Belgian climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele is once again a candidate to head the IPCC, the UN body that provides scientific analysis on climate change. Its reports, which the panel has been working on since its inception in 1988, provide comprehensive and structured information on how global warming is accelerating.
The IPCC was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – the world’s environmental agency with programmes on climate, nature, pollution, sustainable development and more – and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the UN’s umbrella agency for weather, climate and water.
State of scientific knowledge
At its inception, the IPCC was mandated to report on the state of scientific knowledge concerning global climate change, its impacts and mitigation options.
The IPCC relies on hundreds of experts worldwide who work in universities, research centres, companies, environmental organisations and other institutions to carry out its work. It is these experts who evaluate peer-reviewed research on behalf of the IPCC.
They summarise their findings in reports that serve as reference tools for policymakers, scientists, students and other professionals. These reports, published every five to six years, have a major influence on the environmental policies of many governments. The latest report, the sixth, was published in 2021.
Each report follows a specific methodology. The authors compile the available knowledge and science into a draft report, followed by two rounds of comments.
In the first phase, scientists provide comments, criticisms and additional information. In the second phase, governments can ask experts and scientists to provide scientific, factual statements. The final report is produced after these two rounds, without any interference from politicians or policymakers.
Summaries for policymakers
Each IPCC report is accompanied by a Summary for Policymakers (SPM). Each statement must be consistent with and supported by the IPCC report and understandable and relevant to policymakers. In adopting the SPM, consensus on the text is sought among all country delegations.
The IPCC also publishes Assessment Reports, issued every few years since 1990, which provide a general overview of climate change. Special Reports on specific aspects of climate change, such as natural disasters, renewable energy or carbon storage, and Methodological Reports providing guidelines and explanations for member scientific institutions are also published.
The IPCC is an intergovernmental body with 195 member countries. It is supported by a secretariat at the WMO in Geneva. Since 6 October 2015, Hoesung Lee of South Korea has been the chair. He may soon be succeeded by Belgian climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, who is standing for election.