Top climate scientist: I put myself through hell as an IPCC convening lead author, but it was worth it

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationArticle


In my day job, I am a scientist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland studying things such as how agriculture contributes to climate change and what we can do about it. Recently, though, I found myself in Geneva, to take part in my fourth “adoption plenary” for a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The report in question was the recent Special Report on Climate Change and Land, and I was one of its 15 convening lead authors, responsible along with two others for a 300-page chapter on links between desertification, land degradation, food security and climate change. The adoption plenary is the process by which the 195 governments who are part of the IPCC reach consensus on the wording of a much shorter (40 or so page) “Summary for Policymakers” (SPM) of an entire IPCC report, and thereby adopt its findings.

The process of approval is gruelling for all concerned: it’s allocated five days, with an additional reserve day allocated which is often used. During this period, every word of the policymakers’ summary has to be agreed and approved, line-by-line, with delegates from all governments in the room.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationThe Conversation
PublisherThe Conversation UK
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Pete Smith received support from BEIS to act as a Convening Lead Author on the IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, receives funding for research projects on land based climate mitigation and food security from UKRI, EU and the Wellcome Trust, and receives support from the Scottish Government for his role as Science Director of the Scottish Climate Change Centre of Expertise, ClimateXChange.


  • Climate change
  • IPCC
  • Climate science
  • IPCC land use report


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