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Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 as a joint project of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The primary mission of the IPCC is to bring together the world's leading experts on the earth's climate to gather, assess, and disseminate scientific information about climate change, with a view to informing international and national policy makers. The IPCC has become the highest-profile and best-regarded international agency concerned with the climatic consequences of "greenhouse gases," such as carbon dioxide and methane , that are a byproduct of the combustion of fossil fuels . The IPCC is an organization that has been and continues to be at the center of a great deal of controversy.

The IPCC was established partly in response to Nobel Laureate Mario Molina's 1985 documentation of chemical processes which occur when human-made chemicals deplete the earth's atmospheric ozone shield. Ozone depletion is likely to result in increased levels of ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth's surface, producing a host of health, agricultural, and environmental problems. Molina's work helped to persuade most of the industrialized nations to ban chlorofluorocarbons and several other ozone-depleting chemicals. It also established a context in which national and international authorities began to pay serious attention to the global environmental consequences of atmospheric changes resulting from industrialization and reliance on fossil fuels.

Continuing to operate under the auspices of the United Nations and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the IPCC is organized into three working groups and a task force, and meets about once a year. The first group gathers scientific data and analyzes the functioning of the climate system with special attention to the detection of potential changes resulting from human activity. The second group's assignment is to assess the potential socioeconomic impacts and vulnerabilities associated with climate change. It is also charged with exploring options for humans to adapt to potential climate change. The third group focuses on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to stop or reduce climate change. The task force is charged with maintaining inventories of greenhouse emissions for all countries.

The IPCC has published its major findings in "Full Assessment" Reports, first issued in 1990 and 1995. The Tenth Session of the IPCC (Nairobi, 1994) directed that future full assessments should be prepared approximately every five years. The Third Assessment Report was entitled "Climate Change 2001". Special reports and technical papers are also published as the panel identifies issues.

The IPCC has drawn a great deal of criticism virtually from its inception. Massive amounts of money are at stake in policy decisions which might seek to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and much of the criticism directed at the IPCC tends to come from lobbying and research groups mostly funded by industries that either produce or use large quantities of fossil fuels. Thus, a lobbying group sponsored by energy, transportation , and manufacturing interests called the Global Climate Coalition attacked parts of the 1995 report as unscientific. At the core of the controversy was Chapter Eight of the report, "Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes". Although the IPCC was careful to hedge its conclusions in various ways, acknowledging difficulties in measurement, disagreements over methodologies for interpreting data, and general uncertainty about the conclusions of its findings, it nevertheless suggested a connection between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Not satisfied with such caveats, the Global Climate Coalition charged that the IPCC's conclusions had been presented as far less debatable than they actually were. This cast a cloud of uncertainty over the report, at least for some United States policymakers. However, other leaders took the report more seriously. The Second Assessment Report provided important input to the negotiations that led to the development of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, a treaty aimed at reducing the global output of greenhouse gases .

In the summer of 1996, results of new studies of the upper atmosphere were published which provided a great deal of indirect support for the IPCC's conclusions. Investigators found significant evidence of cooling in the upper atmosphere and warming in the lower atmosphere, with this effect being especially pronounced in the southern hemisphere. These findings confirmed the predictions of global warming models such as those employed by the IPCC.

Perhaps emboldened by this confirmation, but still facing a great deal of political opposition, the IPCC released an unequivocal statement about global warming and its causes in November 1996. The IPCC declared that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate". The statement made clear that a preponderance of evidence and a majority of scientific experts indicated that observable climate change was a result of human activity. The IPCC urged that all nations limit their use of fossil fuels and develop more energy-efficient technologies.

These conclusions and recommendations provoked considerable criticism from less-developed countries. Leaders of the less-industrialized areas of the world tend to view potential restrictions on the use of fossil fuels as unfair hindrance of their efforts to catch up with the United States and Western Europe in industry, transportation, economic infrastructure, and standards of living. The industrialized nations, they point out, were allowed to develop without any such restrictions and now account for the vast majority of the world's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These industrialized nations therefore should bear the brunt of any efforts to protect the global climate, substantially exempting the developing world from restrictions on the use of fossil fuels.

The IPCC's conclusions and recommendations have also drawn strong opposition from industry groups in the United States, such as the American Petroleum Institute, and conservative Republican politicians. These critics charge that the IPCC's new evidence is only fashionable but warmed-over theory, and that no one has yet proven conclusively that climate change is indeed related to human influence. In view of the likely massive economic impact of any aggressive program aimed at the reduction of emissions, there is no warrant for following the IPCC's dangerous and ill-considered advice. Under Republican leadership, Congress slashed funds for Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy programs concerned with global warming and its causes, as well as funds for researching alternative and cleaner sources of energy.

These funding cuts and the signals they sent created foreign relations problems for the Clinton Administration. The United States was unable to honor former President Bush's 1992 pledge (at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit) to reduce the country's emission of carbon dioxide and methane to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Indeed, owing in part to low oil prices and a strong domestic economy, the United States was consuming more energy and emitting more greenhouse gases than ever before by 2000.

In the summer of 2001, the IPCC released its strongest statement to date on the problem of global warming, in its Third Assessment Report. The report, "Climate Change 2001", provides further evidence for global warming and its causethe widescale burning of fossil fuels by humans. The report projects that global mean surface temperatures on earth will increase by 2.510.4°F (1.55.9°C) by the year 2100, unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced well below current levels. The report also notes that this warming trend will represent the fasting warming of the earth in 10,000 years, with possible dire consequences to human society and the environment .

In the early 2000s, the administration of President George W. Bush, a former oilman, was resistant to the ideas of global warming and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The administration strongly opposed the Kyoto Treaty and domestic pollution reduction laws, claiming such measures would cost jobs and reduce the standard of living, and that the scientific evidence was inconclusive. In June 2001, a National Academy of Science (NAS) panel reported to President Bush that the IPCC's studies on global warming were scientifically valid. In April 2002, with pressure from the oil industry, the Bush administration forced the removal of IPCC Chairman Robert Watson, an American atmospheric scientist who had been outspoken over the issue of climate change and the need for greenhouse gas reduction in industrialized countries.

The IPCC elected Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri as its next Chairman at its nineteenth session in Geneva. Dr. Pachauri, a citizen of India, is a well-known world-class expert in economics and technology, with a strong commitment to the IPCC process and to scientific integrity.

[Lawrence J. Biskowski and Douglas Dupler ]



McKibbin, Warwick J., and Peter Wilcoxen. Climate Change Policy After Kyoto: Blueprint for a Realistic Approach. Washington DC: The Brookings Institution Press, 2002.


McKibben, Bill. "Climate Change 2001: Third Assessment Report." New York Review of Books, July 5, 2001, 35.

Trenberth, Kevin E. "Stronger Evidence of Human Influences on Climate: The 2001 IPCC Assessment." Environment, May 2001, 8.


Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Home Page. [cited July 2002]. <>.

Union of Concerned Scientists Global Warming Web Page. [cited July 2002]. <http://www.ucsusa/warming>.

World Meteorological Organization Home Page. [cited July 2002]. <>.


IPCC Secretariat, C/O World Meteorological Organization, 7bis Avenue de la Paix, C.P. 2300, CH-1211, Geneva, Switzerland 41-22-730-8208, Fax: 41-22-730-8025, Email:, <>

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"Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)." Environmental Encyclopedia. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)." Environmental Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientific panel created (1988) by two United Nations organizations, the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. Open to all member nations in these two groups, the IPCC was established to gather, assess, and make available objective scientific, technical, and socioeconomic information on human-induced climate change. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the IPCC is governed by a general assembly. It does not conduct its own research, but, divided into three working groups and a task force, it gathers material on climate change from hundreds of scientists and other reputable experts, analyzing and summarizing it in periodic IPCC assessment reports. The panel also publishes special reports, methodology reports, technical papers, and supporting material. Its studies have affirmed that global warming has occurred and that humans are likely the dominant cause of global warming. In 2007 the IPCC and Albert Gore, Jr. shared the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their work to "disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundation for the measures that are needed to counteract such change."

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"Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 13, 2017).

"Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 13, 2017 from