On the Job
During the three years I have worked for the IPCC, I have had many experiences that are not typical in the life of a philosopher. There is the travel, for one thing. To fight climate change, the IPCC finds it necessary to hold meetings in remote corners of the world. Its own resources are small, so it goes wherever a government offers to fund a meeting. I have been to IPCC meetings in Lima, Changwon in South Korea, Wellington and Addis Ababa. In Europe, the IPCC has taken me to Vigo, Geneva, Oslo, Utrecht, Berlin and Potsdam. Kuala Lumpur and Copenhagen are still to come. I hope the other authors offset the emissions caused by their travel to these meetings; I am pleased to say that the British government pays to offset mine. All this traveling is not much fun; IPCC work is relentless, and I have had little time to enjoy the places I have been to.
Then there is the joint authorship. Before signing on to the IPCC, my only joint work was one brief article written with another philosopher. In Changwon I found myself in a room with fifteen other authors from various disciplines, with whom I was to write a chapter jointly. Many of them were puzzled at first by the presence of philosophers; they were unclear what our discipline had to do with their work. I expected some confrontations; I thought some economists in particular might resent my philosophical outlook on economics. But actually my colleagues were tolerant and willing to cooperate. We achieved harmony. I was able to put into the chapter several of the points about the ethics of climate change that I thought most important.
The writing process was exhaustive and exhausting. The report went through three full drafts before the final version. Each was sent out for comments to very large numbers of people, including academic experts and representatives of governments. We authors were required to take note of every comment, and to record what we had done about it. I myself dealt with about 600 comments in this way; Working Group 3 as a whole dealt with 38,000. The aim was to produce the broadest possible consensus, reporting on the state of knowledge about climate change. I think we did that. It inevitably meant we had to be conservative in our judgements.
The outcome is a 2000-page report, which has already been published on the internet. Because no one will read a report of that size, our efforts in the last few months have gone into writing two summaries. A subgroup of authors from Working Group 3 hammered them out over the last eight months. The fuller and more reliable one has the unfortunate title of the “Technical Summary.” This name puts people off reading it, but actually it is not particularly technical. It is simply a summary of the main report. The shorter, 30-page précis known as the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) attracts more attention but is subject to political influence in the way I shall describe.