How IPCC Reports are Written (it’s quite a process!)

IPCC Plenary Session in 2014. Image: IISD


In anticipation of the IPCC’s new Special Report on Climate Change and Land we’re taking a look into the IPCC and how its scientists write their reports. Yesterday we explained the IPCC’s history and structure and today we’ll explain how their reports are written and the rigor behind them.

The Basics: As Scientific American explained, “Lead authors (LAs) of the report are nominated by governments, with selection based on evidence of active participation in relevant research, and taking into consideration the need for balanced views as well as geographic, gender and age balance. IPCC rules are clear that the content of the chapters is at all times controlled by the LAs. They are asked to assess the relevant peer-reviewed literature and to provide a balanced summary of the present state of scientific knowledge and uncertainty.”

How the Authors Are Selected: The IPCC has said of this process that “the selection of authors is a careful process that aims to reflect the range of scientific, technical and socio-economic expertise and to strike a good balance in terms of gender, geographical representation, and representation of experts from developing countries, developed countries and those with economies in transition. It is also important to have a mixture of authors with and without previous experience in the IPCC.”

The Writing Process: The Conversation in their explainer of the IPCC wrote that “each part of the report goes through three stages of drafting and review by experts and governments. All review comments and the responses from the authors on how they addressed the comments are made public. This review process is more open and comprehensive than for any other scientific publication or assessment, including the peer-reviewed science publications on which the reports are based.

  • The reports are required to present policy-relevant information, but it must be presented in a policy-neutral manner, so there are no recommendations in any IPCC assessment.

Types of Reports: The IPCC prepares comprehensive Assessment Reports about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for reducing the rate at which climate change is taking place. The IPCC also produces Special Reports on specific topics agreed by its member governments (which is what Thursday’s report will be), as well as Methodology Reports that provide practical guidelines for the preparation of greenhouse gas inventories.

Approving the Report: Assessment Reports, Special Reports, and Synthesis Report include a Summary for Policymakers that is prepared by the authors and approved line by line by a Plenary Session of the IPCC with the delegates in dialogue with the authors.

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