Climate Change

IPCC – science above all else…

Possible effects of global warming (projection 2050 – 2100) Possible effects of global warming (projection 2050 – 2100)
Projection of average global temperature according to the scenarios Projection of average global temperature according to the scenarios

Who are the scientists brought together under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and why do they have such authority? The panel of experts was created in 1988 as a joint initiative of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). For Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the WMO, this unconventional structure thrust itself into the global political arena ‘because scientific content has always taken precedence over everything else’.

It was on the initiative of the WMO, indisputably the most universal and cooperative global science network, that the IPCC was created two decades ago. When meteorologists first detected signs indicating that climate change caused by human activities was taking place, they decided to take regular stock of the latest observations and findings relating to this worrying develop - ment. They also started to create ever more elaborate models to determine what was likely to happen in the future.

The IPCC is not a research organisation, but rather a type of international ‘arena’ charged with the task, every five or six years, of presenting the ‘scientific basis’ for climate change in a language that can be understood by decision-makers and, more generally, by the public. ‘When this data has been shared, discussed and summarised by several thousand scientists, it is submitted to governmental representatives for validation. This approval of the facts by the public authorities gives considerable weight to the findings. No country on the planet doubts the conclusions of the latest report,’ remarks Michel Jarraud.

False political suspicions

This revision by national representatives has occasionally aroused criticism, particularly among ‘climate sceptics’, who have blamed the IPCC for being a ‘political’ organisation. ‘To begin with, some people thought the balance between science and politics would be difficult to maintain. However, this balance has been maintained in an extremely innovative, and ultimately very effective, way. And this is because scientific objectivity has always come first.’ (1) Moreover, criticism of the ‘politicisation’ of the IPCC has weakened as the scientific consensus has grown stronger. ‘Look at the trend in the reports. The first said that there were indications of climate change, the second reported a balance of evidence, the third declared that this change was probable and the latest said that it was most probable. It is clear today that natural variability can no longer explain the climatic signals.’

The concerns resulting from global warming are giving rise to new research needs, as well as data, within an increasingly multidisciplinary context. We need to study the atmosphere, the cryosphere (the frozen parts of the earth’s surface), the hydrosphere (rivers and oceans), the biosphere (all living organisms), etc. Researchers are asking the WMO for an increasing variety of observations, for example of trace greenhouse gases, volcanic particles, desert dust, etc.

If the possibilities offered by the watchful eye of satellites are growing in spectacular fashion, the irreplaceable observations on the ground are posing more problems. They can be incomplete, particularly in developing countries, as much because of the costs of the instruments as because of the running costs. Such is the case in significant areas of Africa, Asia and the Pacific islands. ‘One of the priorities of the WMO is to reinforce the capabilities of its members, particularly by emphasising to governments that a good network of observations is not an unproductive expense, but rather an extremely profitable investment. It should in fact be noted that 90 % of natural disasters have a meteo - rological or hydrological origin and that effective prevention is impossible without extremely precise observations.’

  1. All quotes from Michel Jarraud.