the IPCC Chair in preparing the Synthesis Report for an assessment report.
Working Group I deals with 'The Physical Science Basis of Climate Change', Working Group II with 'Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability' and Working Group III with 'Mitigation of Climate Change'. Working Groups meet in Plenary session at the level of government representatives. The main objective of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories is to develop and refine a methodology for the calculation and reporting of national greenhouse gas emissions and removals.
Besides the Working Groups and Task Force, further Task Groups and Steering Groups may be established for a limited or longer duration to consider a specific topic or question. One example is the Task Group on Data and Scenario Support for Impact and Climate Analysis (TGICA).
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was created in 1988. It was set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to prepare, based on available scientific information, assessments on all aspects of climate change and its impacts, with a view of formulating realistic response strategies. The initial task for the IPCC as outlined in UN General Assembly Resolution 43/53 of 6 December 1988 was to prepare a comprehensive review and recommendations with respect to the state of knowledge of the science of climate change; the social and economic impact of climate change, and possible response strategies and elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate. Today the IPCC's role is as defined in Principles Governing IPCC Work, '...to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policy, although they may need to deal objectively with scientific, technical and socio-economic factors relevant to the application of particular policies.'
The scientific evidence brought up by the first IPCC Assessment Report of 1990 underlined the importance of climate change as a challenge requiring international cooperation to tackle its consequences. It therefore played a decisive role in leading to the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the key international treaty to reduce global warming and cope with the consequences of climate change.
Since then the IPCC has delivered on a regular basis the most comprehensive scientific reports about climate change produced worldwide, the Assessment Reports. It has also responded to the need for information on scientific and technical matters from the UNFCCC, through Methodology Reports and Special Reports, and from governments and international organizations through Special Reports and Technical Papers. Methodology Reports serve as methodologies and guidelines to help Parties to the UNFCCC prepare their national greenhouse gas inventories.
The IPCC Second Assessment Report of 1995 provided important material drawn on by negotiators in the run-up to adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Third Assessment Report came out in 2001 and the Fourth in 2007.
The Fourth Assessment Report paid greater attention to the integration of climate change with sustainable development policies and relationships between mitigation and adaptation.
Understanding Climate Change: 22 years of IPCC Assessment
At the end of 2007 the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The participation of the scientific community in the work of the IPCC has grown greatly, in terms of the number of authors and contributors involved in writing and reviewing the reports, geographical distribution of authors, and the topics covered by the reports.
The following document provides more information on the foundation of the IPCC, the evolution of the organization, and its work over time with respect to the Climate Convention. It also illustrates the development of knowledge on various aspects of climate change from 1990 (First Assessment Report) to 2007 (Fourth Assessment Report).
The IPCC is now working on the Fifth Assessment Report, and plans to release it in 2013/14. See Key AR5 dates for more information on this process.
At the conclusion of each assessment process the IPCC generally reflects on the report preparation process and draws lessons to inform consideration of the IPCC's future work programmes and processes. In this context it also addresses questions such as mandate of the IPCC Working Groups, structure and scope of future reports, and timing of IPCC products.
At its 37th Session (Batumi, Georgia, 14-18 October 2013) the Panel initiated a discussion about future work of the IPCC. In preparation of the Session governments were invited to submit their initial views on which topics and questions should be addressed with respect to the future work of the IPCC. The Panel at its 37th Session decided to set up a Task Group to help the IPCC to continue to improve its operation and products. The Task Group will develop options and recommendations for consideration by the Panel on future products of the IPCC, the appropriate structure and modus operandi for the production of these IPCC products and ways to ensure enhancement of the participation and contribution of developing countries in the future work of the IPCC. The Task Group will draw on multiple sources, including input and submissions from scientists, governments, observer organizations and other relevant stakeholders.
The process will be completed at the 41st Session of the IPCC (first half of 2015) when, according to IPCC procedures, the Panel will have to agree on size, structure and composition of the next IPCC Bureau.
The IPCC's work is guided by a set of principles and clear procedures for all the main activities of the organization. This page serves as a repository for all official procedural documents guiding IPCC activities.
The IPCC's processes and procedures are constantly being reviewed and updated to ensure that they remain strong, transparent and reliable. For recent changes to IPCC procedures and related information see the Review of Processes and Procedures page that covers all the recent changes to IPCC procedures approved by the Panel in the period 2010-2012.
The document Principles Governing IPCC Work lays down the role of the IPCC, its organization, participation in it and its key procedures, and establishes comprehensiveness, objectivity, openness and transparency as guiding principles of IPCC Work. The IPCC is open to member countries of the UN and WMO. All major decisions about the organization and its work are taken by the Panel during the Plenary Sessions.