IPCC Chair’s remarks during the Opening of the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial

Copenhagen, Denmark.
21 March 2024


Excellencies, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

First, a thank you to our Danish hosts for their welcome and for inviting a scientific contribution to the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC – approved the final report of its Sixth Cycle, the Synthesis Report, almost exactly a year ago in Interlaken Switzerland. As IPCC Chair for the seventh assessment cycle I must stress that while the findings of that report stand the test of time, our climate has moved on.

As confirmed by WMO, 2023 was the hottest year on record, with particularly startling extremes in ocean temperatures. Extreme weather events and wildfires ceased to be just part of future projections. They were evident on our television screens and, for far too many of us, were a present reality. And sea levels continue to rise relentlessly with consequences for small island states and low-lying coastal communities. And all this, as we have demonstrated, is down to more than a century of human activities, including burning fossil fuels, and unequal and unsustainable patterns of energy and land use.

Our latest report showed that with every increment of warming the world will become more and more dangerous.  Beyond 1.5°C warming, we will see new risks will emerge associated with sea level rise, permafrost degradation, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, more extreme weather, food insecurity.

But, on the policy front, obviously there are encouraging signs of progress. COP28 and the UAE consensus made a start on the challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels, established a new framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation and operationalised the loss and damage fund.

IPCC findings need to be interpreted in the light of all that’s happened in the last 12 months. And that is what I’ll do in the next few minutes. I’ll do so with reference to the three goals of the Paris Agreement and, indeed, the sessions at this Ministerial event.

First, on mitigation ambition and warming of 1.5°C. In IPCC we have been saying for more than five years now that only immediate and deep emission reductions will allow global warming to be limited to 1.5°C. We can’t go on saying that forever. Indeed, the last UNEP Gap Report was entitled “broken record”. I looked back at the media release on the Special Report on 1.5°C five years ago, I said that “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics “. I stand by that, noting that this refers to a long-run average level of warming, not a single year like the one we have just seen.

But it is clear what would need to happen. Once emitted, carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for centuries. It is the accumulation of emissions that matters. In the middle of the range of scenarios that we have assessed, GHG emissions peak before 2025, fall by 43 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2035, 69 per cent by 2040 and reach net zero mid century. We can’t just pick a single year, we have to follow the pathway. If we do not act now, we close the option of limiting warming to 1.5°C as we will have used up the available carbon budget around the end of this decade, even with the current set of nationally determined contributions.

And we have also shown that it is possible. In literally hundreds of pages we have set out specifically what can be done in terms of energy supply, energy demand, transportation, agriculture, forestry and other land use, through both technology and patterns of human behaviour. Most of these actions also yield wider co-benefits. They can make positive contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals.

And we have the tools. We have shown that carbon pricing, regulations and other interventions have already resulted in gigatonnes of avoided emissions. More can be achieved if policies and measures are scaled up and deployed more widely.

Second, let me turn to adaptation and resilience. Adaptation action has increased but progress is uneven. We are not adapting fast enough. Most observed adaptation is fragmented, small in scale, incremental, sector-specific, and focused more on planning rather than implementation.  Hard limits to adaptation, as well as soft limits caused by lack of resources and institutional capacity, are being reached in some sectors and regions. Maladaptation actions, which bring short-term gains but are detrimental in the long run, are also increasing and are disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups. The increasing gaps between adaptation action taken and what’s needed are largest among lower income populations.  At the current rate of planning and implementation, adaptation gaps can only continue to grow.

Third, on finance and means of implementation.  There are manifest gaps between tracked climate finance and what is needed to put us on low emissions and climate resilient development pathways. Only between 4 and 8 per cent of tracked climate finance is allocated to adaptation and more than 90 percent of adaptation finance comes from public sources. Adaptation finance gaps constrain implementation of adaptation options especially in developing countries. Increasing public and private finance flows by billions of dollars per year, increasing direct access to multilateral funds, strengthening project pipeline development and shifting finance from readiness activities to project implementation can enhance adaptation. Projects that yield joint mitigation and adaptation benefits are a potential source of private finance.

Meanwhile, though the gaps are narrower, tracked climate finance for mitigation is still a factor of three to six below what would be required to put us on 1.5 °C or 2°C pathways. The gaps are actually least for energy supply, notably electricity generation, but greater for energy efficiency, transport and land-use measures. And for mitigation, reducing risks and leveraging private flows through public guarantees, local capital market development, and building greater trust in international cooperation processes all have role to play.  

Now finally, what can be expected from IPCC during the Seventh assessment cycle which began eight months ago ? Due to our rigorous processes and scientific scrutiny, it will be some time before new reports are available. The Panel met in January and thanks to our Turkish hosts agreed on the content of our Programme of Work, though the detailed timeline needs further discussion.

By early 2027, we should release a Special Report on Cities and Climate Change. This work is already underway. By the end of 2027, we should have a methodology report on carbon dioxide removal technologies and carbon capture utilization and storage which will inform the submission of national inventories. And during 2028, the Working Groups’ Co-Chairs hope to have finalized the three Working Group Reports. There will also be an update and revision of Technical Guidelines on impacts and adaptation, last produced in 1994. Published alongside the Working Group II report, and the updated guidelines will cover adaptation indicators, metrics and methodologies. This may help underpin greater financial flows for adaptation.

To sum up, the scale and pace of climate change poses unprecedented challenges for humanity. But IPCC’s recent work has shown that we have the means and the tools to address these challenges, if we choose to use them. And just to say, the newly elected scientific leadership of IPCC stands ready to play its part in supporting a move from problems to solutions, from analysis to action.

Thank you.