The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities

By Mark Vardy, Michael Oppenheimer, Navroz K Dubash, Jessica O'Reilly, and Dale Jamieson
Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 42:55-75, 11 October 2017

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conducts policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive assessments of climate science. In this review, we engage with some of the key design features, achievements, and challenges that situate and characterize the IPCC as an intergovernmental organization that is tasked with producing global environmental assessments (GEAs). These include the process of working through consensus to assess and summarize climate science and the need to include knowledge from as many of the 195 IPCC nation-states as possible, despite the structural inequalities between developed and developing countries. To highlight salient features that are unique to the IPCC but that offer lessons for other organizations that conduct GEAs, we include case studies on the politics of climate denialism, the use of geoengineering in mitigation scenarios, and the links between adaptive capacity, adaptation, and global development. We conclude with a discussion of institutional reflexivity. We consider how the IPCC can model an ethical and participatory response to climate change by critically examining, and being transparent about, the relation between science and politics.