Review IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

Published on: December 18, 2020

The IPCC is currently working on the new Sixth Assessment Report. Like with the five previous assessment reports, this report will be again a landmark publication for climate change research. In this blog post I want to tell about my experience with reviewing a previous IPCC report, for which I even was selected to become a contributing author.

About two years ago I found out that Working Group II of the IPCC was working on a new report called Climate Change and Land. The IPCC is divided over three working groups, from which Working Group II focuses on the impact, vulnerability, and adaptation to climate change. The Climate Change and Land report aimed at a deeper understanding of the impact of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems, including desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management and food security. My work focuses on the impact of climate change on soil erosion and adaptation through sustainable land management, which fits the objective of this report, so I was curious about the contents of the report.

IPCC Special Report Climate Change and Land

All IPCC reports are reviewed twice by both experts and governments. In the first round the First Order Draft is reviewed and in the second round the Second Order Draft, which is subsequently revised towards the Final Draft. The review rounds are open for any experts who do research on climate change, from the fundamental knowledge obtained from General Circulation Models to the impact and application of adaptation strategies in local case studies. When I found out about the report the IPCC was looking for experts to review the Second Order Draft. At first, mostly out of curiosity, I registered and within 10 minutes I got a confirmation that I was selected as an expert reviewer (I’m not sure if there is really a screening going with such a rapid response…).

IPCC reports tend to be very exhaustive, often encompassing more than thousand pages, which is pretty overwhelming. In the registration form you need to specify which chapter(s) you’re most interested in. However, you can download and review all chapters once you have been selected as an expert reviewer. Since my research is mostly related to Land Degradation, I downloaded only that chapter, which was already more than 150 pages. So where to start? By scanning the table of contents and searching for some keywords I found a sub-sub-sub-section related to the impact of climate change on soil erosion, which contained some familiar content and references. I mainly focused on that section and highlighted some of its the shortcomings. I also summarized some of the main findings from the related literature that I was aware of, hoping they could use the summary to improve the text.

The IPCC review process is critical for ensuring the assessment is scientifically rigorous, exhaustive, objective and transparent; broad participation in the IPCC review process is one of the core strengths of IPCC assessments.

About 4 months later I got an email from one of the Coordinating Lead Authors of the Land Degradation chapter thanking me for the “very insightful and constructive comment”. He asked me if I was willing to contribute to the chapter by revising the section I focused my review on. I was really surprised to get the email and, of course, I agreed to contribute to the chapter. He sent me the original text, which I revised mainly based on the comment I made from my review. Half a year later the report was published, including the chapter on Land Degradation with me as one of the contributing authors.

So back to 2020. The IPCC is again working on a report, this time it is the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), from which the contribution of Working Group II is called AR6 Climate Change 2021: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The review round of the Second Order Draft started on 4 December 2020 and will be open until 29 January 2021. The process is exactly the same as two years ago, so if you want to take part in the review you will have to register here and if you want to know more about the review process, click here.

I highly recommend all scientists working on climate change to take part in the review of this important report. The authors of the report are certainly highly qualified, but, of course, they cannot be experts on all related subjects. So to publish a report that includes the state-of-the-art of climate change research, it is essential that expert reviewers give their valuable input.