The IPCC Assessment Report and What it Means
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) dropped their sixth assessment report last month and it doesn't pull the punches. The report has come to the harsh conclusion that, indeed, mankind is "unequivocally" to blame for emissions causing an increase in global temperature. This increase in temperature is contributing to a rise in "extreme climate events, including heat waves, heavy rainfall, and droughts." And, clocking in at over 4,000 pages with 14,000 individual citations and inputs from over 800 authors, it has an overwhelming amount of stats and data to back up this huge statement.
But, what is the IPCC? Why should we care about their assessment?
What is the IPCC?
The IPCC was established in 1988 under the United Nations in an attempt to asses "the scientific, technical, an socioeconomic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change." It's been tasked with sifting through thousands of scientific reports, be they geographic-based, longitudinal in design, or even future-driven, to find the general, overall BIG ANSWER to the BIG QUESTION of climate change: What is causing it?
Segmented into three separate working groups, the panel is able to focus their efforts. Working Group 1 outlined the physical science basis of climate change, or the nuts and bolts of what the reports were seeing in terms of temperature, carbon levels, etc. Working Group 2 went into the consequences for human and natural systems as they adapt (or fail to adapt) to the changes in the environment, or how vulnerable they might be. Working Group 3 delved into possible solutions to slow the warming trend, and possible economic issues related to the solutions.
What Goes into Making the Assessment Report
So what's the makeup of these groups? Who's in them? Well, mainly scientists, industry representatives, and non-governmental experts who are fully into the fields they are researching. There are some support technical workers and administrative staff to help these groups, but primarily, it's people nose-deep in the weeds of the topic. Over the months leading into years, a tremendous amount of data and research is pored over with the culmination of the project turning into first drafts from each working group (helmed by a lead author or co-authors). These drafts are submitted to several drafts of scientific review, to make sure that it holds up to scrutiny. Normally, a scientific journal article is reviewed by only a few experts. These drafts are scrutinized by hundreds of scientists with thousands of suggestions and comments. Making it one of the most reviewed scientific documents in history.
But, the report's not done, yet! Once the working groups come to an agreement of their assessment report, it then goes into a revision for a much shorter (and to be honest, a much more easy to understand) summary for policymakers. This is what world leaders are (most likely) going to read. Over 2,000 reviewers oversee the process of simplification to make sure the gist isn't lost and that the scientific integrity is solid. Once these reviews are made and there is an overwhelming consensus of the document, it is then made public.
What are the Influences of the IPCC Report?
The first report issued in 1990 (only two years after being called into action), with subsequent assessments coming out in 1996, 2001, 2007, 2013, and now in 2021. In the second report, it stated "the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate." This was HUGE news as this newly formed, international organization said what was always the fear, that humanity was causing climate change. It concluded that burning fossil fuels, certain land-use practices, and other activities done by mankind increased the concentration of greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide). This report led to the Kyoto Protocols in 1997. This was a big deal because it was one of the first global agreements focused on limiting these emissions.
And, with each subsequent IPCC assessment report, each government has been given fresh, new information that directs their own environmental policy. With every country receiving the same details and suggestions, it leads to a more global endeavor, as the recent Paris Accords can demonstrate.
So these reports are reviewed and incorporated into governmental policy, leading, hopefully, to a joint effort globally. This effort should not be carried by only the G7, but every nation, all nations -rich, poor, developed, and underdeveloped - to do their part to tackled the emission problem. These reports show that we are, all of us, united in this struggle. We all have skin in this game.
Statements like "the human influence on the climate system is clear" and "human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years" show that as more and more data is reviewed and more and more journals are ingested in the scientific community, the answers are becoming more and more clear that, YES, humanity is responsible for the tremendous changes in the climate over the recent years. It's just a matter of following through, as one big giant global team.