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The IPCC And What It Does

written by: •edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/23/2009

The Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, or IPCC, is one of the most powerful forces in the climate change debate, both within the scientific community and amongst policy makers. Yet what is the IPCC, precisely, and what does it do amidst the global warming policy? Here's a debriefer.

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    When it comes to climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, or IPCC, is the authority on the matter. Yet what does the IPCC do, precisely? Here's an overview of the goals and functions of the IPCC, how it works, what it has accomplished, and what it has yet to do.

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    The Task of the IPCC

    In short, the task of the IPCC is analyze scientific information with regards to human induced climate change, the impacts of such human induced climate change, and possible options for adaptation and mitigation.

    Seem a little abstract? Well, essentially, the IPCC looks over the scientific literature out there, the most recent and thorough resarch related to climate change. They then analyze it to see how much of any climate change is possibly human induced, and any possible effects that this will have. Then, they try and figure out what can be done, either by adapting to these new changes, or by trying to lessen the effects of climate change.

    While it is scientific in nature, the IPCC does not carry out its own independent research. Instead, the committee of scientists and other specialists publishes a special peer- and government-reviewed meta assessment reports based on thousands of scientific reports from around the world on a variety of subjects related to climate. It attempts to carry no bias as in the scientific tradition, looking for the truth and only truth in a subject often laced with poor, end-based science and political hysteria.

    Thus, they look at both environmental considerations for the good of the planet, and the intertwining socioeconomic considerations for the good of the human race, making their research multidisciplinary and multifaceted—and multitasking. Both the politicians who make the policies and the scientists who do the research find the IPCC to be a valuable guiding light when it comes to climate change.

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    A History Of Science

    The IPCC was established in 1988 by two UN organizations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to answer rising concerns regarding climate change.

    Since then, the IPCC has published four separate reports: one in 1990 and its supplement in 1992, a second known as “SAR” in 1995, a third known as “TAR” in 2001, and a fourth known as “AR4” in 2007:

    That first assessement report deducted that at least half of the global warming effect was due to rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This authoritative conclusion, the metaresult of many independent scientific studies, led to the creation of the UN Framework Convention On Climate Change—another long acronym, UNFCCC. This treaty was an international aknowledgment of the possibility of climate change, which in turn later led to the creation of the famous Kyoto Protocol.

    The second assessment elaborated on the first report considerably, mostly due to the larger pool of scientific data available for the board to so analyze—and ended with the same conclusions. The third assessment followed this trend, right into the fourth assessment.

    Check out this link for both the long versions of the original assessement reports and the abridged versions. The abridged versions are highly recommended, being quite readable, and providing deep, valuable scientific insights into the reality of climate change—an area where fast and flimsy science is notorious for flying by many consumers.

    The IPCC has been successful enough in its efforts to clarify the mess of science and policy surrounding climate change that it was jointly awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, along with environmental advocate and former Vice President of the United States Al Gore.

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    Climate Controversy & Criticism

    The IPCC is not without its critics, however. They are divided largely into two camps. There are those who flat out disagree with its findings of global warming, which is a subject that relates more to climate change at large and so will not be addressed in this article. Then, there are those who disagree with the IPCC's practices in specifics.

    Because of its status as an intermediary between the scientific community and the political, it attracts considerable criticsm as either not being scientific or political enough, respectively. Politicians say that the IPCC is not sensitive to the politics of the situation, while scientists say that the truth of the matter, the real science of climate change, is being edited by the politicians. Policy makers tend to create a balmier picture of global warming, that is, a more conservative view that will change less and be less economically damaging, and many scientists resent that this ends-driven view is also represented in supposedly scientific reports. It's a difficult balance to strike, and many are unhappy with the IPCC's handling of it.

    Other scientists point out that, since the assessement reports take so long to construct, they are already out of date by the time they are published, not using the absolute latest in research. Others counter this by pointing out that the “latest” research has often not been appropriately peer reviewed and duplicated, and so is not really scientifically valid.

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    The Future of the IPCC

    With four authoritative assessments under its belt, the IPCC is hardly about to stop. It's already beginning to outline the 5th assessement report, due in 2014. In addition to answering much of the previously discussed criticism and controversy that surrounds both climate change debates in general and the IPCC assessment reports in particular, it will also include more direct input from independent scientists, with meetings already scheduled to gather in the near future to discuss what will happen next with climate change on this planet.