The reports of the IPCC are regularly mentioned when it comes to aligning European or global environmental objectives. Let's take a look back at the origin of this group of experts, its composition, its missions, and the findings of its latest report, published in April 2023.
What is the IPCC?
The acronym IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established in 1988 at the request of the G7 by two United Nations institutions, the WMO (World Meteorological Organization) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). Regularly over the past 30 years, during work cycles of 5 to 7 years, the group's objective has been to assess the state of knowledge regarding climate change and its impacts, provide information to decision-makers, and contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. Research conducted worldwide is evaluated and synthesized to establish consensus on the subject, which is then conveyed to the international community.
Who are the members of the IPCC?
The members of the IPCC are experts from 195 United Nations member states, encompassing nearly all countries recognized by the UN. These experts come from various fields of expertise such as climatology, meteorology, economics, etc., and they are appointed by the respective governments of each member country.
The group is organized into a bureau, three working groups, and a special team dedicated to national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventories:
Working Group I: This group evaluates the scientific aspects of climate change, including the physical science basis and the understanding of its causes and mechanisms.
Working Group II: This group assesses the vulnerability of natural and human systems to climate change, the impacts of climate change, and potential adaptation strategies.
Working Group III: This group focuses on mitigation strategies to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions and their effects on climate change.
The Bureau consists of 34 members elected in a plenary assembly. It includes the IPCC Chair, 3 Vice-Chairs, the bureaus of each working group, and the two co-chairs of the Special GHG Emissions Team. The IPCC has recently elected British professor Jim Skea as its head, who was also a co-chair of the Working Group III.
What are the missions of the IPCC?
The IPCC is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing climate data in order to provide a comprehensive summary of the most advanced knowledge regarding climate change.
During each 5 to 7-year cycle, the group must produce both general and specific assessment reports. Since its inception, the IPCC has published 6 assessment reports, as well as special reports focused on specific themes. The most recent three special reports have addressed the environmental impacts of a 1.5°C global warming on oceans, land, and the cryosphere (ice, snow, frozen ground) respectively. Climate scientists within the IPCC can also create methodological reports, particularly concerning the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as technical documents. The IPCC's conclusions are never intended to prescribe political choices.
States are involved in the final publication of assessment reports: the texts of the reports must be adopted line by line in plenary assembly by representatives of different governments.
A closer look at the IPCC's April 2023 Synthesis Report
In 2023, the IPCC released its 6th assessment report. This report examines the current state of the world, forthcoming climate changes, associated risks, as well as potential long-term and short-term responses. The report outlines the magnitude of changes that have already occurred and their global impacts across all sectors.
The reality and magnitude of climate change
The latest IPCC Synthesis Report highlights unprecedented changes that cannot be disregarded. Many of these changes are already irreversible. Among the most notable disruptions to the climate system are:
A global surface temperature increase of 1.1°C compared to the early 20th century.
Sea-level rise occurring at a faster rate in the last century than in the past 3000 years.
Ocean water warming at a quicker pace over a century than in the past 11,000 years.
Atmospheric CO2 concentration reaching an unparalleled record in the past 2 million years.
Human activities responsible for climate change
The 2023 IPCC report unequivocally confirms that human activities have caused climate warming, largely due to greenhouse gas emissions. The disruption of temperature balance and its consequences on biodiversity stem from three major anthropogenic activities:
Combustion of fossil fuels
Unsustainable energy use, land use changes, and shifts in consumption and production patterns continue to drive global greenhouse gas emissions upward.
Importance and inequity of environmental and societal consequences
The consequences of climate change are observable worldwide, manifested through:
Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events
Loss of biodiversity, leading to the extinction of numerous plant and animal species
Heightened health risks (food shortages, heatwaves, diseases)
Growing food insecurity in certain regions of the world
Widespread water scarcity affecting half of the global population annually
The IPCC report also highlights the inequality of peoples' exposure to the consequences of climate warming, with the least responsible countries for the change being the most vulnerable to its impacts. At both national and individual levels, it is the wealthiest who contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate scientists predict a continuation of the short-term climate warming process, with an increase of 1.5°C projected by no later than 2030. Subsequently, several scenarios are modeled by experts, contingent upon the environmental policies implemented to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Without a genuine political will to impose stricter climate regulations, a warming of 3.2°C by 2100 is looming, rendering many regions of the world uninhabitable for both humans and a majority of species.
According to the experts at the IPCC, current knowledge makes it possible to meet the challenge of limiting climate warming to 1.5°C, or even 2°C. Swift awareness of climate issues is necessary for governments to fully comprehend the urgency of substantial actions and profound transformations in our societal models.