Lost in Translation: Lessons from the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report


On 20 March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will present its Synthesis Report to its 6th Assessment Report. Our briefing highlights essential points of the underlying reports that will be crucial to creating a just and sustainable future in climate change.

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Brennendes Streichholzhaus

At its 58th Session from 13 to 17 March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will discuss the Synthesis Report, the concluding chapter of the 6th Assessment Report (AR6), in Interlaken, Switzerland. The synthesis report will bring together the findings of six reports compiled by the IPCC during the assessment cycle that began in 2015. These include three special reports (Global Warming of 1.5 °C; Climate Change and Land; and The Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate), as well as the reports of the three IPCC Working Groups (WGs): on the Physical Science Basis (WG I); on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (WG II); and on Mitigation of Climate Change (WG III).

During the meeting, government representatives negotiate the text of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the Synthesis Report (SYR) and the text of the report itself.

The AR6 synthesis report reflects the current, sound state of climate science. However, due to the government-led negotiation process, the text of the Summary for Policymakers in particular is also to be understood as a political document influenced by interests.

Taken together, all parts of the Sixth Assessment Report reflect an undeniable scientific consensus on the urgency of the climate crisis, its root causes and the irreversible damage that will occur if warming exceeds 1.5°C, even temporarily. The Sixth Assessment Report makes it clear that a rapid fossil fuel phase-out and roll-out of renewable energies alongside energy efficiency and demand side measures remain the clearest and most certain path to avoid overshoot. The IPCC also reaffirms the dangers of governments’ and industries’ reliance on the future availability of problematic technologies that are not proven at scale like carbon capture and storage (CCS), technological carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and other geoengineering approaches, while taking grossly insufficient action now to immediately, urgently, and drastically reduce emissions.

Since clear findings and warnings in the Summary for Policymakers are often obscured or watered down by the negotiation process, this brief by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation should help, balance the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC's Synthesis Report against the underlying AR6 reports, and highlight the findings that are important and essential to understanding the climate actions needed to prevent and minimise the risk of catastrophic overshoot impacts, and to shape a just and equitable path forward.

This brief draws on the two analyses published by CIEL and Heinrich Böll Foundation in 2022 on the IPCC Working Group II and III reports, and includes references to other reports of the Sixth Assessment Report Cycle and relevant additional scientific literature to support the interpretation of the AR6 synthesis report.


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