IEA Training Manual - Module 3

3.3.2 Case Study: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The IPCC was established in 1988 to assess available information on climate change. It was created jointly by two United Nations agencies—the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)—and now has the participation of national governments worldwide. As Agrawala (1997) has pointed out, there is considerable literature citing conclusions reached by the IPCC, but detailed analyses of the institution, its assessment process and outputs are very limited.

There was no formal “impact strategy” as such, but if we deconstruct the IPCC design and process, we can see how key elements of a strategy are reflected in the work of the IPCC.

Step 1: WHY. Impact statement: what did the IPCC want to see done as a result of its work?

IPCC would be the first “official,” systematic assessment of climate change at the international level in order to determine whether a global crisis was looming, and if so, to convince governments of the need to seriously consider a global response.

Step 2: WHO are the key actors, and how to build relationships with them

The IPCC chose to target senior government decision-makers and negotiators as the recipients of its findings. To gain their attention, careful selection was paid to who would make up the IPCC. According to Agrawala, the high profile nature of the IPCC First Assessment convinced many governments of the need to seriously negotiate a climate convention.

As the Global Environmental Assessment Project ( has shown, assessment processes are more likely to be effective in linking knowledge to action when the output of the process is perceived by the science and policy communities to be credible, salient and produced according to a legitimate process (so people perceive the process to be fair and representative of their interests). In terms of the IPCC process, credibility was achieved through the selection process for the authors, and through a peer review process. Relevance was achieved, in particular after the establishment of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), through close interaction between the IPCC and INC (Agrawala 1997) and after the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change through close interaction with the Subsidiary Body on Science and Technology Assessment (Miller 2005). Legitimacy was a particular concern during the earlier days of the IPCC, especially with regard to developing country participation issues, and action was taken to support the participation of experts from developing countries, especially after the first assessment round was completed.

Step 3: WHAT knowledge is to be gathered

Agrawala (1997) digs into the details of IPCC’s creation and the design choices made. Many of these choices were made when public and political attention to climate change was increasing (Figure 2). One major design choice made during this period included the scope of the proposed assessments. Why did the IPCC choose to do a comprehensive assessments of the science, impacts and responses. Agrawala suggests that since the IPCC was going to be the first “official,” systematic assessment of climate change at the international level, it made sense to investigate all aspects of the issue.

Step 4: HOW to reach key actors

Another important design decision was made in the early stages of the IPCC. In its first session in February 1989, the IPCC Bureau adopted a proposal by Working Group I to incorporate a 20-page “policy document” in its assessment, which would summarize the scientific results and place them into perspective. The Bureau then requested the other two Working Groups produce similar “policy documents.” These became the well known policy-maker summaries of IPCC Assessments.

Key messages:

In section 3.2.4 above, we noted the key message emerging from the IPCC: that the world is likely to see “a rate of increase of global mean temperature during the next century...that is greater than that seen over the past 10,000 years.”


Thus, although the IPCC has no “official” impact strategy, it offers several important lessons for impact strategies of assessment processes. It paid attention to the scope of the assessment, and chose a comprehensive rather than narrow approach, having weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the two. It incorporated policy-makers’ summaries as part of the process and the line by line negotiation of these summaries. Although this weakened the wording, it led to significant “buy in “from the policy community. Further steps to ensure credibility, saliency and legitimacy of outputs and processes meant the outputs of the IPCC process were effective in achieving political action.


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