IPCC Chair’s remarks – North-South Prize of the Council of Europe

Lisbon, 14 Dec 2023, 12 pm


Your Excellency, President of the Republic,

Mr. Speaker,

Madame Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Madame Chair of the Portuguese Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,

Distinguished members of the parliament,

Chairwoman of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre,

Distinguished co-laurate representing the Association of Ukrainian Cities,

Members of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen,

I speak to you today, representing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the IPCC. As its Chair, it’s a great professional privilege and a personal honour to receive the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe in the name of the thousands of scientists who have contributed to IPCC’s work over the last 35 years.

I should also acknowledge the Ukrainian scientists who continued to contribute to IPCC’s work during virtual meetings under the most extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

Our scientists have generously contributed their expertise and their time to deliver the most important and authoritative scientific assessments of our planet’s climate, laying out pathways for adaptation and means of mitigating climate change. Our assessment reports deliver up-to-date, robust scientific findings. They can empower policymakers in all countries and at all levels to shape climate policies and climate action.

For us, today’s prize is an important recognition of this collective and truly global undertaking – one that brings together scientists from developing and developed countries to jointly assess the science related to climate change. We are grateful to the Jury for recognizing this.

Thank you.

The unique recognition comes on the back of the 28th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai which concluded just 24 hours ago. There, reports from the IPCC’s most recent assessment cycle fed directly into the Global Stocktake – the first, critically important assessment under the 2015 Paris Agreement of the progress countries have made in addressing climate. The path-breaking references to transitioning away from fossil fuels builds directly on IPCC’s work. Climate change science plays a pivotal part in determining the outcome of negotiations between 198 member states.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The voice of science is clear. Its message is unequivocal. Climate change is caused by human activities, it is widespread, it is rapid, and it is intensifying. The changes that we witness are of a magnitude unprecedented over centuries and thousands of years. Every part of the world is affected, and some impacts – such as the continued rise in sea levels – are irreversible.

Current trends in greenhouse gas emissions and climate action are incompatible with a sustainable, equitable world. Over a century of burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and unsustainable use of resources has led to a global warming of 1.1 degrees Celsius. As a result, we witness greater and more frequent temperature extremes, and more intense and more extreme weather events.

Climate change is an imminent threat to the health of our planet, our livelihoods, our well-being, and indeed the very existence of other species sharing this world with us. It is an existential threat for small island states and low-lying coastal areas. It warrants an urgent response. Losses and damages inflicted by climate change are now a reality and part of our future.

Scientific evidence also clearly shows that those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change contribute, and have contributed the least, to warming.

The lives and livelihoods of over 3 billion people living across large parts of Africa, South Asia, Central and South America, small islands and the Arctic are threatened. As is obvious, these are mainly in the global South. Given global interdependence, and the defence of global solidarity and partnership recognised by the prize we are receiving today, this is a particularly relevant point.

Only deep, rapid and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors can limit global warming to 1.5°C in this century. In our most recent reports, we showed that the only way to keep this goal within reach is to cut emissions by almost half by 2030 – just six years away – and reaching net zero CO2 emissions in mid-century.

But science can also deliver a message of hope. Our actions now can make a difference for hundreds and even thousands of years. We cannot afford to be paralysed by the complexity and the scale of the challenge. We do have the agency to determine the future, for ourselves and for the generations coming after us. The next few years will be critical, and there are ways to improve our chances of success. We have the technologies, the tools and the knowledge required to limit global warming.

It is encouraging that more and more countries are taking climate action. Some countries and cities have already shown what is possible, and have experienced sustained emissions reductions. These have begun to bend the trend in the emissions curve, even if we have yet to see a peak in global emissions. But all of these efforts – policy development and implementation, legislation, institution and capacity building, financing, the adoption of renewable energy sources and new technologies – need to be mainstreamed and scaled up worldwide.

We live in diverse societies in a diverse world, and we have common but differentiated responsibilities and opportunities to bring about these changes. Some can do a lot, while others will need support to help them manage the change. Transformative changes are more likely to succeed where there is trust, where everyone works together to prioritise risk reduction, and where benefits and burdens are shared equitably. This will be possible only if climate action is, and is perceived to be, genuinely and fundamentally fair and inclusive.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The vision for IPCC during the remainder of this critical decade for climate action is clear. We will use the best available science to deliver focused, policy-relevant reports and provide timely and actionable information to policymakers. 

And, to achieve these goals, we are sparing no effort to ensure a truly inclusive, diverse and representative IPCC.

As we start on new cycle of assessments, the seventh cycle, we are committed to ensuring a balance of opportunity, a balance of responsibility, and a balance of recognition.

It means ensuring that the ranks of our authors are representative, both across and within regions. It means a balance between developed and developing countries. And the way we conduct our assessment activities can help build academic and scientific capacity amongst under-represented regions and nations.

It also means a balance between women and men. We will continue to encourage governments to nominate more women scientists.

Lastly, we are expanding efforts to bring into the fold and formalise roles for early-career scientists from developing countries as IPCC chapter scientists. We are fostering opportunities to build a network of early career scientists through engaging the current cohort of IPCC scholarship recipients.

Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Science is and will remain the foundation of efforts to tackle climate change. For all IPCC scientists, national focal points and staff – today’s prize is an important acknowledgement and encouragement. And for that, we are extremely grateful.

Thank you.