Gutowski selected as lead author in IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

William Gutowski has been selected to be a lead author for the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report which will be published in 2021.

Gutowski, professor of geological and atmospheric sciences and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, researches regional scale climate simulation and analysis. His expertise will be instrumental in the new structure of the assessment report.

“Where the next report is going to have its greatest impact is when you start to bring things yet closer to home,” Gutowski said. “We'll be talking more and more about what does [climate change] mean for people living here in the Midwest, what does this mean for people living on tropical islands, what does this mean for people living in the arctic regions.”

This will be Gutowski’s second round of serving as a lead author. He also was involved as a contributing author for the third and fourth reports. Each author works with a group of authors to contribute to a particular chapter within the report. In total, hundreds of scientists who are experts in climate research volunteer their time to work on the reports.

"These reports are not simply review documents. We're expected to make expert judgment on what is in the literature,” Gutowski said.

The IPCC was set up as an international group to assess the science related to climate change in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The assessment reports serve as a scientific basis for governments to develop climate-related policies.

The reports review the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks and options for mitigating those risks. While earlier reports focused on the data for climate change with some assessment of impact, the upcoming report will deliberately emphasize the impact, especially in regional settings.

The report will begin with the physical science basis for climate change, move to the impacts and adaptations from climate change and finish with a discussion of how climate change might be mitigated. Gutowski will work on a chapter within the section on the physical science basis of climate change. He said the focus on regional settings rather than global trends will make the report relatable to more people.

“I think it will start to have a new kind of value because we're going to be getting more refined about what it means for you or me in different locations,” Gutowski said. “That starts to make it more directly relevant to humans in their day-to-day living and when they start to think about what the world is going to be like for their children and their grandchildren.”