Landmark climate change report coming Friday
Every six years, the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) releases a massive and influential study detailing the state of Earth's climate. This Friday marks the release of the first IPCC report since 2001. To help preview this blockbuster study, I've asked climate expert Dr. Richard Rood to help out. Dr. Rood is a climate modeler and professor of Meteorology at the University of Michigan, and has authored nearly 100 scientific papers on climate change and meteorology. After today's guest appearance on my blog, Dr. Rood will be contributing a series of blogs on climate change that will appear in a new featured "Climate Change" blog. Take it away, ricky!
What is the IPCC?
On February 2, 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is scheduled to release the first of a series of reports that describe the current state of the Earth's climate, how it has changed, and how it is expected to change in the future. "Climate Change 2007" will be definitive and influential. Climate change touches every aspect of society, and there is already controversy associated with the release. This is the first of a series of blogs about climate and climate change; it discusses the process of development of these official assessments.
First, the IPCC is not a research organization, but relies upon research performed and reported by scientists from all over the world. This underlying research is based on observations and the development of testable propositions to determine cause and effect in the behavior of the observations. Sometimes the propositions can be tested with experiments, but more often climate scientists use models to predict the behavior of the observations. Therefore, like weather forecasting, the success or failure of model predictions reveal our level of understanding.
Part of the scientific process is the ability of independent researchers to investigate the observations and extract information. If their conclusions converge, then the independent nature of the investigations adds accountability to the process. That is, there are checks and balances which constantly challenge, check, and re-check the conclusions of individual scientists. The IPCC assesses this body of scientific literature; it is not just the research of the United States; it is the research of the world. It is research hardened by the competition of ideas and honed by the survival of the successful ideas.
The scientists who write the IPCC reports use exquisite rigor. The reports are written by experts drawn from around the world, selected to assure the representation of the members of the United Nations. Draft reports are then reviewed by experts who were not authors of the report. Then there is review by government officials involved in policy making. All told, there are more than 1000 contributing authors, and more than 2000 independent reviewers. All comments are considered in the revisions that lead to the production of the final document. The time commitment is enormous, and the result is a document which is based on the facts of observation and predictions which have been scrutinized to the highest level possible.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. Their home page is at http://www.ipcc.ch/.