The proportion of female and global south authors of reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has risen over the past three decades – but still lags behind male and global-north authors – according to analysis by Carbon Brief.
Since its foundation in 1988, the IPCC has published six sets of “assessment reports”. These documents summarise the latest scientific evidence about human-caused climate change and are considered the most authoritative reports on the subject.
The IPCC has also produced a series of “special reports”, focusing on specific areas of climate change.
Carbon Brief has analysed the authors of all six sets of assessment reports, as well as the most recent five special reports.
The data shows that women and experts from the global south have gained greater representation in IPCC reports over time, but are still underrepresented compared to their male and global-north counterparts.
The IPCC’s first assessment report, published in 1990, had around 100 authors. The analysis shows that fewer than 10% of these authors were women and fewer than 20% came from institutions in the global south.
The first assessment report did not have a single female contributor to its Working Group I report on climate science.
In contrast, the latest assessment cycle – which sees its synthesis report published next week – boasts more than 700 authors in total, of whom more than 30% are women and more than 40% are from the global south.
Carbon Brief spoke to a wide range of IPCC authors and experts about their experiences in the organisation.
Many experts stress the time commitment required during their tenure at the IPCC, calling the work “intense”, “stressful” and “unsustainable”.
Experts also highlight the barriers they have faced or seen during their time in the IPCC – including language, gender discrimination, funding issues and cultural barriers.
“Strong, dominant, often male voices tend to take over,” an IPCC co-chair tells Carbon Brief.
“Unconscious biases are present even if you select the brightest scientists,” another co-chair tells Carbon Brief.
However, they also tell Carbon Brief about the improvements in diversity and awareness over the past three decades.
The head of the IPCC’s gender action team tells Carbon Brief about the advances made in gender equality, while IPCC bureau members explain how they consider diversity when choosing authors for their reports.
Below, Carbon Brief walks through its findings via a series of charts and maps. It also explores how the IPCC’s treatment of diversity has evolved since the organisation was created in 1988.
- What reports has the IPCC published?
- How has the IPCC’s gender balance changed over time?
- How has the IPCC’s geographic diversity changed over time?
- ‘IPCC dinosaurs’: Who has contributed the most to IPCC reports?
- The ‘black box’: How are IPCC authors chosen?
- How time-consuming are IPCC reports?
- What barriers do women face in the IPCC?
- What barriers do experts from the global south face in the IPCC?
What reports has the IPCC published?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been publishing the world’s most authoritative summaries of the state of climate science since its formation in 1988. Its reports – which often run thousands of pages in length – take years to produce and are used by policymakers, scientists and organisations around the world.
Every five-to-seven years, the body publishes a series of reports summarising the latest knowledge around climate change, made up of three “working groups”. These are themed around the science of climate change, its impacts and its solutions, respectively. For all except the first IPCC report, the body also produces a “synthesis report”, summarising key points from the three working group reports.
In addition, the IPCC has published 14 “special reports” focusing on more specific areas of climate change, which are linked to specific assessments – such as oceans and cryosphere, aviation or emission scenarios.
Carbon Brief has brought together data about the authors of all six assessment reports – including the three working groups and synthesis reports – as well as the five most recent special reports. This includes each author’s name, gender, country and institution.
The table below shows the number of authors in each of the IPCC reports included in this analysis. The different colours of shading indicate different assessment cycles.
|Report||Year published||Number of authors|
|Working group 1 (WG1)||Working group 2 (WG2)||Working group 3 (WG3)||Synthesis report (SYR)||Special report (SR)|
|First Assessment report (FAR)||1990||34||33||36||0||-|
|Second Assessment report (SAR)||1995||76||242||62||25||-|
|Third Assessment report (TAR)||2001||130||201||136||33||-|
|Fourth Assessment report (AR4)||2007||165||218||190||53||-|
|Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN).||2011||-||-||-||-||227|
|Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX)||2012||-||-||-||-||106|
|Fifth Assessment report (AR5)||2013-14||255||292||272||51||-|
|Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (SR15)||2018||-||-||-||-||91|
|Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC)||2019||-||-||-||-||104|
|Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL)||2019||-||-||-||-||107|
|Sixth Assessment report (AR6)||2021-23||233||262||228||65||-|
The two special reports published in 2011 and 2012 – the special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation (SRREN) and special report on extreme events (SREX) – are part of the fifth assessment report and are referred to as the SR5 reports in this analysis.
Meanwhile, the special report on 1.5C, special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate and special report on climate change and land – published over 2018-19 – are part of the sixth assessment report and are referred to collectively as SR6.
Around 100 authors worked together to write the first assessment report (FAR), which was published in 1990 – just two years after the IPCC was founded. Meanwhile, the sixth assessment cycle (AR6) of six reports took almost 1,000 authors and seven years to write.
Hundreds of experts have invested years of work into each of these reports, which pull together thousands of peer-reviewed studies and reports. Coordinating lead authors (CLA), lead authors (LA) and review editors (REs) work together to produce these reports. The IPCC website explains the difference between these roles:
“CLAs and LAs have collective responsibility for the contents of a chapter. CLAs are responsible for coordinating work on major sections of a report such as chapters. LAs are responsible for the production of designated sections of the report within a chapter on the basis of the best scientific, technical and socioeconomic information available.
“REs help identify expert reviewers, ensure that all substantive comments are afforded appropriate consideration and advise LAs on how to handle contentious or controversial issues.”
There are other roles in the IPCC that Carbon Brief has not included in this analysis. For example, each report also has hundreds of “contributing authors”, who are enlisted to provide specific knowledge or expertise in a given area but are too numerous to include in this analysis. The IPCC also has a “bureau” of experts including the vice and co-chairs, who have more managerial roles and are also not included in this work.
The full method for collecting and analysing this data is outlined at the end of this article.
How has the IPCC’s gender balance changed over time?
The IPCC’s first ever assessment report had around 100 of authors of whom only eight were women. Female representation in the IPCC has since steadily risen over time and by the publication of AR6 more than one-third of authors were female.
The plot below shows the gender balance of the IPCC reports. Each dot represents one person – with women shown in orange and men in purple. Where one author contributed to multiple working group reports in the same assessment cycle, these repeats have been removed. The orange line shows how the percentage of women in these reports has increased over time.
Breaking down each of the main assessment reports into its three different working groups and synthesis report shows a more nuanced picture, as shown below. (The graphic below does not show the special reports, as the writing process for these reports is not separated into working groups.)
Analysis of individual working groups shows that Working Group I (WG1) – which explores the physical science basis of climate change – is consistently more male-dominated than impacts-focused Working Group II (WG2). In fact, the first assessment report did not have a single female contributor to its WG1 report.
While there was no synthesis report in the first assessment report, the second synthesis report did not have a single female author. However, by AR6, women represented more than 40% of synthesis report authors.
Carbon Brief also tracked how female appointments to different roles within the authorship team have changed over time. The plot below shows the percentage of female CLAs (yellow), LAs (dark blue) and REs (light blue) for every report from AR4 onwards.
The plot shows that women are better represented across all three authorship roles today than they were 15 years ago. However, in most reports since AR4, there was a lower proportion of women in coordinating lead author roles than lead author roles, the analysis finds.
How has the IPCC’s geographic diversity changed over time?
More than 120 different countries are represented by the authors of IPCC reports. However, the spread of authors is not evenly distributed across the globe.
The map below shows the number of authors from each country, across all IPCC reports included in this analysis. The map on the top shows countries in the global north while the map on the bottom shows those in the global south. Darker colours indicate more authors.
The table below shows the total number of authors from each country:
|Trinidad and Tobago||10|
|Antigua and Barbuda||1|
|Papua New Guiney||1|
|United Kingdom, Netherlands||1|
|United Republic of Tanzania||1|
|Republic of Moldova||1|
|Papua New Guinea||1|
|United Arab Emirates||1|
Summing up over all of the IPCC reports in this analysis, the US and UK have the largest number of authors. Three of the top 10 countries are from Asia and one is from South America. However, the first African country in this ranking is not seen until South Africa – at number 18.
As with gender, the balance of experts from the global north and global south has improved over the past three decades. The number of authors from each continent over the six assessment cycles and five special reports are shown in the plot below.
Each dot represents one person – with experts from global south countries shown in red and global north countries in blue. Where one author contributed to multiple working group reports in the same assessment cycle, these repeats have been removed. The red line shows how the percentage of experts from the global south in these reports has increased over time.
Only around 20 countries were represented in the first assessment report and 11% of authors were from the global south. By 2023, with the publication of the AR6, 87 countries were represented and 38% of authors were from the global south.
A closer look at the contributions of different continents shows that the drop in global- north authorship is largely driven by a fall in representation from North America.
The plot below shows the changing proportion of experts from Europe (dark blue), Asia (red), North America (yellow), Latin America and the Caribbean (orange), Africa (purple) and Oceania (light blue) to the six main assessment cycles and five most recent assessment reports.
The percentage of authors from North America has been decreasing for the last three decades – largely driven by a drop in the dominance of authors from the US. Almost 30% of authors from the first assessment report came from the US, but this percentage dropped to around 10% by AR6.
Meanwhile, the percentage of authors from most other continents has remained constant or increased.
Carbon Brief also investigated the change in global south representation between the different working groups, as shown below. Special reports are not included in this graphic, as these are not separated into working groups.
WG1, which focuses on the physical science basis, consistently has the lowest representation of authors from the global south. Meanwhile WG3, which focuses on solutions, often has the largest global south representation.
‘IPCC dinosaurs’: Who has contributed to the most IPCC reports?
The IPCC brings together a range of early career and experienced researchers to write its assessment reports. Many of the authors of the most recent assessment report have worked on multiple IPCC cycles.
Dr Adam Standring is a postdoctoral researcher in environmental sociology at Orebro University in Sweden and has spent years studying diversity and processes in the IPCC, including interviewing dozens of IPCC authors. He jokingly referred to these veteran authors as “IPCC dinosaurs”.
The table below shows the top eight experts who have authored the most IPCC reports. There is a 50-50 split of experts from the global north and south, but only one of the experts identifies as female.
|Jose Antonio Marengo Orsini||Male||Brazil||8|
Born in Peru, Dr Jose Antonio Marengo Orsini completed his PhD in the US, before moving to Brazil for work. He has worked in roles including general coordinator of the Center for Earth System Science and head of the research and development sector of Brazil’s National Center for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Alerts.
He has worked on eight separate IPCC reports across CLA, LA and RE roles. However, his involvement in the IPCC began when he was invited to be a contributing author for the second assessment report. “I didn’t know what the IPCC was, but I liked what I saw,” he tells Carbon Brief. He adds:
“I really started to like the interaction and the emotion, because it’s not just work. We find new friends. We find old friends. We work together. We socialise.
“This is very heavy work, but it’s worth it…we get access to the latest information, the best papers and interaction with the best scientists in the field.”
He tells Carbon Brief that it is an “academic honour” to have worked with the IPCC.
Dr Keywan Riahi is the director of the Energy, Climate and Environment Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). He started working with the IPCC in the 1990s for the special report on emission scenarios which was published in the year 2000, and has since worked on eight WG3 reports, synthesis reports and special reports.
“It was very natural for me to join the writing team at that time since IIASA was spearheading the report,” Riahi tells Carbon Brief. Riahi has dual Iranian and Austrian nationality and says that “the multi-cultural background is helpful in the IPCC where it is essential to understand where other people with a completely different worldview are coming from”.
Orsini and Keywan are among the more than 350 entries in the database who have different listings for “country” and “citizenship”. The analysis of these shows that, in many instances, experts had a global south citizenship, but were affiliated with an institution in the global north and so had a global north country listed in the IPCC’s data.
Carbon Brief used the listing for “country” for the main part of this analysis – as citizenship data is only available in the more recent reports.
Analysing “citizenship” instead of “country” increases the percentage of authors from this sample with a global south affiliation from 23% to 38%. In total, fewer than 60 of the roughly 4,000 entries list both global north and global south countries, so this does not affect the overarching findings of the analysis.
Meanwhile, the table below shows the top 19 institutions most represented among IPCC authors. Four are in the US and three are in Asia – two in Japan and one in China. None of the top institutions are based in South America and only one is in Africa.
|Institution||Country||Number of authors|
|Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research||Germany||37|
|University of California||US||27|
|National Center for Atmospheric Research||US||27|
|University of Tokyo||Japan||26|
|Chinese Academy of Sciences||China||22|
|National Institute for Environmental Studies||Japan||21|
|University of Exeter||UK||20|
|University of Reading||UK||20|
|University of Cape Town||South Africa||19|
|Russian Academy of Science||Russia||19|
|University of Oxford||UK||18|
|Institute for Environment and Development||UK||18|
The ‘black box’: How are IPCC authors chosen?
The IPCC is an international organisation. As such, many experts interviewed by Carbon Brief stress that its outputs must reflect a diversity of research and opinions from around the world.
Standring tells Carbon Brief that the body is “legitimate” and “authoritative” in large part due to its international reach. He adds:
“The purpose of the IPCC is as much the process as it is the content. It is difficult to separate this idea of process and content because they both give it legitimacy – and an important part of that is diversity.”
For scientists to become IPCC authors, they must nominate themselves or be nominated by someone else to their country’s “national focal point”, which is often the country’s ministry of environment, climate change or meteorology. It is the focal point’s job to assess the applications and send a subset to the IPCC for their consideration.
However, Standring tells Carbon Brief that “not all selection processes are the same at the national level”. He adds:
“Some countries will just open up [the call for authors], publicise it to whichever institutions might be interested and then just collect the CVs… Some governments will do their own form of pre-selection process before sending off the applications. And in some governments it is essentially a political process – you have to be ‘friendly’ to the government.”
“Most nominations to the IPCC are made through government agencies and other national focal points. These can reflect scientific hierarchies and biases in countries and organisations that favour men. Cultural patterns such as a greater reluctance by women to put themselves forward and obligations to family could also be factors. Opportunities to join the IPCC might not be widely publicised, narrowing the pool.”
Standring tells Carbon Brief that hundreds of international “observer organisations” such as the World Meteorological Organisation can also nominate experts, presenting a “workaround” for experts who are unwilling or unable to apply through their national focal point.
The final decision on authors lies with the IPCC bureau – which consists of the chair and vice-chairs, as well as a pair of co-chairs for each working group.
Dr Valérie Masson-Delmotte – research director at the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission – worked on the WG1 reports in AR4 and AR5 before being elected (pdf) as one of the two AR6 WG1 co-chairs.
She tells Carbon Brief that “for co-chairs of working groups, it has to be a pair with one from a developed one from a developing country”. However, she says there is no such rule for gender.
The bureau selects the LAs, CLAs and REs for each working group based on CVs and application forms. According to the IPCC website, the bureau “aims to reflect a range of scientific, technical and socioeconomic views and backgrounds” when selecting authors (pdf).
Ko Barrett is a vice-chair at the IPCC and the senior advisor for climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She also served as a lead negotiator for the US on the UN treaty on climate change and represented the US in delegation charged with negotiating and adopting scientific assessments undertaken by the IPCC for 15 years.
She tells Carbon Brief that there is no quota on the gender or nationality of authors as the bureau must “first and foremost must ensure we have the scientific expertise required to address the topics outlined in the report”. However, she adds:
“We as an organisation recognise the value of diversity in helping us to examine relevant issues from many sides and from different lived experiences, so we keep an eye on balance of all types to assist us in providing the best assessments we can.”
Masson-Delmotte received around 1,000 author nominations for AR6 WG1 and selected 234, she tells Carbon Brief, explaining her considerations when selecting authors:
“In addition to looking for expertise, to have your eyes open, to be aware of your own biases, and to be open for all types of diversity, which is not just gender, it also means diversity of experience, diversity of regions, diversity of past experience and those new to the IPCC.”
#IPCC’s next #ClimateReport is due to be released on 9 August. The Working Group I report was prepared by a diverse team of 234 authors from all over the world.— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) August 5, 2021
🖊️ 234 authors
🗺️ 66 countries
📚 31% new to the IPCC
➡️ https://t.co/qPv5EUTxOx pic.twitter.com/e5FPlQBO7M
Individuals with dual citizenship can choose which country to submit their application through. Dr Yamina Saheb is a senior energy policy analyst at OpenExp who worked as a lead author on the AR6 WG3 report. Saheb was born in Algeria, but has dual French-Algerian citizenship and lives and works in Paris. In the IPCC data she is listed with Algerian citizenship, while her “country” is France.
She tells Carbon Brief that she initially applied to be an IPCC author through the French focal point, but was told the competition would be “extremely tough” due to the high quality of applicants from this focal point.
Saheb does not work in academia – so unlike her peers, she was not affiliated with a research institution and did not have an extensive record of work published in peer-reviewed journals. This could have hindered her chances of being selected, she tells Carbon Brief.
Under advice from the French focal point, Saheb organised for the Algerian focal point to bring her application to the IPCC with the support of France instead. This application was successful.
Conversely, Marengo Orsini was born in Peru but has spent much of his working life in Brazil. The latter has always put forward his IPCC applications. He tells Carbon Brief that he knows many South Americans working in Europe or North America who are put forward to the IPCC by the focal points of global north countries.
Meanwhile, one AR6 author from Africa tells Carbon Brief that they “never heard back” from their national focal point and were instead forced to submit their application through an international observer organisation. They suggest that one contributing factor behind the low number of authors from Africa “might be the fact that countries focal points are not actively engaged in the process or are not submitting nominations of their country’s scientists”.
Dr Izidine Pinto – an AR6 WG1 lead author from Mozambique – says an expert’s publication record is one of the metrics the bureau uses when selecting authors. He tells Carbon Brief that scientists from Africa are less likely to publish high-quality peer-reviewed literature, presenting a barrier to their selection.
Saheb adds that the bureau is likely to select authors that they already know or have worked with. “Bureau members have co-authored publications with some of the people they selected,” she said.
Standring tells Carbon Brief that in the early days of the IPCC, authors were selected “very informally” – often via a phone call from a friend or colleague rather than a recommendation from the government. Orsini confirms this, telling Carbon Brief that when he joined the IPCC, “authors could invite whoever they want”.
Although the process has become “formalised”, Standring describes the IPCC author selection process as a “black box” that varies between different countries, working groups and assessment cycles. He adds there are still many questions about the process that need to be explored:
“They’re not being obstructive on purpose. But there are certain things which the IPCC don’t want examined too closely.
“It’s completely understandable when you recognise that it’s not a scientific organisation. It’s a science-policy interface. Policy implies politics, and politics is the messy bit. It has some uncomfortable truths about these things around nominations about how and why certain countries have to be represented and what they contribute to the IPCC.”
How time-consuming are IPCC reports?
IPCC authors are not paid, instead volunteering hundreds of hours of their time to write reports and travel for meetings which can take place anywhere in the world and last many days.
“Many IPCC authors contribute on top of their full-time jobs. Most bureau members and authors are not paid by the IPCC. They also generally have to fund their own travel, although travel support is provided for people from developing countries.”
The taskforce surveyed more than 1,520 IPCC authors and found that lack of time was the greatest barrier to participation in the IPCC. The the top six barriers were:
- Lack of time (55%)
- Childcare obligations (33%)
- Not having confidence to challenge others (32%)
- Problems with accessing computers or research materials (31%)
- Inadequate financial support from their home country (31%)
- Limited writing skills (24%).
Barrett tells Carbon Brief that the workload is “cyclical”. She says:
“In the years where we have no report approvals, it is a very manageable workload in addition to my NOAA work. But when we are preparing for or approving a report, the IPCC job is two jobs in itself, working round the clock. Those can be stressful times that require me to drop everything else.”
Masson-Delmotte had young children when she worked as a CLA for the AR5 report. “It was a very busy schedule and I had promised my husband this would be over,” she recalls. So she tells Carbon Brief that when invited to be a co-chair for AR6, she initially turned down the position.
However, she changed her mind when the request came a second time, because she realised the proportion of female co-chairs was so low, she tells Carbon Brief. Nevertheless, the work was hard:
“This was not part of my career plan. I was very worried about not being able to continue my own research…My fear turned true, in a way…It has been nonstop. And the worst was when working on the three special reports in parallel with the start of the work on the WG1 main report.”
“Personally, I’ve checked on every nomination – like CV and profile – and I’ve read all versions of chapters of all reports, just to do my job. So it was intense, I have to say…I think it was not sustainable in terms of work capacity and workload.”
She tells Carbon Brief that looking back, she is “really glad” that she took on the “challenge”. But she is also resolute that “my involvement with IPCC will finish at the end of this cycle”.
Prof Emilio Lèbre La Rovere is a Brazilian climate scientist with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and worked with the IPCC in the second, third and fourth assessment cycles. He tells Carbon Brief the work that goes into the reports is “really a huge test”.
He explains that each time a new draft of the report is finalised, it is “submitted for comments and suggestions by the scientific community, by international organisations, by governments as well”. He adds that a report of 200 pages could receive 1,000 pages of comments and suggestions, which the authors must then address one by one.
Much of the sixth assessment cycle was conducted online – often over Zoom. Many experts told Carbon Brief that this changed the dynamics of meetings in both positive and negative ways.
For example, Masson-Delmotte says that “when you are locked in at home with kids, it doesn’t help, but at the same time it allows some with family care or pregnancy to be more able to contribute”.
Although most experts that Carbon Brief interviewed stressed the huge burden of work, many also discussed benefits and opportunities presented to them thanks to the IPCC. Pinto tells Carbon Brief that working in the IPCC can boost an expert’s career:
“Being selected as a leading expert from your discipline to be part of the IPCC is a prestigious achievement. It can provide a significant boost to your career or institution and it is an honour to be part of this process.”
The IPCC gender taskforce survey found that many experts benefitted from their IPCC involvement, including making professional connections (80%), increasing their international reputation (81%) and having a learning experience (93%). The report concludes:
“IPCC work boosts scientific careers. Nomination and appointment as a lead author or review editor, or election as a bureau member, brings international recognition, academic repute and the potential to influence policy.”
The IPCC “helps you to strengthen your scientific or academic network”, Saheb tells Carbon Brief. However, she questions whether people from the global south are benefiting from this as much as their northern counterparts.
When Prof Debra Roberts was selected as a co-chair of the AR6 WG2, she became the first local government practitioner and woman from Africa to co-chair an IPCC working group. She tells Carbon Brief that within her community of academic practitioners, “very often the employers don’t see the value of IPCC participation”. She continues:
“The problem is with knowledge communities like mine, it’s a distraction from the work that you’re paid to do…so you have some people who are running full time jobs and are trying to do IPCC work at the same time.”
She adds that the sixth assessment cycle was the “longest and busiest” due to the unexpected addition of three special reports and the delays caused by the pandemic, resulting in a noticeable “drop off” in the involvement of the authors who are “most under pressure with the least resources”.
These are often experts from the global south who do not have the same “social safety net” as their global north counterparts when it comes to financial support, childcare or caring for elderly family members, she says. She adds:
“I think we must recognise that it’s not the same for everyone and if the aim is to involve a diversity of knowledge holders in the assessment, the involvement in the IPCC is not going to have the same value to everyone. So it may be great for some, but it may be a real burden for others.”
What barriers do women face in the IPCC?
Ko Barrett is one of the first female IPCC vice-chairs and has championed gender equality during her time in office as the head of the gender action team.
She tells Carbon Brief that her decision to run for vice-chair was “last minute”:
“A number of senior people in our government thought it was long past time for women to play senior leadership roles in IPCC and put me forward. At the same time, Brazil had nominated Thelma Krug, a seasoned scientist also with a long history with IPCC.
“Together we were the first women elected to be vice-chairs. Together with Valerie and Debra as WG Chairs, and all of the other women in the Bureau, it feels like we are making a difference and setting an example for other women to come after us.”
Roberts and Masson-Delmotte “made history” when they co-chaired an approval session on the SR15 report as “never before in the three decades of IPCC history had there been a point where two female co-chairs had chaired a session”, Roberts explains.
In fact, Roberts tells Carbon Brief that the IPCC bureau has only seen three female co-chairs in its 35-year history – including Masson-Delmotte and herself.
Today #IPCC is celebrating our #WomenInScience!— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) February 11, 2022
For the first time in IPCC’s history:
2️⃣ of the 3️⃣ IPCC Vice-Chairs are #WomenInScience
33% of authors in the Sixth Assessment Report are female
In 2020, IPCC adopted its Gender Policy to ensure that all have equal opportunity. pic.twitter.com/IHbsqYZlTr
In March 2018, the IPCC established the “task group on gender” to develop a framework of goals and actions to improve gender balance and address gender-related issues within the IPCC.
The group sent out a survey to 1,520 IPCC contributors to understand how they perceived and experienced gender bias and barriers in the organisation. They received 533 replies – 39% from women and 58% from men. Most of the respondents were from Europe, the Americas and Asia, with 9% each from Africa and the south-west Pacific.
The group presented a report (pdf) on their findings in 2019, which documents that the majority of IPCC experts feel that the IPCC provided equal opportunities for men and women to participate, and that women were respected during the IPCC process. The main findings are shown in the graphic below.
However, while “most respondents” had not experienced discrimination, the report finds that “significantly more women reported a personal experience of biases or discriminations than men”. These included “someone else taking credit for ideas (40% women vs 19% men), being ignored because of gender (39% women vs 5% men), being patronised because of gender (32% women vs 4% men), someone making comments about appearance (21% women vs 7% men), someone implying the respondent was only included in the IPCC because of their gender (29% women vs 2% men) and being sexually harassed (8% women vs 0% men)”.
At the session in which the task group on gender presented their report, the IPCC decided to establish a “gender action team”, which carried out the Gender Policy and Implementation Plan (pdf).
Barrett is the chair of this group and tells Carbon Brief about the other work they are doing:
“The gender action team is doing amazing things. We are sponsoring an expert meeting to learn from our experiences and set the next cycle for inclusive practices. We are sponsoring a survey for authors and leadership to glean feedback about what has worked and what needs improvement to enable the full and respectful participation of all in our work. And we are setting in place procedures to adjudicate complaints so we have the mechanisms in place to support our work. These are big steps for the IPCC and I couldn’t be prouder.”
The #IPCC has adopted a Gender Policy and Implementation Plan to improve gender-related issues and #genderequality. Watch #IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett introduce our new policy.— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) March 31, 2020
Read more ➡️ (pp. 11-15) https://t.co/ieokK2e6RP#GenderEquality #ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/kVmxG96uDY
Masson-Delmotte tells Carbon Brief that around 30% of applications for AR6 WG1 came from women – a “striking” improvement from AR4. However, she notes that there is still work to be done:
“What is needed is to increase the pool of nominations and support climate scientists. So that they are encouraged to participate, they are supported by the institutions and governments to contribute. And this is not in our hands – it is broader than that.”
Furthermore, she says that women still “self-censor” their applications, leading to a “glass ceiling” effect of women dropping off from higher up roles. She highlights, for example, that the percentage of women is “larger amongst the lead authors and then smaller for coordinating lead authors and sometimes almost absent in IPCC leadership”.
Even once women are in their roles, they face barriers to participation in the IPCC, she says:
“What we can see sometimes in group discussions is a woman with a bright idea, and she’s ignored and the idea is only noted by participants when the male participants repeat the same idea.”
Roberts agrees that, on Zoom calls, “strong, dominant, often male voices tend to take over”. She adds that “there’s a big difference between achieving better numbers and actually having agency once you’re in the room”.
This Int’l Women’s Day, here’s Debra Roberts, the Working Group II Co-Chair that co-led our latest #ClimateReport talking about ‘strong women leadership’ at the #IPCC and how she hopes this will inspire up-and-coming female scientists to be involved in the IPCC.#IWD2022 pic.twitter.com/PI2aiSJKe4— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) March 8, 2022
(Read more about the barriers faced by women and experts from the global south in academia in Carbon Brief’s analysis: “The lack of diversity in climate-science research”.)
Masson-Delmotte tells Carbon Brief that the reports are also “an opportunity to develop new role models”. She adds that she is “really proud” when she sees female IPCC authors “using their voices” and “having more confidence in themselves” in interviews, presentations and meetings.
What barriers do experts from the global south face in the IPCC?
The IPCC established the “special committee on the participation of developing countries” (pdf) in June 1998 to “promote, as rapidly as possible, full participation of the developing countries in IPCC activities”. Alongside the three working groups published in the FAR, the IPCC also published a report from the new committee.
The report notes that “when the IPCC began its work in November 1988, only a few developing countries attended”. It says these countries “were lacking in neither interest nor concern”, but instead faced systemic barriers to participation.
The report identified five main factors that “inhibit the full participation of the developing countries in the IPCC process”:
- Insufficient information;
- Insufficient communication;
- Limited human resources;
- Institutional difficulties;
- Limited financial resources.
The report goes on to suggest actions that can be taken to reduce this imbalance. However, the IPCC press team tells Carbon Brief that the committee “ended its term at the end of the first assessment cycle”. Nevertheless, the issues identified in the report cropped up time and time again in Carbon Brief’s interviews with experts.
Perhaps the most obvious barrier to global south experts is language, as all IPCC proceedings are conducted in English.
“English is the language of science”, Roberts tells Carbon Brief. Therefore, she says “that the global south and majority world participants are coming in often with English as a second, third, fourth or fifth language is a challenge”.
The IPCC gender taskforce report finds that only 76% of respondents agreed that those who did not speak or write English well were treated with respect, while only 65% agreed that people from developing countries were able to fully contribute. It adds:
“Several respondents reported seeing themselves or colleagues be brushed aside owing to a lack of fluency in English, or to youth, race, gender or being from developing countries.”
Saheb tells Carbon Brief that the English language can also prevent experts from citing relevant literature in the report. She notes that the literature cited in IPCC reports is almost exclusively in English and says that experts who write in other languages are not able to bring their literature forward for inclusion in IPCC reports:
“Officially, you can do it in all UN languages, but in practice, everything is in English… if you are working in your own language, you are out. No one knows what you’re doing.”
However, Saheb says the biggest barrier faced by experts in the global south is accessing literature. The IPCC is essentially a synthesis of literature, so it is crucial to have access to the latest papers. However, many journals have paywalls in place and only allow institutions who can pay a subscription to access their articles, Saheb says. She adds:
“You have to pay for it. It’s really very expensive. And in the global north, universities pay for it… The richer the country and the richer your university, the better your access to all the publications.”
Saheb notes that the IPCC does provide access for some experts through UNEP, but says that it is “very complicated to have access” through this process. She concludes:
“The IPCC must look for funding to give full access to all these databases, to anyone from the south who has been selected to contribute to the IPCC access during the duration of the full cycle.”
Many experts interviewed by Carbon Brief also highlighted cultural differences that can make group communication difficult. For example, Roberts explained that “for some cultures, standing up and dominating conversation is inappropriate, so people come into the room and they’re not forcefully taking the floor”.
Similarly, Saheb jokes:
“My generation learned that you speak only if you are sure about which way you have to say. But this is not the case if you are American and you learn to speak all the time.”
Dr Prabir Patra is a researcher at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and was selected as a WG1 lead author. He has lived in Japan for 20 years, but still has an Indian accent from his time growing up there and says that people find it easier to understand British and American accents than his own.
He adds that humour is different between countries, commenting that participants from Japan “do not speak much” and often “don’t get involved in the jokes” made in international meetings.
Masson-Delmotte explains that she saw tensions she saw in early WG1 meetings:
“People growing up in the US or Europe, for instance, are very familiar with horizontal brainstorming. When you start to work to get to know each other, you express yourself. You take the floor. Sometimes you should disagree with a facilitator or coordinating lead authors and you don’t hesitate to say. In other cultures, this is perceived to be rude. You are expected to wait until you’re given the floor…This is typically the case in cultures such as in Asia.”
She decided to hire a company to provide “support training to enhance inclusion and participation for all authors”. She tells Carbon Brief that the training was “very useful” and suggests that it should become mandatory for all IPCC bureau members at least.
“Unconscious biases are present even if you select the brightest scientists. We are all humans and we are not all trained to work in a multicultural context.”
Lack of support, funding and expertise from global south institutions is another common theme. “Science, like everything, requires resources and support, and in societies where resources are more scarce and less abundant, science doesn’t get the kind of support that it needs,” Roberts tells Carbon Brief.
La Rovere is a Brazilian climate expert, but tells Carbon Brief that he got his PhD in France, and first became involved in climate research through his French colleagues. He recalls that in the early days, global south countries were less involved in climate research for a range of reasons – including a “general feeling in the global south that this was a problem caused by the global north is up to them to fix it”.
When he began work with the IPCC in 1982, there was limited expertise about climate change in Brazil, La Rovere says. As such, he recalls that he received limited support and funding:
“I had this joke with my fellow IPCC colleagues from the north that climate change for me was a hobby, not actually a professional activity because I got no funding at all from Brazilian sources during the IPCC.”
However, Patra tells Carbon Brief that “participants from global south are almost always funded by IPCC in full or partially”. He adds:
“Once the lead authors for the assessment report are selected, the IPCC or World Meteorological Organisation generously support the people from the global south.
“Also for other international meetings held elsewhere, the people from middle income countries, such as India, are often financially supported by the organisers. People from lower income countries do not apply for attendance as climate research is a luxury topic for them to invest in.”
The lack of diversity in the IPCC reflects a broader lack of diversity in academia and also mirrors the demographic of climate experts at UN negotiations. However, this analysis shows that diversity is improving.
Masson-Delmotte tells Carbon Brief why diversity is important in the IPCC:
“The sharper you want the assessment, the better it is to have a more diverse group. Because then you are more open to not knowing the scientific literature in all regions. The more you avoid boys clubs approaches – the group thinking that develops within a given community. It can be challenged when you open more to diverse perspectives. And even for the physics of climate this applies.”
“I think we have become so focused on the science and the carbon and the temperatures that we potentially lost sight of the people who generate that important information. IPCC authors do need an environment which is respectful of diversity and differences, to create a working space that allows that diversity, which is such a strength in the IPCC process, to actually impact on the outcomes of the assessment cycle.”
“Getting the numbers up is important. There is strength in numbers. But we also need to create an inclusive environment so that women, scientists from the global south, scientists who don’t speak English as a first language all feel welcome and invited to fully contribute.
“There are many ways to do a job well. We just need to bring our own authenticity to the work and, sometimes, we find a better way to do things.”
Carbon Brief contacted the IPCC press team for a response to the comments made in this article, but at the time of publishing have not heard back.
Data was compiled by the IPCC secretariat over multiple years. Raw data for the first four assessment cycles was compiled in 2017, while data for the fifth and sixth assessment cycles were compiled in 2019.
Sarah Connors from the AR6 WG1 technical support unit shared this data with Carbon Brief – as well as, separately, the most up-to-date version of the AR6 SYR data. Diana Liverman and Miriam Gay Antaki from the IPCC gender taskforce provided Carbon Brief with an update to this data, which filled in many of the gender gaps – which were especially prevalent in early reports – using online research.
There are still some gaps in the data – especially in early reports. For example, the role of IPCC authors (lead author, coordinating lead author or review editor) were only noted down from AR4.
Furthermore, the FAR, published in 1990, had a different structure to the rest of the reports, and listed the vast majority of authors as lead authors, so is not included in analysis of author roles. Furthermore, the IPCC secretariat has advised that FAR, SAR and TAR data may be less reliable than more recent data, as no proper records were kept by the secretariat at the time. This is reflected in the fact that gender and country are unknown for some authors in earlier reports
Furthermore, the distinction between “country” and “citizenship” is only made from AR5 onwards. In earlier reports, only “country” is listed – and so this metric is used for the majority of the data analysis. In earlier reports, some authors had two entries for “country”, separated by a semicolon. Based on context, Carbon Brief has taken the first to be the author’s “country” – indicating where the expert’s institution is based – and the second to be their “citizenship”.
Author data from synthesis reports were not provided by the IPCC, so Carbon Brief manually collected this data. Where a synthesis report author had also contributed to another report, data on gender and country could be extrapolated. Data on institutions were only extrapolated if another entry from the same assessment cycle could be found, as experts are likely to move between different institutions between the different assessment cycles.
Repeats – for example, if one person contributed to a working group report and a synthesis report in the same assessment cycle – were removed from the dataset in some instances. Carbon Brief uses the word “authors” to indicate unique authors, and the word “contributors” to indicate the occurrence of repeats in the dataset.
Data from special reports prior to the AR5 assessment cycle are not included in this analysis, as they were not analysed by the IPCC secretariat, and were deemed too lengthy for manual analysis by Carbon Brief.
In this piece, “global north” is defined as countries in North America, Europe and Oceania, while “global south” is countries in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa.