UNEP’s history with climate change science dates from the late 1980s when UNEP helped to establish the IPCC with WMO to assess the scientific understanding of climate change in preparation for the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development. The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, closed the case on questions about human influence on our changing climate. For this and its other work over the past 20 years, the IPCC was the joint winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
With theWorld Glacier Monitoring Service, UNEP released the Global Glacier Changes: Facts and Figures report in 2008, presenting the latest data on fluctuations of glaciers and ice caps. The report confirms that the average annual melting rate of glaciers appears to have doubled since the turn of the millennium. As the trend continues, it is likely that glaciers – and their irreplaceable water supplies – will completely disappear from many mountain ranges in this century.
The UNEP Year Book 2009 presents an overview the most recent research on continuing ice-loss from ice sheets and glaciers, new predictions of accelerating sea level rise, the implications of declining rainforests for climate in the tropics, as well as the continuing controversy about the future trends for major tropical storms (regionally known as hurricanes, cyclones or typhoons) and monsoon seasons. It asks whether we are approaching tipping points in Earth systems that are influenced by climate change.
Information for decision making
With diverse collaborating partners, UNEP facilitates the development of better climate data and improved scientific methods and assessment tools for determining possible impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation needs related to long-term climate change and short-term increased variability. UNEP also helps track trends in emissions from industrialization, deforestation and the alteration of natural carbon sinks.
UNEP activities in improving the quality and reach of climate change science include the Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change (AIACC) project, developed with the IPCC and the Global Environment Facility, which has enhanced scientific understanding and the capacity of developing countries to assess climate change vulnerabilities, adaptation needs and development options, and to generate and disseminate relevant information for planning and action. The second phase of AIACC is under development with UNEP sponsorship.
UNEP supports the production of protected area, biodiversity and sequestered carbon overlay maps for site selection and monitoring by the UN programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). UNEP also supports REDD through baseline assessments related to ecosystem services, biodiversity, opportunity costs, socio-economic data, deforestation reference levels, and carbon stock analysis.
UNEP also provides scientific expertise to The Many Strong Voices Programme, which links people in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States in assessing climate change vulnerability, developing adaptation strategies and communicating the need for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.