The release of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began in autumn 2013 and will continue through autumn of 2014. Following a period of six to seven years since the previous report (2007), the latest scientific findings on climate change will be released. Furthermore, in October 2013 the IPCC Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (TFI) completed and released two Methodology Reports on estimation and reporting methods for greenhouse gas emissions and removals. This month we will ask Kiyoto Tanabe, Head of the Technical Support Unit (TSU) of the IPCC TFI, based at IGES, about the nature of the IPCC and the role this organisation plays in addressing environmental issues.

--- What type of organisation is the IPCC, and what is unique about it?


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The organisation assesses scientific, technical and socio-economic information related to the risks of human-induced climate change, its impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation measures. Although the IPCC is an international organisation, it does not maintain a large number of staff of its own. Rather, its activities are supported by the voluntary contributions of thousands of scientists from around the world.

The issue of climate change extends to a variety of fields, and the necessary expertise to assess these various disciplines is also wide-ranging. The IPCC has established three Working Groups to form the networks of experts required for each field in order to encompass all aspects of the climate change issue. Working Group I (WGI) is in charge of the physical science basis and Working Group II (WGII) is in charge of assessing climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Likewise, Working Group III (WGIII) has charge of mitigation of climate change.

Additionally, the IPCC has set up the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories in order to develop and spread internationally agreed methods for estimating greenhouse gas emissions and removals. Other than the overall IPCC Secretariat (Geneva), each Working Group and the Task Force have their own functioning secretariats (called Technical Support Units, or TSUs). The TSU of TFI was established at IGES in 1999 based on the support of the Government of Japan, where it continues its activities with vigor to date.

One unique aspect of the IPCC worth special mentioning is that it is the first organisation in history to realise a mechanism on a global scale by which scientists cooperate to provide advice for policy deliberation. Moreover, in order to carry out comprehensive and efficient assessment of the climate change issue, which requires expertise in varied fields, a network of experts has been formed for each field and a TSU established for each as well. This type of decentralised governance could also be called unique.

--- For many years, climate change has been a topic of international negotiations, particularly within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. What role have the reports of the IPCC played in these negotiations?


There are several types of IPCC reports.
The "Assessment Report" compiles the latest scientific findings covering the overall issue of climate change, and is prepared once every 5-7 years by the three Working Groups. The First Assessment Report released in 1990 contributed to the conclusion of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Second Assessment Report released in 1995, wielded influence on the Kyoto Protocol agreement. The IPCC Assessment Reports have played a major role in international negotiations on climate change, particularly for the UNFCCC, by providing a scientific basis for debate on policy. Preparation and release of the latest Fifth Assessment Report(*1) is taking place right now. This report is expected to be an indispensable asset to debate on a post-2020 long-term international framework under the UNFCCC.

"Special Reports" address specific issues related to climate change, and in most cases are prepared to respond to a need for scientific advice that arise within international negotiations. Recently prepared reports include the "Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation" (2011) and the "Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation" (2011).


"Methodology Reports" prepared by TFI have also played an important role in international negotiations and the development of climate change countermeasures. The most representative of the Methodology Reports is the "IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories(*2)" that sets forth a common methodology for all countries to estimate and report their greenhouse gas emissions and removals. This report is the foundation for the Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, TFI also prepares Methodology Reports that respond to specific needs arising within international negotiations. For instance, last autumn a Methodology Report was prepared and released on wetlands (in particular peatland)(*3), which are commanding attention as a major emission source of greenhouse gases, in response to a request by Parties to the UNFCCC. Also, a Methodology Report on estimation and reporting methods for emissions and removals related to land use, land-use change and forestry for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (*4) was prepared and released in response to a request by Parties to the Kyoto Protocol.


--- Thank you very much.

  1. *1: The Fifth Assessment Report is to be released in stages, with the report on physical science basis by Working Group I approved and released in September 2013. Release of subsequent portions is expected in March for the report by Working Group II, April for the report by Working Group III, and October for the Synthesis Report.
  2. *2: The latest version was released in 2006.
  3. *3: "2013 Supplement to 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories: Wetlands (Wetlands Supplement)".
  4. *4: "2013 Revised Supplementary Methods and Good Practice Guidance Arising from the Kyoto Protocol (KP Supplement)".
About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES released "Top News on the Environment in Asia" on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, "Top News" collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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