IPCC Chair’s remarks at the United Nations Environmental Assembly – Leadership Dialogue 1

Super-highway or still in slow-motion: are science, data and digitalization really speeding our transition to a sustainable future?
Nairobi, Kenya
29 February 2024


Your excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

My homework questions for this session were: Is the world really listening to the science and data that we already have? How can they be better leveraged to not only inform multilateral environmental agreements but action on the ground? What needs to change so UNEP and other science-based organizations stop sounding like a broken record?

Let me start with the broken record.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the IPCC – repeatedly sounded the alarm about the urgency of climate action throughout its Sixth Assessment Cycle which ended last July.

I looked back at our media release for the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees more than five years ago.

It said: “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities”. “Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

In 2022, just two years ago, we followed up. We said: “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C.  Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”

We can’t go on saying that for ever. We are going to run out of rope.

To stop sounding less like a broken record, we must communicate actionable findings, and strengthen the regionally-specific aspects of assessments.

But is the world listening? I would argue that it is, but perhaps our messages have not been wholeheartedly embraced.

Let’s recognize how IPCC has helped shape international climate policies. The IPCC introduced the concept of “net zero” to the wider world in 2018. Today, the majority of global greenhouse gas emissions are covered by mid-century net zero emission targets. Formal climate laws, policies and institutions cover more than half of global emissions. Global emissions have yet to fall, but we have begun to bend the upward trend. The deployment of renewable energy is expanding, and adaptation has made some progress across all sectors and regions. Yet, despite all this, we’re falling short in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

IPCC, and other science-policy platforms, are rightly charged with being policy relevant. IPCC has clearly had a big influence on high-level aspirations.  But we will see progress that is commensurate with ambitions only when national policymakers, practitioners and professionals from all sectors are informed, and empowered to effect substantive changes.

We in IPCC have heard, loud and clear, requests from policymakers to provide timely information that informs climate action, taking account of local context. Our Special Report on Climate Change and Land concluded with a section on “near-term action” which set out the case, among much else, for investment in individual and institutional capacity, knowledge transfer, and early warning systems.  The Synthesis Report, approved less than a year ago, similarly concluded with a section on responses in the near-term.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will work with you on the shaping and communication of our work. The new Working Group Co-chairs for the IPCC Seventh Cycle are committed to providing actionable information and communicating it to the right audiences. But I do acknowledge that we have further work to do.

Let me conclude with a final observation. There are obvious gaps between aspiration and action across all the goals of the Paris Agreement – mitigation, adaptation and finance. Science can provide the evidential basis for action. But it cannot fill the vacuum created by policy inaction. Forgive me for sounding like that broken record. Science alone is not enough. Policymakers, your leadership is critical in turning the science we provide into purposeful climate action.

Thank you.