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Inside the Showdown Between UN Climate Science and Global Politics

The IPCC will put out a major new climate science report on Monday. Last time this happened, in 2018, oil-producing nations created last-minute tumult.

Students gather to demand the government take action on climate change in Sydney, Australia, on Nov. 30, 2018.

Students gather to demand the government take action on climate change in Sydney, Australia, on Nov. 30, 2018.

Photographer: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

The last time the United Nations-backed consortium of climate experts released a special reportGlobal Warming of 1.5°C in 2018—it set off a swift chain of consequences. Protest movements erupted seemingly overnight. The term “net zero” was suddenly commonplace. Nearly three years later, most of the current momentum behind climate action can be traced back to that report.

The diplomats and scientists who make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as the group is known, are right now meeting by video conference to hammer out their next report, due to be released Monday. It’s a much bigger undertaking, representing a total refresh of the global consensus on climate science for the first time since 2013. For the 234 authors, the process involves synthesizing more than 14,000 studies and, crucially, winning the sign-off of the group’s 195 member countries, any one of which could block key conclusions from appearing in the report’s “summary for policymakers,” the only part most people will read.