Ukraine’s scientists forced to withdraw ahead of ‘starkest’ climate report

UN climate report likely to paint grim vision, with danger of ‘tipping points’ in prospect

As Russian military forces continued their invasion of Ukraine with an attack on the capital, Kyiv, and other cities, Ukraine's leading climate experts withdrew from an international scientific committee – just as the group was finalising their approval of a landmark climate change report late on Saturday.

Leading climate experts from around the world have spent two weeks evaluating the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) investigation, outlining how accelerating human-caused climate change is affecting societies and natural ecosystems worldwide. The report, including recommendations to governments, will be issued on Monday.

This is the second part in a global climate assessment released every five to seven years, and it will propose strategies for adapting to current and future warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification, as well as extreme weather events.

“We have some delegates from other cities, not only Kyiv, and they were forced to go to shelters,” said climate scientist Svitlana Krakovska, head of the Ukrainian delegation. “But most important is that it’s very difficult to think about climate change impacts when you have impacts of Russian missiles in our Kyiv, and tanks everywhere.”


She hoped, nonetheless, that what is known as the IPCC Working Group 2 report would get the coverage and attention it deserves.

It is likely to be the starkest warning yet about the impacts of climate change on people and the planet – notably impacts that are inevitable due to current levels of carbon emissions and related temperature rise. It will also assess preparedness under “adaptation” measures, such as the ability to withstand extreme weather.

It is being published on Monday, in the wake of the Cop26 summit that agreed to increase action to try and limit global warming to 1½ degrees to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Barely alive

The outcomes of UN talks in Glasgow were described as keeping the temperature goal alive "but only with a weak pulse", by conference president Alok Sharma. The surge in fossil fuel prices since – especially natural gas in Europe – has undermined global momentum.

A draft version leaked last year warned of the risk of crossing dangerous thresholds or “tipping points”, where things such as the melting of ice sheets or permafrost, or rainforests becoming grassland, become irreversible, with huge consequences.

It will set out the effects of rising temperatures, which have already reached 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels, such as droughts, floods, storms and effects on health, agriculture and cities – as well as cascading and irreversible impacts.

There will be a specific focus on the different regions of the world, as well as looking at vulnerable populations and communities, migration and displacement.

Ahead of its publication, Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 Cities group of mayors taking action on climate change, warned the latest report was likely to "paint a grim vision" for big cities from London to Lima.

“City residents are already on the front line of a worsening vulnerability to climate impacts such as deadly flooding, sea-level rise, wildfires, extreme storms and unbearable urban heat. It is clear we are now in the climate crisis, not waiting for it. We can still overcome climate breakdown and build a thriving future, but urban adaptation efforts must outpace this new climate reality,” he added.

Poorest communities

Rich countries have been seeking to downplay language on "loss and damage", according to Christian Aid. Loss and damage funding is a much-needed source of financial support to help the poorest communities deal with devastating climate impacts caused primarily by emissions of the global north.

Christian Aid's climate justice adviser Nushrat Chowdhury said: "We made real progress at the Cop26 climate summit, getting loss and damage on the global agenda. Wealthy countries refused to create a fund for dealing with these impacts but it left us close to a breakthrough at Cop27 in Egypt later this year."

However, it seemed rich nations were now trying to undermine this progress by attacking the reality of loss and damage through the IPCC process, led by countries that claim to be climate leaders, such as the US and UK, she said.

“It is shameful to see them boasting about their climate achievements in public yet behind closed doors they are doing everything they can to prevent support reaching the most vulnerable,” Ms Chowdhury added.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times