Climate Change Assessments

Climate, Forests and Woodlands June 28, 2011 Print Friendly and PDF

Adapted from Joyce, L.A. 2008. Climate Change Assessments (May 20, 2008). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center.


The science associated with climate and its effects on ecosystems, economies, and social systems is developing rapidly. Climate change assessments can serve as an important synthesis of this science and provide the information and context for management and policy decisions on adaptation and mitigation.

The purpose of a climate change assessment is to synthesize, evaluate, and report on what is presently known about the potential consequences of climate variability and change on a particular region, sector, or topic in order to provide information to managers, decision makers, and policy makers. Assessments can be conducted by international organizations, federal, state, or city institutions, and nongovernmental organizations for the purpose of producing periodic assessments (e.g., Solomon et al. 2007a, Joyce and Birdsey 2000) or a one-time assessment (e.g., Aspen Global Change Institute 2006). Assessments can be motivated by legal requirements.

In some cases, assessments focus on synthesizing the current scientific information and literature. In others, they use simulation models to explore a variety of future climate change scenarios and their impacts. Typically the assessment will involve a dialogue between the scientific experts and stakeholders (Joyce 2003, Arctic Climate Change Assessment 2005). Stakeholders may include public and private decision makers, resource and environmental managers, and the general public. More recent assessments attempt to describe the uncertainty associated with a reports’ conclusions (Solomon et al. 2007a).

A critical component of an effective assessment is the independent review process monitored by a balanced panel of review editors (Committee on Analysis of Global Change Assessments 2007). Depending on the nature and depth of the review, the review process can be highly publicized with governmental oversight, or the process can be more similar to a refereed journal review, involving only scientific peers. In both cases, the assessment authors must respond to the reviewers' comments in a revision.


Figure 1. The production of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports include government reviews as well as expert reviews.

The International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) is an institution whose mandate is to make policy-relevant – as opposed to policy-prescriptive – assessments of the existing worldwide literature on the scientific, technical, and socioeconomic aspects of climate change (Metz et al. 2007, Parry et al. 2007, Solomon et al. 2007a, 2007b). The process of developing each of the IPCC’s three scientific volumes and the synthesis report is extensive and involves several steps of review, including two scientific reviews (Figure 1). For the IPCC report, more than 30,000 comments were submitted by about 650 individual experts, as well as governments and international organizations (Solomon et al. 2007a). Review editors are required to ensure that all substantive government and expert review comments receive appropriate consideration.

All reports developed and published by the U.S. federal government must be prepared in conformance with the provisions of the Data Quality Act (Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act of 2001). Agencies are required to ensure that all reports that are influential or highly influential are peer reviewed.

For the Climate Change Science Program synthesis and assessment products, the review process is organized by the lead agency responsible for the assessment (

For more on Climate Change Assessments:

  • U.S. National Climate Change Assessments
  • Regional Climate Change Assessments
  • Climate Change Assessments: Legal Requirements

Adapted for by Melanie Lenart, University of Arizona

References cited:
Arctic Climate Change Assessment. 2005. Chapter lead authors: J. Berner, T.V. Callaghan, S. Fox, C. Furgal, A. Håkon Hoel, H. Huntington, A. Instanes, G.P. Juday, E. Källén, V.M. Kattsov, D.R. Klein, H. Loeng, M. Long Martello, G. McBean, J.J. McCarthy, M. Nuttall, T.D. Prowse, J.D. Reist, A. Stevermer, A. Tanskanen, M.B. Usher, H. Vilhjálmsson, J.E. Walsh, B. Weatherhead, G. Weller, and F.J. Wrona ( (April 17, 2008).

Aspen Global Change Institute. 2006. Climate change and Aspen: an assessment of potential impacts and responses. (October 20, 2010)

Committee on Analysis of Global Change Assessments, National Research Council. 2007. Analysis of global change assessments: lessons learned. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Joyce L.A. 2003. Improving the flow of scientific information across the interface of forest science and policy. Forest Policy and Economics. 5: 239-247.

Joyce L.A. and R. Birdsey (eds). 2000. The impact of climate change on America’s forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-59. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 133 p. (April 17, 2008)

Metz B., O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, and L.A. Meyer (eds.). 2007. Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York: Cambridge University Press. 862 p.

Parry M.L. O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson, (eds.) 2007b. Climate change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 976 p.

Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.). 2007a. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Solomon S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor, and H.L. Miller (eds.) 2007b. Climate change 2007: the synthesis report. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York: Cambridge University Press. 996 p.

External links:

Also in Climate Change:

Connect with us

  • Twitter
  • Facebook


This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by



This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.