The Problem of Global Warming - The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Problem of Global Warming - The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Human Society has accepted that its action on the planet is the cause of numerous changes in natural systems and in those that it has established itself, to provide its subsistence. However, even when the existence of changes in the environmental environment is generally accepted, there are differences of opinion regarding the future effects of these changes and the potential irreversibility of the changes generated by the impacts of human activity on said systems.

These different opinions result from the way in which the so-called Global Change is analyzed, which integrates effects such as: loss of biodiversity; loss of stratospheric ozone; global warming; desertification, and its interconnections. Furthermore, the impacts of changes depend on the social and economic interests, and the cultural approaches of the affected parties. It is not for nothing that there are developed countries and regions, others in development and, unfortunately, less developed areas on which the impacts of this trend towards change are already being felt with generally serious effects.

We have been able to observe that extreme events have had more severe effects, particularly in terms of loss of human life, in less developed countries (e.g. the impacts of recent hurricanes in Central America and the United States). These differential impacts will most likely continue to be so, as expected with respect to sea level rise in different regions of the world, particularly in island states.

Faced with this situation, it is important to emphasize that the effects of the different components of global change are integrated. Thus, the changes derived from global warming on the ecosystems and their biological diversity are simultaneously affected by the increase in ultraviolet radiation, the concomitant changes in the availability of water resources and the exacerbation of pollution on the earth's surface (for example, an increase in surface ozone).

Added to them are the factors that derive from the pressures of an explosively growing population and, in developing regions, those resulting from inappropriate infrastructure and financing, and those due to the lack and / or lack of application of appropriate technologies to face the consequences of the changes. Such situations result in unsustainable development conditions, which are often aggravated by the negative effects of the recognized lack of equity in actions between countries.

The major environmental and economic disasters of the 1970s - particularly the food and water crises - that affected different parts of the world were initially considered regional problems.

The 1980s, by prioritizing the effects derived from the loss of stratospheric ozone and by showing such critical decreases as those that gave rise to the so-called Antarctic ozone hole ", globalized these impacts, and made it clear that they are the consequence of Human activities It was then that the dichotomy between science and politics was fully recognized in developed countries and actions began to coordinate the results of scientific work with political decisions.

A first approach to the need to coordinate scientific evidence with decision-making arises from the "World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security", convened by the World Meteorological Organization (June 27-30, 1988), in the University of Toronto (Canada). Its conclusions highlighted the need to face urgent solutions to the problem of polluting gas emissions into the atmosphere.

In this regard, the Conference highlighted that:

"Humanity is conducting an unintended, globally diffusive and pervasive experiment, the ultimate consequences of which could rank second immediately behind those that would occur after a nuclear world war. The Earth's atmosphere is being modified with unprecedented rapidity by the pollutants resulting from human activity, the inefficient use and waste of fossil fuels, and the effects of rapid population growth in many regions. These changes represent a major danger to global security and are having damaging consequences in many parts of the world. globe "..." The best available predictions indicate potentially severe economic and social dislocations for present and future generations, this will worsen international tensions and increase the risks of conflict between and within nations. It is imperative to act now.

The Toronto Conference document also stated that:

"The developed industrialized countries of the world are the largest source of greenhouse gases and, therefore, assume before the world community the greater commitment to ensure the implementation of measures to face the issues arising from climate change ... "

International Action

Consideration of these issues of global concern, which had begun with the creation of the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development (UNCED, 1983), meant that, two months after the Toronto Conference, the General Assembly of The United Nations will initiate discussion of a draft proposal for Climate Protection for Present and Future Generations of Humanity. While the draft was being discussed, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, generally identified by its English acronym: IPCC.

Furthermore, the action initiated by the United Nations General Assembly was supported by the WMO, a specialized agency that convened the Second World Climate Conference (Geneva, 1990). This international meeting had the particularity of the political attaché, absent at the First World Climate Conference (Geneva l979). Thus, the Second Conference had scientific and technical sessions and ministerial sessions. The latter were attended by ministerial authorities from developed and developing countries, and non-governmental organizations from various regions of the world.

It should be noted that this World Conference was sponsored by WMO, UNESCO, FAO, UNEP and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), and allowed politicians and scientists to analyze the problem of global warming and define the initial responsibilities regarding this scourge, which, as appropriate, were assumed by developed countries. This situation made it possible to establish the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, on which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is based. Without canceling the common responsibility, which undoubtedly includes developing countries, developed countries, whose social and economic progress was made to the detriment of the planet's environmental quality, agreed to assume the costs of a possible repair of such global disasters, including derived from global warming.

As mentioned, given the urgency to define the causes and evaluate the effects of possible global warming, the scientific community had already established the so-called Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The WMO and the UNEP assigned to this exclusively scientific panel, the responsibility of carrying out the scientific evaluation and deciding on the need to deepen the knowledge on the causes and effects of a possible global warming, due to anthropic causes. This evaluation had to be done through the analysis of the existing bibliography, seeking to separate the natural causes of climate change from those caused by the so-called greenhouse gases (GHG), whose concentrations in the atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Era (near 1750) had increased, as far as carbon dioxide corresponded, by 35%.

As early as 1990, the IPCC had produced its First Assessment Report, covering, through the task of three working groups, the scientific assessment, impacts, and response strategies, with respect to climate change. The holding of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), led to the preparation of a complementary report aimed at providing updated references for the treatment of the draft convention that would constitute the so-called Framework Convention of the United Nations on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The growing recognition of the effects of global warming, both for its effects on various natural and managed systems (eg water resources and agriculture), and for its socio-economic implications, led the member countries of the Panel to decide on the implementation of a Second Evaluation Report, adjusting the terms of reference of the scientific groups. This new study, published in 1996, in addition to the analysis of the scientific aspects of the change, included the aspects of climate variability and the consideration of extreme events. The impacts were studied in relation to adaptation to change and mitigation of GEl emissions, and a study was carried out on the social and economic dimensions of climate change.

The approval of the UNFCCC and the needs of its constituent bodies - the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) - meant that the functions of the IPCC should be expanded to inform action and satisfy requirements of these bodies. Consequently, the Panel prepared a series of technical and special reports aimed at complying with such requirements and others that arose as a consequence of the elaboration of the convention protocol.

Preparation of the Third Assessment Report of the IPCC

Before the convening of the Third Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 3, Kyoto, 1997), the CSACT needed to have an assessment of the impacts of climate change by region. Consequently, it requested the Panel to prepare a Special Report on the Regional Impacts of Climate Change (IEIRCC) so that the Parties (countries) meeting in Kyoto would have reference elements that would allow modulating the actions that would derive from the adoption of a draft of protocol, which had been prepared by an ad hoc group (the Ad Hoc Group of the Berlin Mandate, created on the occasion of the First Conference of the Parties, Berlin, 1995).

Although known, this IEIRCC revealed a number of new priorities for the Panel. A good part of them arose from the evidence of the different hemispheric and regional effects of climate change. Others emerged from the scientific information requirements posed by the articles of the Kyoto Protocol.

In addition, the IPCC member countries, considering the independence of the Panel with respect to the Conference of the Parties and the Secretariat of the Convention -Assembly and Executive Body respectively- decided that the IPCC should broaden its objectives to coordinate its actions with those corresponding to the other world conventions -Convention on Biological Diversity, Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer and its Montreal Protocol, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, etc.- and to provide an appropriate human dimension to their studies in a relationship, not written but accepted, with the objectives of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

Simultaneously, new requirements emerged, originated by the UNFCCC, particularly derived from the need of the Parties to know the degree of certainty of the IPCC assessments regarding the impacts of climate change and the vulnerability of natural and managed systems and services, and for knowing the possibilities of adaptation and mitigation strategies and defining their social and economic impacts. These needs shaped the need for a new assessment that should be more complete than the previous two, given that, in addition to the global aspects of climate change, there was a need to assess regional effects and make the assessments include estimates on the certainty of the projections and were modulated according to the need for sustainable development, under conditions of equity.

Since the results of the proposed evaluations had to be compatible, the IPCC had to use standardized decision frameworks and cost methodologies, so that decision-makers, politicians and private parties, could make the necessary comparisons, particularly with regard to the definition of actions to prevent adverse effects, which occur during extreme events (floods, droughts, storms), and take advantage of the potential benefits of global warming (increase in effective precipitation, in favor of rainfed crops).

The XIII Meeting of the IPCC (Maldives Islands, 1997), recognizing the new needs resulting from the impacts of climate variability and change, particularly those of a social, economic and human nature, decided to give a new focus to its work. To do so, it restructured the Working Groups, keeping Working Group 1 in charge of the Scientific Aspects of Climate Change. Working Group II was assigned the task of evaluating Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change, while Working Group III was assigned the task of evaluating the various aspects of Climate Change Mitigation.

The three Working Groups have the responsibility of contributing to the evaluation of the new issues that are integrated and cross-sectionally in all the chapters of the Report, in terms of evaluating the certainty of climate projections and future integrated scenarios and their implications for Sustainable Development, with equity. For this, the Cost Methodologies and Decision Frameworks must be defined, which should be used, in a homogeneous manner, throughout the Third Assessment Report (TIE).

These new requirements were complemented by a series of scientific questions associated with relevant political issues, raised by the Parties to the UNFCCC, through the SBSTA. Among them it is appropriate to mention the following:

To the contribution of scientific, technical and socio-economic analysis in determining what constitutes dangerous anthropic interference with the climate system

A evidences, causes and consequences of changes in climate since the pre-industrial era.

Influenced by increasing concentrations of GHG and aerosols, at the global and regional scales.

Inertia and time scales associated with changes in the climate system, ecological systems and socioeconomic sectors, and their interactions.

A knowledge of the potential for, and the costs and benefits of, and the time frame for reducing Gel emissions.

To major discoveries and key uncertainties regarding the attribution of climate change.

These questions, and others derived from the scientific, technical, social, economic and human aspects of the effects of climate change, led the IPCC to decide on the incorporation of a Synthesis Report, which will be written in a politically neutral way, including questions such as those mentioned above, which are politically relevant but not politically restrictive. The Synthesis Report will focus on the environmental and socio-economic consequences of climate change and the way in which policies and measures, including market mechanisms, can be used to adapt or mitigate climate change in a cost-effective way. Each of the responses will be reported as quantitatively as possible, will discuss the supporting evidence for the findings presented and will contain a discussion of uncertainties and, where possible, will also include information on timing, decision frameworks and cost methodologies. .

This Synthesis Report will be developed based on the Reports of the three Working Groups and will be complemented with a Summary for Decision Makers derived from the same sources.

As has been the working methodology of the Panel, the Third Evaluation Report will include the pertinent information on the Technical and Special Reports, prepared based on the requirements of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and those resulting from its own groups. tasks, such as those related to the preparation of mitigation scenarios and the preparation of impact assessment scenarios. For its publication, it must be approved by the members of the Panel, in accordance with current procedures. The form of publication will be in volumes covering the conclusions of each Working Group and a volume for the Summary for Decision Makers, with the Synthesis Report and the answers to the relevant political questions.

In order to provide complete information on IPCC publications, an Annex is added with the list of all approved and published reports and also reports in development. @


List of IPCC Publications

Evaluation Reports.

  • First Assessment Report (FAR) 1990. Published in 3 volumes:
  • Working Group 1: Scientific Report
  • WG II: lmpacts Report
  • WG III: Strategies. 1992. Supplementary Report. Published in 2 volumes:
  • Climate Change 1992: Supplementary Scientific Report
  • Climate Change 1992: Impacts Assessment Second Assessment Report (SAR) 1996. Published in 3 volumes.
  • WG I: The Science of Climate Change
  • WG II: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change
  • WG III: Economic and Social Dimensions of Climate Change Third Assessment Report (TAR). To be published in 3 volumes in 2001.

Special Reports

  • Radiative Forcing of the Climate Change and Assessment of the IPCC 1992 emission scenarios (1994)
  • lPCC Technical Guidelines for Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations (1995)
  • IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (1997-Second Edition)
  • Aviation and the Global Atmosphere (1999)

Special Reports in Preparation

  • Methodological and technical lssues in Technology Transfer (publication year 2000)
  • Emission Scenarios (publication year 2000)
  • Land Use, Land Use Changes and Forestry (publication year 2001)

In addition, the Panel has published a series of Technical Reports, based on the conclusions of the Evaluation Reports, and is carrying out studies for the development of guidelines for the preparation of Scenarios for Impact Evaluation.

(*) Dr Osvaldo E. Canziani is Co-Chair of Working Group II of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). It belongs to the IEIMA (Institute for Studies and Research on the Environment) and the FEU (Universal Ecological Foundation).

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