The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the branch of the United Nations (UN) responsible for collecting, assessing and synthesizing all the research that goes into producing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) quinquennial world climate Assessment Reports. As such, the IPCC is the definitive and ¨ultimate" source of data and information governments and a wide variety of other organizations around the world rely on when negotiating the global climate change treaty and crafting and implementing strategies, policies and programs to mitigate and adapt to a rapidly warming climate, as well as help realize the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The IPCC has come under heaps of criticism from a variety of sources – ¨climate-change deniers¨ prominent among them. In no small part that's because the scientific climate research incorporated in them is edited and revised according to the particular, peculiar geopolitical agendas and priorities of the 195-odd nations that have signed the UN climate treaty.
Nevertheless, the IPCC and the work it has done, and continues to do, is historic and precedent-setting in magnitude. The IPCC is the broadest-based, and arguably most far-reaching, initiative in the history of science and international relations. This month the IPCC will elect a new executive board, and that opens the door to instituting reforms that can benefit the worldwide effort to respond to climate change, a group of experts from leading research organizations say.
The IPCC: New leaders, new approach?
In a policy paper published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) Science online magazine, climate change policy experts from such prominent research organizations as Harvard, Stanford, Fondazione Eni, the Mercator Research Institute, the Potsdam Institute of Climate Research and others say the election of new leadership is a prime opportunity to restructure and improve the IPCC's structure and processes so as to address criticism ad make them much more effective.
Its fragmented organizational and functional structure is one problem that the IPCC's new leaders could address, according to the report authors. Divided into working groups (WGs) focused on collecting and assessing scientific climate change research, adaptation and impacts and options to mitigate climate change, a more holistic, integrated approach would better serve governments as they work to develop and implement policies and programs, they contend.
Likewise, gaining a better understanding of the impacts of climate change, the sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and policy options at regional and national, as opposed to global, levels would likewise benefit UNFCCC members. Unfortunately, various governments have not been willing to accept, much less act on, more localized assessments and recommendations, the authors point out.
Prospective agreement on a new UN climate treaty at the annual UNFCCC Conference of Parties to take place in Paris in December could afford the IPCC and stakeholders two advantages, the report authors continue.
The IPCC: Improving structure and process
Firstly, worldwide educational outreach could be improved by incorporating the latest in case studies of policies, programs and projects that are proving to be effective. Secondly, empirical analysis and comparison of climate change policies pre- and post implementation is critical to building trust and credibility among IPCC member countries as conditions change, events develop and negotiations proceed, according to a report summary.
Tbe report authors also suggest that by increasing its focus on alternative policy options, the IPCC could help resolve differences among UNFCCC member governments, and the reticence of some to have their national policies subject to review and assessment by a multilateral organization.
Furthermore, the IPCC's new leadership could and should address ¨practical and procedural problems,¨ the report authors stated. Individual technical support units working from multiple geographic locations should be avoided so as to reduce the complications faced by management.
This would also reduce travel expenses and the time required for these research units to carry out the work they are tasked with, the report authors elaborated. "At the least," they wrote, ¨the IPCC should consider reducing the number and length of lead author meetings and making greater use of remote collaboration."
In addition, the IPCC's new leadership would be well served by instituting an effort to identify the key questions individual national policy makers have. Doing so would improve responsiveness to UNFCCC member nations' perceived needs and hence improve overall effectiveness. Adding a round of meetings during the actual process of writing UNFCCC Assessment Reports would help resolve differences among national representatives and governments and the relevance of the finished product, the report authors contend.
For more on this, check out the report summary on Science's website.
*Image credits: IPCC