The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, and a source of scientific information and technical guidance for Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), its Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement. The IPCC’s main activities are the preparation of:
- comprehensive Assessment Reports on climate change;
- practical guidance to assist Parties to the international climate change treaties prepare national greenhouse gas inventories; and
- Special Reports on various topics.
The IPCC does not undertake new research, but synthesises published and peer-reviewed literature to develop a comprehensive assessment of scientific understanding, which is published in IPCC Assessment Reports.
Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5˚C
The Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5°C was approved by the IPCC and released on Monday 8th October 2018 in Incheon, Republic of Korea. The report outlines the implications of limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C and possible pathways to meet these targets, their feasibility, costs and the benefits.
The 2015 Paris Agreement committed participants to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. As part of the Agreement, the UNFCCC Parties invited the IPCC to prepare a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways.
The report’s full name is Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emissions pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.
Four Australian experts were invited to the writing team for this Special Report:
- Dr Jatin Kala from Murdoch University
- Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland
- Professor Petra Tschakert from the University of Western Australia, and
- Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University.
Other Australian scientists were invited to contribute their expertise to the report, by filling knowledge gaps in particular areas. The report also drew on a large body of Australian research and literature.
The full report and its Summary for Policymakers are available on the IPCC website:
Sixth Assessment Report
The IPCC has started work on the preparation of its Sixth Assessment Report, which will provide an update of knowledge on the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change, its causes, potential impacts and response strategies. The Assessment Report will be broken down to three main topics, with each topic prepared by a separate Working Group:
- Physical Sciences;
- Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability; and
- Mitigation of Climate Change
The outlines for the Working Group contributions to the Sixth Assessment Report were approved by the IPCC at its 46th Session and are available on the IPCC website:
The Sixth Assessment Report will also include a Synthesis Report. These reports will be published in stages from 2021 to 2022.
Selection of authors for the Sixth Assessment Report
Australia is well represented in the Sixth Assessment Report author teams. The IPCC has invited 40 Australian experts to participate in the development of this report. A total of 721 experts from 90 countries were invited to take up author and editor roles. This is the largest appointment of experts during the current Assessment Report cycle.
Of the Australian experts selected, 38% are women, which is an increase from the last IPCC report, and 62% are new to IPCC author roles. A total of 13 Australians were selected to the Working Group on the Physical Sciences, 18 on Impacts, Adaption and Vulnerability and 9 on Mitigation of Climate Change. These experts will take up roles as Coordinating Lead Authors, Lead Authors and Review Editors for one of the three Working Group reports.
Procedures for preparing IPCC reports
The IPCC’s work is guided by a set of principles and procedures that govern all the main activities of the organisation. Experts are nominated by IPCC member governments and observer organisations. They are selected by the IPCC as authors and editors on the basis of their expertise and with the aim of reflecting a range of scientific, technical and socio-economic views and backgrounds. Author teams also include a mix of experts from different regions and developed and developing countries, to avoid bias towards any one country/group’s perspective.
IPCC reports are the product of multiple drafting and review processes to promote an objective, comprehensive and transparent assessment of current information. Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors are responsible for drafting the different chapters of the Reports and then revising them. The revisions take into account comments submitted during the review rounds. Draft reports are subject to scrutiny from IPCC member governments, observer organisations and registered experts through multiple reviews.
Teams of Review Editors support the author teams. This is to ensure all substantive comments are given appropriate consideration by the authors and that a genuine diversity in perspectives in the literature is reflected in the reports. IPCC member governments approve each report’s Summary for Policy Makers in a plenary session.
A detailed description of the IPCC writing and review process is contained in the ‘Procedures for the preparation, review, acceptance, adoption, approval and publication of IPCC reports’ which can be viewed on the IPCC website.
The Department of the Environment and Energy operates as the National Focal Point for IPCC activities and has the task of recommending Australian experts to fulfill author roles for these reports. Applications received by the National Focal Point that met the required selection criteria, were forwarded to the IPCC. A total of 112 candidates were recommended to the IPCC for AR6 author roles. The IPCC Bureau made the final decision on author teams for its reports.
A limited number of successful nominees will be granted a small amount of co-funding to support expenses when attending IPCC meetings. This co-funding is provided through the Department from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade International Climate Change Engagement program.
The IPCC will deliver three Special Reports early in the Sixth Assessment Report cycle, to inform the Assessment Reports. These reports will focus on:
- The impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways. This is in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development and the efforts to eradicate poverty. The outline of this report, titled Global warming of 1.5°C, was approved by the IPCC at its 44th Session and is available on the IPCC website:
- Climate change, oceans and the cryosphere. This report will include aspects such as sea level rise, impacts on coastal zones, coastal cities and infrastructure, low lying islands, reefs and socioeconomic impacts. Other topics to be addressed in this report include ocean acidification, extremes, abrupt changes and managing risks, potential mitigation options and the southern ocean region. The outline of the report was approved by the IPCC at its 45th Session and is available on the IPCC website:
- Climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. The outline of this report, titled ‘Climate Change and Land’ was approved by the IPCC at its 45th Session and is available on the IPCC website:
IPCC Assessment Reports and Special Reports undergo rigorous review processes to ensure they present an objective and complete assessment of current information. The drafting process of each reports has three review stages:
- review of the first-order draft (FOD) by scientific experts
- review of the second-order draft (SOD) by experts and governments
- government review of the final draft of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM).
Fifth Assessment Report
The IPCC published its Fifth Assessment report in stages across 2013 and 2014.
Working Group I (The physical science basis)
The Working Group I examines the physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change, including:
- detection and attribution of climate change
- changes in greenhouse gases and aerosols in the atmosphere
- observed changes in air, land and ocean temperatures, rainfall, glaciers and ice sheets, oceans and sea level
- historical and paleoclimatic perspective on climate change
- biogeochemistry, carbon cycle, gases and aerosols
- evaluation of climate models
- projections of future climate.
Working Group II (Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability)
Working Group II examines the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, potential impacts, and options for adaptation. In doing this, the Working Group examines the inter-relationship between vulnerability, adaptation and sustainable development:
- by sector (water resources, ecosystems, food and forests, coastal systems, industry, and human health)
- by region (Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, North America, Polar Regions, Small Islands).
Working Group III (Mitigation of climate change)
Working Group III examines (with both a near-term and long-term perspective) options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere. The Working Group does this by sector (energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry, waste management) and includes analysis of the costs and benefits of different approaches to mitigation, including consideration of the available instruments and policy measures.
Special Report on Extreme Events
In 2012 the IPCC released the Special Report for Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX report) which brings together the latest research on climate change and extreme events.
Key findings from the SREX report include:
- It is virtually certain that the world will experience a decrease in cold extremes and an increase in the frequency and magnitude of warm extremes over the 21st century.
- It is very likely that mean sea level rise will contribute to upward trends in extreme sea levels in the future.
- It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation will increase over many areas of the globe.
- Key findings from the SREX report for Australia include:
- Australia has already observed an increase in warm days and a decrease in cold days. This trend is projected to continue with large scale increases in the number of days over 35 degrees Celsius and 40 degrees Celsius and an increase in heatwave duration.
- Extreme rainfall events are projected to increase.
- Tropical cyclones are likely to become more intense and shift southwards; however the frequency of tropical cyclones could remain unchanged or even decrease.
- Since the 1950s there has been an observed increase in drought over the south west and south east of Australia with projections indicating this could continue.
- In south-east Australia, the frequency of very high and extreme fire danger days is expected to rise by 15-70 per cent by 2050. The fire season is expected to lengthen.
The most effective adaptation and disaster risk reduction actions for extreme events are those that offer development benefits in the relatively near term, as well as reductions in vulnerability over the longer term.