Visually Communicating Climate Science:

The process of creating visuals in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

April 13, 2023, 8:30-10:00 AM
Room 380 Learning & Environmental Sciences
St. Paul Campus

Free and open to the public. Registration Required.

The reports produced by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are collaboratively authored by hundreds of climate scientists around the world, who assess thousands of scientific publications about climate change. These reports are reviewed, collaboratively edited, and adopted by 195 governments before they are published. This may be one of the most intensive examples of collaboration that exists at the global level.

This presentation is a case study on visually communicating complex science through an international, consensus-based process: outlining the role of the co-design process in bringing consensus – in particular as societies formulate their own adaption to the impacts of climate change. To build cooperation to adapt to climate change, we communicators need to adopt processes that allow for significant community engagement and dialogue. Building upon co-design techniques established within this Assessment cycle (AR6), this presentation describes the challenges and opportunities of designing visuals in the IPCC global collaborative space: In an environment where the ‘messiness’ of the creative design process flexes to accommodate multiple rounds of iteration, collaboration, and the mandated timelines of global IPCC procedures.

As Graphics Officer with IPCC, Arlene Birt collaborated with 30+ climate scientists around the world to develop figures for the Synthesis Report of the 6th Assessment Report cycle (AR6) – launched March 2023.

Sponsored by Speaking Science, The Institute on the Environment, and MnDRIVE Environment



Maria Park Headshot

Arlene Birt is an infodesigner, visual storyteller, public artist and educator. She incorporates behavioral psychology to visually explain the stories behind products and places and help individuals connect emotionally to seemingly distant environmental topics.

Her work on sustainability – which rides the line between art and education – has been featured in Creative Review (UK), U.S. News and World Report,,, SEED Magazine and at the Barcelona Design Museum. This work resulted in a number of research fellowships and residencies, including a Fulbright fellowship. Birt has published chapters in a number of books, including New Challenges for Data Design, and Sustainable Graphic Design: Tools, Systems and Strategies for Innovative Print Design.

Birt runs workshops and speaks internationallySee some example presentations.

Birt is a professor at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, teaching courses on infodesign, data visualization and sustainability and arts entrepreneurship. In her spare time, she creates participatory, datavis-focused public artwork. Birt holds a master’s degree from Design Academy Eindhoven (NL).

Image Caption & Credit

Caption: Observed (1900–2020) and projected (2021–2100) changes in global surface temperature (relative to 1850–1900), which are linked to changes in climate conditions and impacts, illustrate how the climate has already changed and will change along the lifespan of three representative generations (born in 1950, 1980 and 2020).

Future projections (2021–2100) of changes in global surface temperature are shown for very low (SSP1-1.9), low (SSP1-2.6), intermediate (SSP2-4.5), high (SSP3-7.0) and very high (SSP5-8.5) GHG emissions scenarios.

Changes in annual global surface temperatures are presented as ‘climate stripes’, with future projections showing the human-caused long-term trends and continuing modulation by natural variability (represented here using observed levels of past natural variability). Colours on the generational icons correspond to the global surface temperature stripes for each year, with segments on future icons differentiating possible future experiences.

Credit: Figure SPM.1 (c) appeared in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s AR6 Synthesis Report, Summary for Policymakers, page 7.

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