The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme, and its establishment was endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution No. A/RES/43/53 which mandated:
“through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, immediately to initiate action leading, as soon as possible, to a comprehensive review and recommendations with respect to:
(a) The state of knowledge of the science of climate and climatic change;
(b) Programmes and studies on the social and economic impact of climate change, including global warming;
(c) Possible response strategies to delay, limit or mitigate the impact of adverse climate change;
(d) The identification and possible strengthening of relevant existing international legal instruments having a bearing on climate;
(e) Elements for inclusion in a possible future international convention on climate;”
The IPCC throughout its history has had a substantial impact in bringing to the doorstep of the public at large and policymakers in particular a series of scientific assessments on climate change, including special reports on specific aspects of the subject. Over the years the IPCC has evolved in a manner that ensures the best scientific expertise being harnessed to carry out its assessment activity and to receive the support and acceptance of governments across the world, such that the knowledge produced by this body can be applied directly in government decision making and policies.
For instance, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), currently under preparation, selected 831 authors from across the globe to carry out this mammoth task from a total of around 3000 outstanding experts nominated by governments and other organisations on the basis of their record of research on specific aspects of climate change.
The IPCC's rigorous approach
The IPCC relies entirely on published literature for carrying out its assessments, and as a result it is able to access knowledge which is studied in depth by the scientists who are leaders in each field of research covered by the outline prepared rigorously for each report. The process by which assessments are carried out involves an intensive system of peer reviews by a large number of experts as well as reviews by governments. To ensure that comments by reviewers get appropriate attention, every single comment which is produced as part of the review has to be addressed, and responses recorded indicating whether it has been accepted and if not then very clear reasons being recorded why the comment was not accepted.
The process, therefore, produces a thoroughly validated and peer reviewed product which at the end undergoes further intensive scrutiny. Each report produced by the IPCC has a Summary for Policymakers which has to be approved by the entire plenary, accepted literally word to word. This ensures that anything which goes into this vital document is subjected to intensive scrutiny, and has to be justified by the authors, often through the provision of direct scientific evidence drawn from the literature on which the report is based. Often, improvements in language also occur in this process, because since this is a document used largely by policymakers, government representatives are familiar with how a scientific finding is best expressed for getting the concept through to a policymaker who reads it.
Reaching a global cross-spectrum of society
The work of the IPCC has been used and disseminated by a whole range of stakeholders across the world, and hence during the history of this body it has been able to create a knowledge base among governments, industry, academia and civil society, which provides the foundation for action to deal with the growing challenge of climate change.
A scientific collaboration on a unique scale
It would be no exaggeration to state that of any collective scientific endeavor attempted across the world no parallel exists in informing and influencing policy anywhere in the world to the extent that the IPCC has. This statement would be valid for any stage of human history. Nor has there been such a massive scientific enterprise that has progressively informed human society through its assessments so effectively through persistent efforts lasting over a quarter century already.
The Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC, which came out in 2007 produced a set of profound scientific findings, which had a major impact on society across the world. Soon after this report was completed the IPCC was awarded and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former Vice President of the US, Al Gore.