Speech by UNEP Executive Director at the Opening of the 41st Session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


Nairobi -- The latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report released in November 2014 indicated that the world only have an estimated budget of 1000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide that can be emitted into the atmosphere and exceeding this budget would increase the risk of severe, pervasive and in some cases irreversible climate change impacts.

Mr Jeremiah Lengoasa, Deputy Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization

Excellency, Prof. Judi W. Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources of the Republic of Kenya

Professor Renate Christ, Secretary of the IPCC

Distinguished delegates, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

With UNEP being one of the two sponsoring organizations of the IPCC, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 41st session of the IPCC, which we are proud to host here in Nairobi - the environmental capital of the world and our headquarters.

This IPCC session is particularly important as it comes in a year when the world will be seeking to achieve a legally binding universal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at the forthcoming UNFCCC COP21 that will take place in Paris.

The interconnected and inter-linkages between climate change and other environmental and socio-economic concerns makes the outcome of this IPCC session of particular relevance to another important global milestones for this year, that is - the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Climate Change Challenge

The challenges posed by climate change to humanity continue to be one of the major obstacles to sustainable development today.

The latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report released in November 2014 indicated that the world only have an estimated budget of 1000 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide that can be emitted into the atmosphere and exceeding this budget would increase the risk of severe, pervasive and in some cases irreversible climate change impacts.

Already, these impacts can be felt by almost everyone, in the form of sea-level rise, extreme events, food insecurity, loss of economic productivity, increase disease incidence, biodiversity loss, endangered marine life and more/

Actions, including financial-related, are needed to reduce the consequences of these impacts on humans and our planet.

The UNEP adaptation gap report released in 2014 highlights a significant financial gap in the funds needed for managing these impacts. Another UNEP report, the Africa Adaptation Gap report released in 2013, put the cost of adapting to climate change in Africa alone to be up to 350 billion dollars annually by 2070 if the 2 degrees temperature target is significantly exceeded compared to $150 billion lower per year if the target is met.

Importance of IPCC's works

These data underscore the importance of the work that IPCC is doing in bringing together the scientific knowledge base needed to formulate solutions to these challenges especially at the global level.

At the UNFCCC COP20 in Lima, the Assessment Report 5 (AR5) was often cited by government official, delegates, as well as members of the civil society during negotiations. The report was also clearly referenced in the closing document of conference.

UNEP hopes that the findings of AR5 will continue to help shape negotiations at the Paris COP and I will like to encourage you to maintain an ambitious programme of outreach on AR5 right up to Paris 2015, in both developed and developing countries.

It is particularly gratifying to observe that recent scientific works and results continue to validate the accuracy of IPCC assessments and highlight their importance. For example, a scientific paper published this year in the Nature Journal highlighted the fact that there are no systematic errors in the 114 climate models simulations that have been considered in the IPCC assessment. Another article published also this year confirmed the accuracy of recent IPCC estimates of climate sensitivity and future predictions using evidences from warmer periods in Earth's history.

Future Work of IPCC

The scientific accuracy, rigour, comprehensiveness, and robustness of IPCC products are the qualities that form the essence of IPCC's work and it is important that you take these into consideration as you deliberate on the future work of the IPCC in the course of this session.

As you consider the recommendations of the task group on the future work, I will like to throw around some thoughts for your consideration, taking into cognisance the mandate of the IPCC:

On IPCC Future Products

  • It will be desirable to improve the ability and flexibility of the IPCC with regards to providing timely response to emerging topics or new concerns of governments, policymakers, international organizations, and needs of international processes on climate change. This could be in the form of developing more regular reports with shorter timelines (possibly 2 years) on emerging issues or thematic issues that are relevant to decision making on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Such reports could then serve as input to the comprehensive 5-7 years assessment reports.
  • As part of its special reports, the IPCC may consider carrying out science-based foresight and scenario development exercises aimed at anticipating the future and guiding policymakers on possible pathways toward desirable futures.
  • With increased interest in IPCC products, it might be desirable for the Panel to consider options for improving the user-friendliness of its products for diverse audiences. Such options could include adaptation of products to specific communities - businesses, civil society, media, local and traditional communities as well as students. For example, an 'AR5 for Business' tailored towards the interest of corporate organizations and specifically written in language understandable to the business community, could prove useful for making climate-friendly and sustainable business decisions.
  • The IPCC may also want to consider how to take advantage of current technological advancements and trends in making it products more accessible and appealing to diverse audience. This could be by producing interactive and updateable e-books and developing interactive apps for its models and scenarios.
  • I will also like to encourage the continuation of the detailed practical information sessions that is usually provided by the IPCC to climate change negotiators through the IPCC's Structured Expert Dialogues.
  • Finally, given the interlinkages between climate change and other environmental and socio-economic issues including food security, human health, air quality, water quality and availability, as well as disasters and conflicts, just to mention a few, I will like to suggest that the IPCC ensures decisions on its future work takes into consideration how the IPCC can contribute to the implementation and achievement of the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Enhancing Participation of Developing Countries

  • As an organization headquartered inAfricaand with several climate-related projects in developing countries, UNEP particularly welcomes the fact that one of the focuses of the review of the future work of the IPCC is consideration of ways to enhance the participation and contribution of developing countries in the future work of the IPCC.
  • As the IPCC assessments have shown, many developing countries will be most affected by climate change, with poorest in these countries particularly more vulnerable. Yet, very few climate change-related researches are emanating from these countries. For example,Africacontributed less than 2% of global climate publications between 1981 and 2009 according to the Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net).
  • I will therefore like to encourage organizations with wide experience in the training of young scientist including WMO, UNESCO, the Future Earth Initiative and other relevant local and international organizations to join with UNEP in supporting young developing countries scientists in acquiring the necessary skills and expertise for participating in IPCC's work.
  • Doing this will help ensure that the IPCC is able to produce a more comprehensive climate change assessment that includes relevant regional information.

UNEP's work on Climate Change

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Apart from the various UNEP scientific assessment works on climate change from which I have cited data earlier on, UNEP is making other substantive contributions to the global discourse on climate change including on UNFCCC negotiations. For example:

  • The UN REDD+: as one the leading agencies for the UN-REDD programme, UNEP is supporting countries in building the needed capacities for delivering the UN REDD+ agenda, while also promoting opportunities to share information and knowledge regionally and globally and providing training to key groups. UNEP is also playing a leading role in undertaking activities aimed at highlighting the various benefits and ecosystem services associated with the REDD+ beyond carbon sequestration, including for example, forest-based products, tourism, community development and biodiversity benefits.
  • Climate Finance: UNEP supports developing countries in assessing the risks posed by climate change and their economic implications, and in estimating the costs of adaptation to climate change. UNEP also provides countries with support for accessing finance for adaptation. As a Multi-lateral Implementing Entity (MIE) of the Adaptation Fund, UNEP also assists countries in developing and submitting adaptation project proposals.
  • The Global Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts and Adaptation (PROVIA)for which UNEP provides its secretariat is providing direction and helping to ensure coherence at the international level for research on vulnerability, impacts and adaptation to climate change.
  • The Climate and Clean Air Coalitionto Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants for which UNEP also hosts its secretariat has been focusing on initiatives that help reduce emissions of climate warming and air polluting substances including black carbon, methane and hydroflourocarbons (HFCs).

Changes in the IPCC

In the course of your session this week, you will also be taken relevant decisions on the size, structure and compositions of the IPCC Bureau and later this year, you will be electing a new Bureau, including a Chair and the co-chairs of the Working Groups and Task Forces.

As you deliberate on this very important agenda topic, I wish to encourage you that you aim to enhance cooperation and coherence across the various IPCC working groups and scientific disciplines.

It is important that you take into consideration the interlinkages between the various topics addressed in IPCC's work, while also ensuring that whatever structure is agreed upon provide flexibility to provide credible science that can aid decision makers in developing integrated solutions to climate change challenges as well as for achieving sustainable development.

I will not end this speech without making reference to someone that is very important to the IPCC family.

Many of you may already know that in a little over three months, Renate Christ will step down as IPCC Secretary, and that this is the last Session of the Panel that she will be attending in that role.

As well as being an alumna of UNEP, Renate has been associated with the IPCC for decades, on the inside and outside. Her passion, energy, knowledge and eye for detail have helped steer the IPCC through good times and bad and we all owe her our thanks.

At this year's changing of the guard, the IPCC is stronger as shown for example, by the major media impact and broader public discussions that followed the release of the Fifth Assessment Report and its associated Synthesis Report.

Closing and Farewell to Renate Christ

Ladies and gentlemen,

Given the importance of this session to how IPCC conduct its business in the future and the importance of IPCC works to vital global climate and sustainability milestones for this year and later, it is imperative that your deliberations in the next few days are visionary, anticipatory and ambitious.

This will ensure that the IPCC will be in a position to provide the necessary scientific support that will be needed to achieve the climate-related Sustainable Development Goals and to meet the enormous challenges that will be associated with the agreements that will be made at the Paris COP.

Before you in the coming days is an exhaustive and ambitious agenda and I wish you success in your deliberations.

But before I conclude, I would like to extend on behalf of everyone here our gratitude and best wishes to Renate Christ as she prepares to embark on another exciting phase of her life.

Renate retires this year after decades of dedicated service to the environment; having served as the Secretary of the IPCC since 2004 and Deputy Secretary since 1999. Before that, Renate had a distinguished Academic career and she also worked with UNEP and the European Commission. She participated in the negotiations for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change as member of the Austrian Delegation as well as in the development of the Kyoto Protocol.

Dear Renate, we thank you for your dedication and valuable service through the years and wish you all the best for the future.


Best wishes for a very fruitful session and we look forward to the recommendations from your meeting.

Thank you.

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