Remarks by IPCC Chair during the opening of ICOMOS / IPCC / UNESCO Co-Sponsored meeting


Remarks by IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee during the opening of ICOMOS / IPCC / UNESCO Co-Sponsored meeting
6 December 2021

Your Excellencies, distinguished friends and colleagues, 

We are very happy to be working together on this with UNESCO and ICOMOS.

As Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC – I’m honoured and pleased to welcome you to this unique gathering. For the first time in IPCC’s history, we are bringing together, in one forum, the scientists and experts from the culture and heritage community and those working on climate change science. 

Not only is this a historical meeting but it is a historical opportunity to explore and deepen our collective knowledge and understanding of how climate change impacts culture and heritage, and how these can enlighten our pathways to possible solutions in tackling climate change.

Our culture and heritage are windows into millennia of human experience from which we can draw and use them to shape our strategies to adapt and to make our communities more resilient to climate change risks and challenges. Are we capable of projecting from our collective past into our shared future? I believe yes, we are. I believe this is not only possible, but it is imperative that we do so. 

For decades now, we have known that the world is warming. Our most recent report is the contribution of the Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report, published this summer. It laid out the most up-to-date physical science knowledge about climate change. The report clearly shows that recent changes in the climate are widespread, rapid, and intensifying, affecting every part of the world. Some of these changes are unprecedented in thousands of years.

It is indisputable that human activities are causing climate change. There are indelible human fingerprints on the changes to our climate. Compared to the pre-industrial era, our planet is already 1.1°C warmer. Human influence is making extreme climate events, including heatwaves, heavy rainfall, and droughts, more frequent and severe.

Climate change is already affecting every region on Earth, in multiple ways. The changes we’re experiencing today will increase with further warming.

It is critical to recognise that there is no going back from some changes in the climate system. However, some of these changes could be slowed and others could be stopped by limiting warming.

And the science is very clear on that. Unless there are immediate, rapid, and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be pushed beyond our reach. 

But it is not just about temperature. Climate change is bringing multiple different changes in different regions, such as more intense rainfall and associated flooding, as well as more intense drought in many regions.

Some of these changes in our climate system are particularly relevant to the theme of this gathering and they present a clear and imminent threat to our culture and heritage.

For example, the continued sea-level rise will have irreversible and dire impacts on people living in the small Island States, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu or in the Arctic. This means loss of human habitat, loss of territory and livelihoods, posing complex and difficult existential questions not only for these societies but equally so for the entire international community.

Consequently, this also means the loss of cultural identity, material and non-material traditions and the sense of belonging for these communities. Beyond these themes, there are additional layers of interlinked and complex social, economic, legal, human mobility and other questions that warrant the full and undivided attention of policymakers.

We also must recognize the threats posed by storm-driven coastal erosion, temperature changes, rising sea levels and floods to the world’s cultural heritage sites. Most of these sites are bedrocks and sources of vitally important indigenous knowledge. Their physical loss is not only an irreparable loss to our collective history and our science. As these heritage sites perish, they can leave an unbridgeable chasm in our ability to pass on indigenous and local knowledge from one generation to the next one.

One should not forget the intangible, yet so profoundly valued experiences of our cultural and natural heritage – the aesthetic and spiritual enrichment they offer to us, the role they play in societies and cultural identities, in our recreation and knowledge, and how these subtle memories and experiences shape our physical and mental health.

Distinguished friends and colleagues,

I would like to stress here that IPCC assessment reports increasingly acknowledge the need for climate science to explore and tap into all areas and forms of knowledge. This is a critical component if we as IPCC are to present comprehensive and balanced assessments of the causes, impacts and responses to climate change. 

I urge you to approach this gathering with ambition and vision. This co-sponsored meeting will allow us to explore the importance of cultural knowledge and heritage in understanding and responding to the climate change challenge. And we are only at the start. I hope this meeting will help generate more research across diverse disciplines and raise awareness among policymakers about cultural and natural heritage and climate change and possible models of adaptation and mitigation. 

Culture and heritage are vitally important aspects of our lives and resources influencing how our communities and societies adapt to climate change. This meeting is convened just before the approval session of the IPCC’s Working Group II contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report. This report will provide important information that will help inform the growing global debate on impacts and adaptation to climate change – especially given the strong focus on this issue that emerged at the COP26 in Glasgow.

I wish you a successful and productive meeting.

Thank you for your attention.