IPCC work on seventh climate assessment threatened by shorter timelines | Explained

IPCC work on seventh climate assessment threatened by shorter timelines | Explained


Established in 1988, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been bringing out climate change assessment reports on a periodic basis. So far, it has produced six assessment reports, three special reports, as well as methodology reports that provide guidelines for estimating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removal.

Three reports from the sixth assessment cycle (AR6) of the IPCC were published during 2021-2022, and the synthesis report came out in early 2023. These reports – prepared by scientists from the 195 countries that are part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) – delve into the physical science; the consequences, adaptation, and vulnerability; and the climate mitigation aspects of climate change. 

Over the years, the IPCC reports have substantiated the fact that the world is much warmer now and that humans have played a crucial role in this warming.

The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) clearly warned that the time to limit the rise of the world’s average surface temperature to 1.5 degrees C from the pre-industrial era – as agreed to in the Paris Agreement – is running out and that we are close to breaching adaptation limits, particularly in developing countries.

The AR6 also suggested some options and strategies to slow warming (by cutting down emissions through mitigation), and to adapt and build resilience in natural systems (such as forests and wetlands), in human-made systems (farmland), and in communities that depend on these climate-sensitive systems.

After the publication of the AR6 synthesis report, the IPCC initiated its seventh cycle (AR7) by nominating and electing an IPCC Bureau, which represents the developed and developing countries and ensures gender balance (women need to make 40% of the Bureau).

Meeting in Turkey

In January 2024, members of the Bureau met for the first time in Turkey to discuss budgeting issues, timelines for publication of reports, types of reports, and essentially the work programme. They also discussed the vision for AR7, which is centred around policy relevance, inclusivity, and collaboration with similar efforts for biodiversity – such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Before this meeting, the co-chairs and rapporteurs of the Informal Group on Lessons Learned put together a paper that consolidated the findings of the AR6 cycle and the submissions (or views) of 66 of the 195 member countries. The paper also addressed the types of reports, the need for special reports, and the value of ‘full assessment reports’, as well as stated that the large amount of time required to put these reports together could  burden its authors (the experts).

The paper also emphasised an important recommendation by member countries: “ensure adequate input from the IPCC is available for the second global stocktake to be concluded in 2028, either as a contribution from the assessment reports, topical [special reports], or as a specific dedicated product”.

This paper, along with a report entitled ‘Options for the Programme of Work in the Seventh Assessment Cycle’ – which discussed options for publication, including ways in which the reports could be clustered for production of any special or additional reports, and their pros and cons – fed into the discussions in Turkey. 

Global stocktake and the AR7 cycle

The central goal of the Paris Agreement is to hold “the increase in the global average [surface] temperature to well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels” and make efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels”. To assess the world’s progress towards this goal, the U.N. FCCC countries conduct a ‘global stocktake’ (GST) once every 5 years. 

The GST is a mechanism for all stakeholders to measure their collective progress, identify gaps, and chart a better course of climate action, so that together they realise the Paris Agreement goals.

The first GST started in 2022 and ended at the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the U.N. FCCC, in December 2023. The first GST text that the member countries agreed to at the COP28 in Dubai last year requests the IPCC to consider ways in which its work can be aligned with subsequent stocktakes, so that it provides relevant and timely information.

The second GST is due in 2028 and submissions so far from member countries have requested the IPCC to publish its AR7 assessment reports before the stocktake. This way, the submissions have said, the countries can measure their progress against the state of the planet (as established by the IPCC assessment reports).

What will the AR7 cycle produce?

At the Turkey meet, the Bureau reached an agreement on producing three categories of reports: the full assessment and synthesis reports, methodology reports, and a special report.

The full assessment reports – which nearly all the member countries have expressed interest in – will include reports from three Working Groups (as in the previous assessment cycles) plus a synthesis report. This decision considered aspects like the time available for significant new literature to be published, the time required to run coupled climate models (which describe different components of the climate system and the interactions between them), the time to engage with under-represented communities, and the stress imposed on the IPCC technical support unit and the authors.

The methodology reports include one on short-lived climate forcers, such as black carbon and methane, and another on carbon removal, including carbon capture and storage (CCS). The Bureau also decided to revise the technical guidelines on impacts and adaptation. It was India’s proposal, backed by Saudi Arabia, that led to the agreement on revising and publishing the technical guidelines along with the Working Group 2 report, but as a standalone product.

While countries suggested producing special reports spanning 28 topics that included tipping points, loss and damage, and adaptation, the Bureau eventually decided that it will produce only one special report on climate change and cities.

Timeline for reports

Several member countries also requested the Bureau to prepare and publish the assessment reports by 2028, to coincide with the GST. However, the Bureau couldn’t reach a consensus on the date of release of the full reports. This indecision stemmed partly from its past experience with authors and countries about the time required to review, finalise, and publish the approved reports. Each assessment report in the past has taken at least four years from start to finish.

Another aspect that impeded agreement among countries on a shortened AR7 cycle relates to concerns about the reports’ content and inclusivity. Countries expressed that a shortened cycle may compromise the content as not enough new scientific papers may be published in the given window and modelling efforts to understand the changes in climate to the full extent may also remain incomplete. Many member countries also stated that a constrained timeline would be a barrier to engaging with individuals and institutions in under-represented countries as they require more time for pre-scoping exercises, such as surveys and regional or sectoral meetings.

A shortened timeline would also offer very little time for (expert) authors from developing countries to contribute to these reports, as well as for governmental reviews.

A decision on the timeline with respect to the assessment reports is pending and will be taken at the 61st session of the IPCC. However, the special report on climate change and cities and the methodology report on short-lived climate forcers will be published in 2027.

Indu K. Murthy is a Principal Research Scientist heading the Climate, Environment and Sustainability Sector at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), a research-based think tank.



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