Balancing Scientific Credibility and Political Legitimacy

The IPCC’s first assessment cycle, 1988-1990


  • David G. Hirst Independent Scholar


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was convened in June 1988 with a mandate to provide a comprehensive assessment of the science, impacts of climate change as well as the possible response strategies open to policymakers. This article will look to the first 18 months of the IPCC’s existence and the assemblage of what Sir John Houghton, Chief Executive of the UK Met Office and Chairman of IPCC Working Group I, proudly described as “an authoritative statement of the views of the international scientific community.” The First Assessment cycle lasted eighteen months and culminated in the 1990 publication of three assessment reports on: the Science (Working Group I) of climate change, the Impacts (Working Group II) of climate change and the possible Response Strategies (Working Group III) to climate change. Crucially by 1990, the IPCC was able to present itself as both scientifically credible and politically legitimate. This article will explain how these two conflicting forces were balanced in the course of assembling the IPCC’s First Assessment.






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