What is the IPCC?

by Amy Wilson

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments of man-made climate change, the socio-economic risks of the crisis, and options to adapt or mitigate against it [1]. 

The IPCC does not conduct its own research but draws on evidence from around the world through its author selection process. The reports are reviewed at various stages to ensure objectivity and transparency. 

Five different groups work on the IPCC reports [2]:

  • Working Group I (WGI) evaluates the scientific evidence on climate change, addresses the climate challenges, assesses the atmospheric changes, natural cycles, weather, and the climate sensitivity.
  • Working Group II (WGII) assesses the impacts that climate change can have on human cultures and settlements, and their vulnerabilities.
  • Working Group III (WGIII) looks at mitigation methods, exploring how we can implement them – technical feasibility, costs, and prerequisites.
  • The Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (TFI) looks specifically at measuring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for each country, such as developing methods and software that everyone can agree upon.
  • The IPCC Task Groups are set up to deal with specific issues at the time. The number of Task Groups varies depending on what specific issues the IPCC wants to address [3]. 

There are three different types of reports published by the IPCC:

1. The IPCC Assessment Reports

The main reports produced by the IPCC are the Assessment Reports (AR) which are produced by the Working Groups. ARs are very long documents and cite many publications. Helpfully, all reports have a Summary for Policymakers (SPM) which outlines the key findings for each section of the report.

The ARs are produced regularly. Five ARs have been published to date: FAR (1990), SAR (1995), TAR (2002), AR4 (2007), and AR5 (2014). AR6 is expected to be finalised and published in 2022. See our article ‘Findings from the latest IPCC Assessment Report’ for the most recent information from the AR5 IPCC report.

These reports provide critical scientific evidence in the UNFCCC international negotiations on the climate crisis. 

2. The IPCC Special Reports

Other reports include Special Reports which look at specific issues related to the climate crisis that its member governments have agreed to be investigated. 

Examples of Special Reports include:

  1. The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, 2019 
  2. Climate Change and Land, 2019
  3. Global Warming of 1.5 °C, 2018
  4. Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, 2011

See our article ‘Findings from the latest IPCC Special Reports’ which outlines some of the key themes from the latest Special Reports published by the IPCC. 

3. The IPCC Methodology Reports 

Methodology Reports aim to help governments make GHG inventories [4].

The Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories main objective is to work on the Methodology Reports and to refine the methodology for calculating and reporting GHG emissions and removals. 


[1] IPCC, Principles Governing IPCC Work,(2013). Available at www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/09/ipcc-principles.pdf, (accessed 05/01/21)
[2] IPCC, Working Groups. Available at www.ipcc.ch/working-groups, (accessed 05/01/21)
[3] IPCC, IPCC Task Groups. Available at www.ipcc.ch/about/task-groups/, (accessed 05/01/21)
[4] IPCC, Reports. Available at www.ipcc.ch/reports/, (accessed 05/01/21)

[Featured Photo by IISD/ENB]
Categories Climate Science

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