Leading scientists pitch for annual IPCC reports to keep climate on the agenda

Corinne Le Quéré is among a group of authors proposing the IPCC publish updates on key climate indicators every year amid an “explosion” of scientific literature

A group of leading climate scientists is pitching for the UN climate science body to publish annual updates on the state of climate and climate action, to keep it in the headlines and on the political agenda.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the third installation of its sixth assessment on the causes, impacts and solutions to the climate crisis last week.

The three-part assessment paints a stark picture of human society’s “unequivocal” role in causing climate change, wreaking “increasingly irreversible losses” and putting the world on track to overshoot a 1.5C warming limit. It also sets out how, with the right policies, governments can substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions and meet global climate goals.

Science has a vital role to play in providing “evidence-based advice” and inform decisionmakers, Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia and a former IPCC author told a climate conference at the Royal Society in London, UK, on Monday.

Yet, these comprehensive assessments are published every six to seven years because of the time it takes to scope, assess and compile the scientific literature. The next one is not due until 2028 – too late for course correction in this critical decade for meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

“The IPCC comes and goes away for six, seven years and then comes back… that’s not helpful,” said Le Quéré. With the scientific literature “exploding”, she said, the IPCC has a role to play to fill that knowledge gap to 2028 ″.

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On average, 10 papers are published every day on the interaction between climate change and rainfall and two on the implications for wildfires, including weekends and bank holidays, Le Quéré told the meeting, suggesting that technologies such as machine learning will be needed to assess the literature for the next assessment round.

Established indicators such as the carbon budget, global mean temperatures, costs of solutions such as renewable technologies and batteries and assessments of climate impacts could be published without the need for a comprehensive literature review.

“I’m not suggesting there should be a full report every year but the IPCC could come back to say ‘here is where we are at’ every year,” she explained.

Le Quéré’s research focuses on the interaction of climate change and the carbon cycle, particularly in the oceans. She was an author of the third, fourth and fifth IPCC assessment reports and she instigated the annual publication of the Global Carbon Budget, which assesses emissions every year and what is left of the carbon budget for global temperature benchmarks.

While some established climate indicators, such as the carbon budget, are already updated annually by scientists, the process for doing so is “chaotic” and receives less media attention than the IPCC, she told Climate Home News.

As an advisor to the French and UK governments, Le Quéré hopes that annual updates to some of the key indicators for assessing climate change and society’s response to it will better inform policymakers of the trajectory the planet is headed. She is chair of France’s High Council on Climate and a member of the UK’s Climate Change Committee.

New technologies and digital platforms could also be used to share knowledge and help make the latest science more readily accessible. “I would love for the IPCC to move in that direction,” she said.

As an intergovernmental body, the IPCC would need a mandate from member states to produce annual reports.

Le Quéré and like-minded scientists are scoping out whether a country might sponsor the proposal at the Cop27 climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November or at the UN general assembly. “This is very early days,” she told Climate Home.

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