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How to make a climate report

By Pat, 11 October 2013 News

Sunset over drought-affected landscape.

The latest IPCC report states that human impact on climate systems is clear.
Image: Thinkstock

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the first part of its latest report. It might not sound like a big deal – most of us have written a report at some point for school or work. Yet we aren’t talking any old paper. This study may impact the future wellbeing of planet Earth by providing information to help make decisions about how we respond to the challenges of climate change.

Established 25 years ago, the IPCC is the most prominent scientific body in climate science. As its name suggests, the IPCC is ‘intergovernmental’ – it isn’t run by one particular country. Instead, it currently has 195 countries as members of the organisation.

Unlike many scientific organisations, such as CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, the IPCC doesn’t conduct its own research. Instead, it collects information from a range of sources, such as peer-reviewed scientific papers produced by scientists from around the world. The IPCC assesses this evidence and produces reports, with considerable negotiation around the meaning and results of the science. The idea is to provide a big picture of what is happening on a global scale in regard to climate change, so governments can make decisions.

The IPCC are up to their Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), which is being released in four parts between September 2013 and November 2014. The first part provides an update on the physical science basis for climate change. It states, “human influence on the climate system is clear”. Such conclusions are not made lightly.

The process of making such a report is a long one, which takes years and involves hundreds of people. Firstly, experts are nominated to be authors. They form groups of 10–20 people to work on chapters relevant to their field. The working groups produce a draft, which is given to other experts for review. Necessary changes are made and another draft is produced. More experts are then consulted. The following draft, plus a summary of the content, is made available to experts and governments for comment.

After these comments are considered, a final draft is written. The authors meet, and go over the draft report and summary, to check the report is accurate. Parts may be rewritten slightly to ensure the language is clear and can’t be misinterpreted. Once this process is complete, the report is finally released.

As you can see, IPCC reports are the result of an intensive process. Important decisions about how to deal with climate change are made based on these reports. It’s a clear example of the complexity of scientific collaboration and the rigorous standards employed. More reports will be delivered next year on climate impacts and adaptation.

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