IPCC in action: Part I

This is the first of two pieces on the recent IPCC workshop in Hawaii, This brought together independent researchers from all over the world to analyse computer model simulations of the last 150 years and to assess whether they are actually any good.

Guest commentary from Natassa Romanou (Columbia University)

During the first 3 days of March 2005, balmy downtown Honolulu in Hawaii was buzzing with agile scientists conversing, chatting, announcing, briefing and informing about IPCC assessment reports, climate models, model evaluations, climate sensitivities and feedbacks. These were the participants of the Climate Model Evaluation Project workshop (CMEP) and came here from most (if not all) the major, most prestigious climate research laboratories of the world, including; The US labs National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the British Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction, the German Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, the French Centre National de Recherches Meteorologiques and the IPSL/LMD/LSCE, the Australian CSIRO Atmospheric Research, the Chinese Institute of Atmospheric Physics, the Russian Institute for Numerical Mathematics and the Japanese Meteorological Research Institute. This meeting was sponsored by the benevolent NSF, NOAA, NASA and DOE.

Why all this hoopla? Well, because soon (as soon as December 2005) the leading authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (aka IPCC) Assessment Report #4 (AR4) will have to decide what the current knowledge in climate state, modeling and climate projection estimates is, so as to include it in the next report.

If you have not heard, IPCC was established by the World Meteorological Organization and UNEP to assess scientific, technical and socio- economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. To be exact, IPCC does not do the research. It only collects peer-reviewed publications, evaluates them through an expanded appraisal process and publishes it. How? The IPCC has three Working Groups and a Task Force. Working Group I (WGI) assesses the scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change , Working Group II (WGII) assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it and Working Group III (WGIII) assesses options for limiting greenhouse gas emissions and otherwise mitigating climate change. The Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories is responsible for the IPCC National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme.

A little bit of history: the First IPCC Assessment Report was published in 1991 and the Second Assessment Report (SAR), Climate Change 1995, became the background for the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Third Assessment Report (TAR), Climate Change 2001, still serves as a reference work for future assessments. Recently, IPCC agreed to complete its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007.

Obviously this is (and needs to be) a very formal and transparent process, open to the public at any stage and closely scrutinized by panels of expert scientists and relevant government employees and policy makers. The present AR4 -WGI process started back in April 2004 when the author teams of the report were selected and the Lead Authors first met in September in Italy to launch the composition of the “zero order draft” which was subsequently submitted to the Technical Support Unit (TSU) for an informal review by invited experts (mostly well-known scientists). In May 2005 the second Lead Author meeting will take place in China to consider comments on the zero order draft and initiate the first order draft writeup. This is why the scientists in Hawaii were ablaze; they have to hurry up and publish their results by the time the first order draft is …drafted.

Later in 2005, the first order draft which was looked at by the TSU must now become available to external reviewers. At this point any scientist in the world can ask to review and comment on the draft. The Third Lead Author meeting will be held in December of 2005 in New Zealand and it will consider comments on the first order draft and initiate the writing of the second order draft. By now all the researchers will have to have their work published in order to be included in the report (talking about tight schedule for our Hawaiian scientists).

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