IPCC, or the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, delivers scientific reports on the state of our climate – and its new synthesis report is out now. It summarises three important publications from 2021/2022, on the physical science basis; on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and on mitigation of climate change.
Since the first publication in 1990, these reports have become so influential and widely acclaimed that in 2007, the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work. Everyone talks about the alarming findings, but who exactly is behind the science that the EU and others heed when designing climate policy?
Actually, thousands of experts from all around the world are involved – and some of them even work at the European Commission.
"The IPCC reports are written by a large and diverse community of scientists who decided to voluntarily give up their evenings, weekends and holidays to work on something they strongly believe in," says Alessandro Dosio, one of the lead authors of IPCC reports who works at the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the EU science hub. His colleague and another IPCC author, Giacomo Grassi, calls the drafting process "one of the most remarkable examples of global scientific cooperation ever."
With so many experts and so much data to analyse, it can be an intense and time-consuming exercise. Nadine Gobron, also from the JRC, who worked on the reports as a contributing author, underlines that "the work of IPCC was a very long process, so long that we had to update results for the last report several times!"
Science meets diplomacy
The IPCC reports are not just another set of reports provided by the scientific community. What makes them unique is that they "include summaries for policymakers that are approved, word by word, by all 195 government members of the IPCC – including the EU," says Philippe Tulkens, Head of Unit in the Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.
Philippe is the EU focal point to the IPCC, organising the review of the reports by Commission staff and leading the Commission delegation in the IPCC meetings. Once the review is over, the approval takes place in plenary sessions attended by delegations and authors from all over the world who work tirelessly for many days, long hours and even night shifts.
Maja Zenko Ulezic from the Commission’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, was part of the EU delegation too. For her, the discussions over the summaries were an exercise in diplomacy as much as science of climate change: "what surprised me the most was the incredible patience of the authors who put tremendous effort into explaining and adjusting the text to accommodate concerns of different delegations, while remaining true to the science in the underlying report."
How bullet-proof is the science?
First, the IPCC does not conduct any research. It assesses published science, which means the research itself is carried out independently.
What the IPCC does is to select, compile and organise, on this basis, comprehensive reports on the state of knowledge in climate science, with detailed references. "Behind every word and number there is a huge amount of scientific work," underlines Giacomo Grassi.
It is worth noting that roughly 10% of the scientific work, or over 4,500 publications quoted in the recent IPCC reports, comes from EU-funded research and innovation – a remarkable result that reflects the quality and relevance of projects receiving EU support across the Union.
A truly global perspective
Over the years, "the IPCC has grown from a western-driven organisation to a truly global and inclusive effort," says Frank Dentener, a lead author from the JRC. This certainly helps present the climate crisis as a global problem that concerns everyone. "It is a mistake to see local climate change separated from what is happening elsewhere," stresses Frank. "Nowadays more than ever we are all in the same boat."
Ultimately, the IPCC provides an international platform for experts and policymakers alike, where different interests and perspectives meet – and where a common stance on the climate crisis and climate action is forged. "We are all influenced by our own cultures and political views but we can, through the IPCC, come up with consensual messages that are strong and clear on the need to act urgently and transform our economies to prosper within the planetary boundaries," concludes Philippe Tulkens.
Hope for the future?
The reports do not stop at painting a dire picture of the state of our climate – they also offer solutions and affirm that there is still time to act.
It might be up to governments to take action in response to the findings, but many of the solutions recommended concern our lifestyle. “Very often people do not understand that their everyday choices make a real difference: how I travel to the workplace, which appliance I decide to buy, what is in my diet, all this matters,” says Paolo Bertoldi, another lead author from the JRC.
So why not start small, and start now? Science is with us on this, reminding us that each small step matters, and each actor, from governments to industry to individual citizens, has a role to play.
- Publication date
- 20 March 2023
- Directorate-General for Climate Action