The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Many books have been written on the subject of climate change. Some are written by university professors teaching climatology. Others written by retired government administrators, science writers and newspaper men. One book was authored by a member of the U.S. Senate (Al Gore). Are there any trustworthy sources? What is the single most authoritative source for information on climate change and its relationship to human activities, as well as what we ought to do about it?

There is, in fact, such a trustworthy source: it is a body of working climate scientists known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was jointly established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program in 1988. The Panel established three working groups, whose tasks were 1) to assess available scientific information relevant to climate change, 2) to assess environmental and economic impacts of climate change, and 3) to formulate realistic response strategies for the management of the climate change issue.

The first report of the first working group was published in 1990. One hundred and seventy scientists from 25 countries contributed to the report and another 200 scientists were involved in reviewing the draft report before publication. The aim was to provide an authoritative statement of the views of the international scientific community. The list of contributors ended up being a kind of “Who's Who” in climate research. You can read more about the IPCC and its founder, Professor Bert Bolin, at: Global Change

The First IPCC Report
Here are some paraphrased scientific conclusions of the IPCC report published in 1990, which have held up very well over the past decade.:
The IPCC Third Assessment Report
There are two subsequent reports of the IPCC. The Second Assessment Report (SAR), published in 1995, came out with the often quoted conclusion that “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

The most recent Third Assessment Report (TAR) is being published this year (2001). The TAR is now the authoritative new benchmark of what we know about climate change . It represents an unprecedented consensus of hundreds of climate scientists from all over the world synthesizing what the global scientific community has learned in the past 5 years. The TAR was authored by more than 400 scientists and reviewed several times by approximately 2000 more. Compare the conclusions of the First Assessment Report to the paraphrased scientific conclusions of the IPCC Third Assessment Report published in 2001 below:

This chart shows the relative contribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) methane (CH4) chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide (N2O) to the total concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Currently, atmospheric concentrations of CH4, CFCs and N2O are small relative to other greenhouse gases. These compounds, however, have the potential to greatly impact global warming due to their potency and extremely long amount of time that they spend in the atmosphere. (From: IPCC, 1996)

This chart shows the relative contribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) methane (CH4) chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and nitrous oxide (N2O) and stratospheric ozone to amount of Global Warming. (From: World Resource Institute, 1996)