Evolution of the IPCC

Being an intergovernmental organization under the auspices of the United Nations, the IPCC is governed by the same rules of procedure as other UN bodies.141 The major decision-making body - the plenum - is thus a highly political arena. While this body plays a key role in approving outlines of the assessments produced by the IPCC and the final summaries for policy makers, the development of the outline and the actual writing of the scientific reports are carried out in three different working groups.

Working Group I has had, from its start, a key task to provide assessments of the science of climate change, which has included discussions about the sources, concentrations, and the climate impacts of greenhouse gases; as well as observations of climate variability and change; and models predicting the potential effects of various emission scenarios. It was Working Group I that in the Second IPCC Assessment Report concluded that "The balance of evidence suggests a discernable human influence on global climate."142

The emphases of the other two groups have changed over time. Working Group II was initially responsible for assessing "environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change." For the Second Assessment Report, its mandate widened to include the technical and economic feasibility of potential adaptation and mitigation strategies. In the Third Assessment Report the focus was on vulnerabilities and adaptation in various sectors and regions and the implications of climate change for sustainable develop-ment.143 In the Third Assessment, the polar regions have their own chapter.

Working Group III initially had a mandate to formulate response strategies, but after the formation of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee and later the UNFCCC, its task was reformulated to assess the socioeconomic dimensions of climate change. In this context issues such as "no-regret" options and the "precautionary principle" have been discussed. In the Third Assessment Report, the focus was on mitigation in the context of sustainable development.

IPCC's work is governed by several explicit norms that have been negotiated and developed over time. They include balanced geographic representation, that assessments should be "comprehensive, objective, open and transparent," and that "IPCC Reports should be neutral with respect to policy." Consensus is another clear norm: "the Panel, its Working Groups and any Task Forces shall use all best endeavors to reach consen-sus."144 If consensus is not possible, there are special procedures for recording dissenting views. Although the norms of objectiveness and openness are similar to the norms within science, the goals of consensus and geographical representation attest to the political side of the IPCC. Siebenhuner also mentions several occasions where the science-policy-interface nature of the IPCC has prompted structural changes. In particular, he

141 Tora Skodvin, Structure and Agent in the Scientific Diplomacy of Climate Change. An Empirical Case Study of the Science Policy Interaction in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Dortrecht, Boston, London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), 106.

142 IPCC, Climate Change 1995. The Science of Climate Change. Summary for Policymakers, IPCC/UNEP/WMO, 1995); http://www.ipcc.ch/pub/sarsum1.htm point 4.

143 IPCC, 16 Years of Scientific Assessment in Support of the Climate Convention (Geneva: IPCC, 2004), 6, 8.

144 Principles Governing IPCC Work. Approved at the Fourteenth Session (Vienna 1-3 October 1998) and amended at the 21st Session (Vienna, 2 and 6-7 November 2003.)

mentions how political pressures and public scrutiny of the scientific conclusions have led to an evolution of the review procedures in order to safeguard IPCC's scientific credibility.145 Currently, there is a two-stage review process that involves both scientists and government representatives. Moreover, Biermann analyzed how the lack of legitimacy in the global South forced the IPCC to both find ways to involve more scientists from the South and to address issues that are important to southern countries. Southern scientists have also challenged how the IPCC initially framed key concerns in climate


The development of the IPCC illustrates that states have become important actors in assessing climate change, in addition to the scientific community that had been active earlier. It also shows how certain norms become highlighted in the political context. The norm of geographical representation is an example. This became important after the IPCC had been criticized for lacking perspectives from the global South.147 The drivers for knowledge production here become closely intertwined with the global discourse on equity and needs to ease global North-South tensions. It also illustrates an emerging critique against western science, as a source of universal knowledge, and globalism, as defined by western science, as a legitimate framing of environmental problems. In short, it questions the universality of science and its sole right to speak for nature and thus introduces political concerns into knowledge production.148 This can be placed in contrast to the promotion of scientific internationalism during the Cold-War period and illustrates how the North-South tensions in global politics, that started to come to the fore in the 1972 Stockholm Conference, also came to include knowledge production and framing of climate change. In the context of the IPCC, it became important to find norms, such as geographical representation, that could ensure the political legitimacy of the process without sacrificing credibility to the climate science community.

There is a reciprocal relationship between the IPCC and the UNFCCC. The first IPCC assessment and a supplementary report in 1992 played important roles in the initial negotiations for the Convention, and the second assessment in relation to the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol. Conferences of the Parties have also in agreements referred to the IPCC reports in relation to basing decisions on the latest scientific, technical and socioeconomic information. Nevertheless, at the first Conference of the Parties, the UNFCCC created its own unit for analyzing technical and scientific questions - the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). SBSTA uses the IPCC as one of its inputs but has also come with requests to the IPCC for in-depth reports on specific topics.149 One such request was a report to follow up on the focus on vulnerability at the global level in Working Group II's Second Assessment Report in

145 Bernd Siebenhüner, "How Do Scientific Assessments Learn? Part 1. Conceptual Framework and Case Study of the IPCC," Environmental Science & Policy 5, (2002): 411.

146 Biermann, "Whose Experts?"

147 Biermann, "Whose Experts?"

148 Clark A. Miller and Paul N. Edwards, "Introduction," in Changing the Atmosphere. Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance, eds. Clark A. Miller and Paul N. Edwards, 1-30 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 11.

149 IPCC, 16 Years of Scientific Assessment in Support of the Climate Convention 10.

1995 with a more regional approach. The result was a so-called Special Report published in 1997: Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability.150 This regionally focused assessment revealed a wide variation in vulnerability and has been described by the IPCC as an important step in its impact assessment process. For the Arctic, the human dimensions now appear, with a focus on the impact on communities and indigenous peoples that were not there in previous assessments. The Summary for Policymakers illustrates this new focus:

The Antarctic Peninsula and the Arctic are very vulnerable to projected climate change and its impacts. Although the number of people directly affected is relatively small, many native communities will face profound changes that impact on traditional lifestyles. Direct effects could include ecosystem shifts, sea- and riverice loss and permafrost thaw. Indirect effects could include feedbacks to the climate system such as further releases of greenhouse gases, changes in ocean circulation drivers, and increased temperature and higher precipitation with loss of ice, which could affect climate and sea level globally.151

As stated in the latter part of the quote, the relationship between the polar regions and the global climate system remains a major concern, with focus on ocean circulation and on feedbacks connected to ice dynamics. When IPCC presented its Third Assessment Report in 2001, the polar regions were granted their own chapter by Working Group II, where the analysis was developed further. In addition to topics on changes in the physical and biological environment, there is also a focus on the impact on human communities with discussions about indigenous peoples and economic activities, the latter including, oil- and gas extraction, building, transportation, pollution, fisheries, and reindeer husbandry. However, according to the then IPCC chair, Robert Watson, development, equity and sustainability were only dealt with at a superficial level in many instances. His conclusion is that a much broader community of scholars from social sciences and humanities needs to be engaged in the IPCC.152

The IPCC is currently in its fourth assessment cycle, with reports due in 2007. At the time of this writing this dissertation, only the summary for policymakers from Working Group I and II had been published.

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