The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is set to release its Synthesis Report on Monday, drawing on all six reports from the current cycle. IPCC reports have become clearer in their statements, leaving no room for disputing human-caused warming and the need for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Looking back over the past 33 years of IPCC reports demonstrates how our understanding of climate change has improved, with the evidence for human-caused climate change now unequivocal. Despite this recognition and the increasingly concerning IPCC reports, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. The current cycle has been challenging, but scientists have increased their commitment to working with governments to provide clear and robust information. Calls have been made for future IPCC reports to more efficiently assess rapidly changing areas of science and cut across working groups. By the time the next IPCC reports are released, global climate action may have finally started to move the world onto a more sustainable path.
What to Expect from the Final UN Climate Report?
On Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release the Synthesis Report, the latest United Nations climate report. The IPCC, comprised of 195 member countries, is responsible for producing objective and comprehensive assessments of the scientific evidence for climate change.
The report will detail how greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming, the resulting consequences, and the efforts to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change. The IPCC has gathered evidence from around the world to achieve a consensus among hundreds of scientists.
The IPCC has been producing reports since 1988, and this is the sixth round of reports. However, this is a critical moment since the opportunity to limit warming and prevent dangerous climate change is decreasing.
What is the IPCC?
The IPCC is a group of 195 member countries charged with producing objective and comprehensive assessments of the scientific evidence for climate change. The IPCC process also provides a framework for the scientific community to organize and coordinate their efforts.
The IPCC reports help identify the key messages from tens of thousands of new peer-reviewed scientific studies on climate change published every year. The reports also help make better decisions by using this information to understand climate change and its impacts.
Each reporting cycle is matched with an international scientific effort to test the reliability of current climate models. Multiple possible scenarios are tested to determine how confident we are in the climate change impacts expected in the future.
The World Economic Forum considers climate action failure as the number one risk on a global scale over the next decade. Several other top-ten global risks, including extreme weather, biodiversity loss, human environment damage, and natural resource crises, are made worse by climate change.
Governments, industries, and communities are becoming increasingly aware of the need to tackle climate change. As predictions become reality, the scientific effort to understand the causes, effects, and solutions of climate change is growing.
What to Expect from the Latest IPCC Report?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces reports that are co-produced between scientists and governments. This ensures that the reports are true to the scientific evidence while highlighting key information that governments need.
The Synthesis Report, the latest IPCC report to be released on Monday, draws on all six reports released in the current cycle. It includes three “working group reports” on the physical science basis of climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability mitigation. Three special reports covering focused topics, including global warming of 1.5 degree Celsius, climate change and land, and the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate, were also released.
IPCC reports have become clearer than ever in their headline statements. There is no room for disputing human-caused warming and the need for urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, this decade. The report is expected to have similarly strong and clear headlines.
How Have IPCC Reports Changed Over Time?
Looking back over the past 33 years of IPCC reports demonstrates how our understanding of climate change has improved. The first report in 1990 stated that “the unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect from observations is not likely for more than a decade.” In 2021, the equivalent assessment states that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
In some cases, the pace of change has exceeded expectations. For example, in 1990, West Antarctica was a region of concern, but not expected to lose major amounts of ice in the next century. However, by 2019, observations show glaciers in West Antarctica retreating rapidly, contributing to an accelerating rise in global sea level.
There are also emerging concerns for the stability of parts of the East Antarctic ice sheet, once thought to be protected from human-caused climate warming.
This tendency for IPCC assessments to understate the scientific evidence demonstrates that climate science is often accused of being alarmist. However, in fact, the production of IPCC reports by consensus with governments means that statements in the report summaries are justified by multiple lines of scientific evidence. This can lag behind current climate science discoveries.
What’s Next for IPCC Reports?
Plans are already underway for the next assessment cycle of the IPCC, set to begin in July this year. The next round of reports is expected to be produced in time to inform the Global Stocktake in 2028, where progress towards the Paris Agreement will be assessed.
The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Cycle
The current sixth assessment cycle of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been challenging. Scientists have increased their commitment to working with governments to provide clear and robust information, despite the added difficulties of writing and approving reports during a global pandemic.
In addition to the usual three working group reports, this cycle included three special reports. The evidence for human-caused climate change is now unequivocal, and calls for future IPCC reports to more efficiently assess rapidly changing areas of science and cut across working groups have been made.
Despite recognizing climate change as a significant global problem more than three decades ago and increasingly concerning IPCC reports, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. However, there is hope that the next IPCC reports will be released at a time when global climate action has started moving the world onto a more sustainable path. Only time will tell, but policymakers must stand with science on the right side of history.
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