Key meeting in Montreal shapes the “most ambitious program” of IPCC

The 46th session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change closed on Sunday (Sept. 10) in Montreal. Hosted by the government of Canada, the meeting succeeded in delivering the outline of IPCC’s next comprehensive scientific assessment of climate change, the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).

According to IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee, the agreed outline of AR6 is a “big milestone” for the UN panel, as it sets the roadmap for the three working groups contributing to the assessment report for the next five years. The panel can now start to select and nominate authors and contributors. The IPCC has three working groups: Working Group I, dealing with the physical science basis of climate change; Working Group II, dealing with impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Working Group III, dealing with the mitigation of climate change. The three working contributions will be released in 2021 and the AR6 Synthesis Report in April 2022.

Moreover, the panel is already working on three special reports and one methodology report to be released in the next few years. The first special report has been required by the UNFCCC and it will inform world’s governments about the implications of 1.5°C warming. Due to be finalized in September 2018, the report will assess “the impacts of global warming of 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty”.  The Methodology Report, entitled “2019 Refinement to the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories”, will be delivered in May 2019.  In September 2019 the IPCC will finalize two other Special Reports, focusing on oceans and the cryosphere and on desertification, land degradation and sustainable land management.

The upcoming cycle of the AR6 aims to further incorporate tools and topics in order to make the climate assessment more effective and policy-relevant. These include for instance a focus on options on how to accelerate transition and how to align IPCC cycles with the UNFCCC and its global stocktake, more insight on risks and vulnerabilities within the work of WGII, dedicated space to social aspect of mitigation in the chapter of WGIII, more information relevant for specific regions (such as the Arctic). The panel also revised the communication strategy for AR6 to ensure strong scientific base but also to make it accessible for non-specialists. To this end, communication specialists will be involved in the production of the report from the beginning.

In the press conference held on Sunday, Hoesung Lee said this is “the most ambitious work programme undertaken by IPCC”.

Challenges arise also on the financial front and were discussed at the meeting in Montreal. The IPCC’s Ad Hoc Task Group on Finance highlighted that “the IPCC has embarked on its most ambitious assessment cycle to date in a situation marked by major financial constraint and lack of resources”. In its Report on the Financial Stability of the IPCC, the task group explained that “a relatively narrow donor base leaves IPCC vulnerable to sudden changes in funding” and “the fact that the IPCC for many years could rely on savings accrued during earlier times encouraged it to tolerate a slowly deteriorating financial position that has now been brought to a head”.

The IPCC activity is funded through voluntary contributions on an annual basis from member governments and organizations. In 2016 the United States of America was the top contributor to the IPCC, providing approximately 44 per cent of the total funding. A further 25 per cent (over CHF 150,000) was provided by other top six contributors: Australia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan and UNFCCC.

IPCC financial board highlighs a steady decline in the number of contributors since 2008 and in the total amount of contributions since 2010, mainly due to the global financial crisis in 2007-2008. In the worst case scenario, the report says, the IPCC would face a funding gap in 2018 of approximately 5.7 million and without an increase of the income it will not be able to implement its programme of work.

At the end of the meeting in Montreal, IPCC secretary Abdallah Mokssit announced that the government of Canada have decided to double its contribution for the upcoming cycle and other countries, including developing countries, offered the possibility to increase their contributions, or to start contributing for the first time. The IPCC has not been notified yet about whether the United States will provide any funding for the next cycle.

With voluntary contributions from governments and organizations remaining essential for the road ahead, the IPCC has established a task force for resource mobilizations strategy to plan further ways of fundraising.

(Image: IPCC experts before the press conference, Sept. 2017, Montreal, Canada. Photo credit: IPCC Twitter)