UN climate change body to focus on making communities resilient

Dr Hoesung Lee pays tribute to Ireland’s ‘generosity’ to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Dr Hoesung Lee, chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spoke at a conference on Thursday in Trinity College Dublin to mark the panel’s 30th anniversary. File Photograph: Alan Betson

Dr Hoesung Lee, chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spoke at a conference on Thursday in Trinity College Dublin to mark the panel’s 30th anniversary. File Photograph: Alan Betson


The world’s leading expert body on climate change, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will concentrate future efforts on providing solutions and making communities resilient in countering global warming, according to its chairman.

Over the course of its existence, the IPCC had not only provided increased evidence of climate change but also proof human activity was contributing to it, Dr Hoesung Lee said at a conference on Thursday in Trinity College Dublin to mark its 30th anniversary.

The policy implications of their findings were “troubling for some, and the work of the IPCC as well as that of the climate scientists has encountered political push-back in some quarters”, he said.

The IPCC’s response to this has been “regular review and scrutiny of our own practices and procedures to strengthen the rigour of our science and keep our assessments objective and free of advocacy”.

“Over 30 years the message has become clearer, thanks to better observations helped by advances in technology and improvements in computing power. Satellites have improved our understanding of sea-level rise. In the coming years we can expect technology to continue to improve our understanding of climate change, as well as offering some of the solutions.”

The IPCC’s achievement in its five assessment reports had been to provide ever greater clarity about climate change. On its next assessment, Dr Lee said: “Science does not stand still, and there are many questions in the basic science to be examined, from improving our knowledge at the regional level, to intensifying our understanding of extreme events and sea-level rise. Policymakers can draw on this understanding to build more resilient communities.”

The IPCC’s focus on solutions meant social sciences would play a greater role in its work. “Looking at climate change through the lens of say, sociology, anthropology, economics or international relations can be politically sensitive. But this is where science takes us,” he added.

Paris Agreement

Implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change was not just about technology, he said, but involved understanding social values, consumption and behaviour.

“We must calculate the risks associated with different [CARBON]emissions pathways, but we also need to understand how different stakeholders judge and respond to risk. This goes beyond technology and scientific calculation to an understanding of values and motivation.”

Its sixth assessment report would link climate action and economic development, Dr Lee said. The common view was that taking action was costly, though the IPCC had shown cost-effective mitigation amounted to only a very small delay in growth over time rather than significant losses. The more emissions are on a rising trajectory, “the higher the mitigation cost appears to be”, he said.

Ireland was already feeling the impacts of climate change, “but this is not a question for individual countries. We are one world, and globally we face similar challenges: to reduce emissions and increase resilience.”

He paid tribute to Ireland’s generosity to the IPCC, through both financial support, the input of its climate scientists and hosting activities, such as next week’s meeting of 150 “lead authors” who are finalising a global report on climate change and land including agriculture.

“After 30 years, it is encouraging to confirm that scientific integrity and policy-relevance are hallmarks of the work of the IPCC, and that solid science and forward-looking policy can work together for a more sustainable and prosperous world,” Dr Lee concluded.

Minister for Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten commended the work of the IPCC and its reports, which were “crucial to our understanding of the causes and effects of climate change”.

They stood out against the doubters who questioned “whether man-made climate change is actually real”, some of whom were “in our national parliament”, he said.

IPCC “lead author” Prof Peter Thorne of Maynooth University said that over the course of the IPCC’s life-time, one thing had not changed; “the choices we make today will determine the climate of many generations to come”.

“If we are wildly successful in mitigation methods, I might – just might – live to see a stabilised global surface temperature,” he added.