To create the IPCC climate report, 234 scientists analyzed 14,000+ research papers.
This week, hundreds from all over the globe are finishing a report on the state of the climate. It’s huge. All industries and governments use it to assess the risks ahead.
Who are these scientists, and what is the process of assessing their work?
Be prepared for some acronyms. We will be discussing the IPCC report and some terms that you might hear when it is released on August 9, 2021.
What is the IPCC?
IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s the United Nations’ climate-science-focused organization. It has been in existence since 1988 and currently has 195 members.
The IPCC publishes a report every seven years, basically a “statement of the climate.” It summarizes the latest peer-reviewed research about climate change, its effects, and how to adapt to it.
These reports are intended to give everyone, especially governing bodies, the information they need to make critical decisions about climate change. The IPCC provides governments with a CliffsNotes version containing thousands of papers on climate change science, risks, economics, and other aspects.
Two important points are worth mentioning:
- The IPCC reports do not contain any political content. Each country that is a member of the IPCC can nominate scientists for participation in the writing process. The process also involves a rigorous and transparent review.
- The IPCC does not tell governments what they should do. Its goal is to provide the latest knowledge on climate change, its future risks, and options for reducing the rate of warming.
What makes this report so important?
The last extensive IPCC assessment was released in 2013. Eight years can bring about a lot of change.
Computer speed and climate modeling have significantly improved, and scientists are learning more about the Earth’s climate system. Scientists also understand how specific regions and individuals worldwide are changing and becoming more vulnerable to climate change.
Where is the research done?
The IPCC does not conduct climate science research. It summarizes the work of others. It’s a ridiculously impressive research paper.
The upcoming report was authored by 234 scientists nominated by IPCC member governments around the world. These scientists are world-renowned experts in climate and Earth science.
This report – the first of four that make up the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report – looks at the physical science behind climate change and its impacts. It alone will contain over 14,000 citations to existing research. The scientists looked at all of the climate-science-related studies published through January 31, 2021.
These scientists aren’t paid for their time or effort but volunteered to review the 14,000+ papers. Instead, you can access their shorter chapters that summarize the scientific consensus on topics such as extreme weather and regional changes in sea level rise.
The IPCC is also transparent about its review process, and that process is extensive. The drafts of the report can be shared with scientists and governments for their comments. The 234 authors must address more than 75,000 comments before the information is published.
The government’s input on more extensive reports like the one released August 9, 2021, is limited to comments on drafts. However, governments have a more decisive say in the shorter summary for policymakers that accompanies these reports. They have to agree by consensus and typically get into detailed negotiations on the wording.
What do RCPs and SSPs mean?
Everyone wants to know what the future will look like as climate change impacts.
Scientists use computer models to simulate the Earth’s climate to get a glimpse into that future. Scientists can use these models to ask: What happens if the planet heats up by a certain amount? What happens if the world heats up less than this or more? What would the consequences be?
To help us understand the future, the IPCC uses a variety of scenarios. Here are some acronyms.
Each climate model works differently and produces different results. However, if 20 climate models are used with the same assumptions regarding the amount of warming and have the same results, it is possible to be reasonably confident.
Climate modelers use RCPs (or representative concentration pathways) and SSPs (or shared socioeconomic paths).
Four RCPs were the focus of the future-looking climate modeling studies incorporated into the 2013 report. These ranged from RCP2.6, which shows a dramatic reduction in global fossil fuel emission and the world warms only a little, up to RCP8.5, where fossil fuel emissions are unlimited, and the planet heats up quite a bit.
This time around, climate modelers are using SSPs. The SSPs are different from the RCPs, which only focus on the trajectories of greenhouse gas emissions. They also consider socioeconomic factors and how difficult it will become to adapt to or mitigate climate change. This, in turn, affects greenhouse gas emissions. The five SSPs differ in what the world might look like in terms of global demographics, equity, education, access to health, consumption, diet, fossil fuel use, and geopolitics.
Why should you care?
Take a look around. Look around. 2021 has seen deadly extreme weather events worldwide, including extensive wildfires, extreme heat, excessive rain, flash flooding, and even extreme drought. These events are more frequent in a warmer world.
It’s warming. It’s us. We’re sure. It’s terrible. But we can fix it.” That’s how sustainability scientist and Lund University Professor Kimberly Nicholas puts it.
The upcoming report won’t paint a positive picture. Climate change is a threat multiplier that adds to other environmental and social problems at the global, regional, and national levels.
Read the report to learn more about the primary sources of climate change-causing greenhouse gases. Individuals can reduce their carbon emissions by driving less, using more energy-efficient lightbulbs, and changing their food choices. But also understand that 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions. This requires that governments take immediate action.
Stephanie Spera, Assistant Professor of Geography and the Environment, University of Richmond
The Conversation republished this article under Creative Commons. You can read the original article.