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When the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization launched the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, few people anticipated just how effective and influential its work would become.

Everyone agrees that environmental policy must be based on sound science. Prudent policy choices must be rooted in rigorous, careful and balanced analyses of the best scientific and technical information.

The IPCC has shown the way, developing a process that engages hundreds of the world’s leading experts in reviewing the most up-to-date, peer-reviewed literature on the scientific and technical aspects of climate change. The IPCC integrates its assessments into a policy-relevant format universally accepted as a basis for decision-making by the 185 member governments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The IPCC’s three-volume Third Assessment Report was finalized in early 2001. Its message is clear: intensive climate research and monitoring gives scientists much greater confidence in their understanding of the causes and consequences of global warming. The Assessment presents a compelling snapshot of what the earth will probably look like in the late 21st century, when a global warming of 1.4 – 5.8˚C (2.5 – 10.4˚F) will influence weather patterns, water resources, the cycling of the seasons, ecosystems, extreme climate events, and much more. Even greater changes are expected in the more distant future.

The international community is working together to minimize these risks through the 1992 Convention and its 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Undoubtedly the most complex and ambitious agreements on environment and sustainable development ever adopted, the climate change treaties set out the principles, institutions, and rules for addressing global warming. They establish a regime that is dynamic and action-oriented. At the same time, it is flexible enough to evolve over the coming decades in response to changes in the political landscape and in scientific understanding.

With this global process now in place, governments need to move forward quickly to design and carry out their national climate change policies. The IPCC Assessment confirms that well-designed, market-oriented policies can reduce emissions and the costs of adapting to the unavoidable impacts of climate change while simultaneously generating significant economic benefits. These benefits include more cost-effective energy systems, more rapid technological innovation, reduced expenditures on inappropriate subsidies, and more efficient markets. Cutting emissions can also reduce damage from local environmental problems, including the health effects of air pollution.

The IPCC and the Climate Change Convention both demonstrate that the peoples of the world can tackle global problems together by collaborating through the United Nations system. The fact sheets in this information kit seek to summarize in simple language the most up-to-date findings of the IPCC and the most recent developments under the Convention and Protocol. We hope you find them useful in your own work.

Klaus Töpfer
Executive Director
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Joke Waller Hunter
Executive Secretary
Climate Change Secretariat (UNFCCC)