IPCC Chair’s remarks during the 2nd World Ocean Summit Asia-Pacific

29 Nov 22, Singapore


Your Excellency Minister Balakrishnan, Director Pangestu, Ambassador Thomson, ladies and gentlemen,

First, I’d like to thank the organisers of this Summit for their kind invitation. As the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC – I’m honoured to address this keynote panel at the Economist Impact’s 2nd annual World Ocean Summit Asia-Pacific in Singapore.

Oceans cover more than 70 per cent of Earth’s surface and they have been one of the dominant themes in IPCC reports throughout this cycle.

What happens with our oceans will profoundly and inevitably influence what happens to our planet and how livable it will be in the not-so-distant future.

It is clear that man-made climate change is a threat to the health of our planet and to the wellbeing of all species inhabiting it.

The scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems.

The extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger than estimated in previous assessments. Widespread deterioration of ecosystem structure and function, resilience and natural adaptive capacity, as well as shifts in seasonal timing have occurred due to climate change, with adverse socioeconomic consequences.

Continued and accelerating sea level rise will encroach on coastal settlements and infrastructure and commit low-lying coastal ecosystems to submergence and loss. If trends in urbanisation in exposed areas continue, this will exacerbate the impacts, with more challenges where energy, water and other services are constrained. The number of people at risk from climate change and the associated loss of biodiversity will progressively increase.

Hundreds of local losses of species have been driven by increases in the magnitude of heat extremes, as well as mass mortality events on land and in the ocean and the loss of kelp forests.

Some losses are already irreversible, such as the first species extinctions driven by climate change. Other impacts are approaching irreversibility, such as the impacts of hydrological changes resulting from the retreat of glaciers, or the changes in some mountain and Arctic ecosystems driven by permafrost thaw.

Near-term warming and increased frequency, severity and duration of extreme events will place many terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems at high or very high risks of biodiversity loss. Near-term risks for biodiversity loss are moderate to high in forest ecosystems, kelp and seagrass ecosystems, and high to very high in Arctic sea-ice and terrestrial ecosystems and warm-water coral reefs.

Climate change causes the redistribution of marine fish stocks, increasing risk of transboundary management conflicts among fisheries users, and negatively affecting equitable distribution of food provisioning services as fish stocks shift from lower to higher latitude regions, thereby increasing the need for climate-informed transboundary management and cooperation.

Marine heatwaves, including well-documented events along the west coast of North America (2013–2016) and the east coast of Australia (2015– 2016, 2016–2017 and 2020), drive abrupt shifts in community composition that may persist for years, with associated biodiversity loss, the collapse of regional fisheries and aquaculture and reduced capacity of habitat-forming species to protect shorelines.

Some habitat-forming coastal ecosystems, including many coral reefs, kelp forests and seagrass meadows, will undergo irreversible phase shifts due to marine heatwaves with global warming levels above 1.5°C and are at high risk this century.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Maintaining planetary health is essential for human and societal health and a pre-condition for climate-resilient development.

In light of observed and projected changes in the ocean and cryosphere, many nations will face challenges to adapt, even with ambitious mitigation. In a high emissions scenario, many ocean- and cryosphere-dependent communities are projected to face adaptation limits (e.g. biophysical, geographical, financial, technical, social, political and institutional) during the second half of the 21st century. Low emission pathways, for comparison, limit the risks from ocean and cryosphere changes in this century and beyond and enable more effective responses, whilst also creating co-benefits.

Profound economic and institutional transformative change will enable Climate Resilient Development Pathways in the ocean and cryosphere context.

Effective ecosystem conservation on approximately 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean areas, including all remaining areas with a high degree of naturalness and ecosystem integrity, will help protect biodiversity, build ecosystem resilience and ensure essential ecosystem services.

IPCC assessment of the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate reveals the benefits of ambitious mitigation and effective adaptation for sustainable development and, conversely, the escalating costs and risks of delayed action. The potential to chart Climate Resilient Development Pathways varies within and among ocean, high mountain and polar land regions. Realising this potential depends on transformative change.

This highlights the urgency of prioritising timely, ambitious, coordinated and enduring action.

Thank you.