Jean-Pascal van Ypersele on why he is running to be chair of the IPCC
Editors note: the IPCCs new chair will be elected at its 59th session in Nairobi on July 25th-28th. Three weeks ago we invited all four candidates for the post to contribute a piece to this section; Dr van Ypersele and Debra Roberts agreed to do so. THIS YEAR marks the 35th anniversary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the halfway point to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Our planet is facing challenges that have no historical equivalent. Action, based on the best scientific assessments, is needed on a number of fronts: to stay on track with the 1.5C goal and accelerate reductions in emissions; to engineer a just transition to more climate-resilient economic development; to put the most climate-vulnerable countries on a stronger footing and provide funding for a broader set of developing countries; and to find the right mix of climate-change mitigation, adaptation and other societal objectives. Action means alerting the world to the consequences of inaction while looking for ways to tackle the climate crisis. The IPCC has been doing this consistently, for example providing lists of technologies and measures that could help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, with a clear indication of their lifecycle costs. I am convinced that the IPCC can serve policymakers needs even better. Scientists and policymakers need to discuss issues freely before any IPCC report is written, to increase the policy relevance of such documents. Many of the policymakers I met during my campaign to chair the IPCC told me their job would be easier if climate action (SDG 13) was better integrated into the 2030 agenda and the 16 other SDGs. We must let the IPCC help those policymakers. In its most recent reports, the IPCC helped to break down the barriers between different, siloed objectives by demonstrating links and synergies between them. Eradicating poverty (SDG 1), for example, is essential while adapting to climate change, reducing net CO2 emissions and improving peoples health. I intend to continue on this track if I become chair and I propose the preparation of a special report on climate change and sustainable development, with a full assessment of the many synergies (and the trade-offs) between the 17 SDGs. The world needs more solutions and more inspiration, rather than another doom-and-gloom report. The IPCC has transformed the production and communication of climate-change knowledge, greatly enhancing awareness and acceptance of the global emergency. I want to reinforce this authority by making the IPCC the global voice of climate. This requires a comprehensive communication strategy. I initiated work on this when I was vice-chair between 2008 and 2015. But getting the message across remains a challenge. I want to improve the readability of report conclusions and make it easier for decision-makers and the public to digest the IPCCs output. And I want to encourage feedback from both constituencies. Our reports should not only disseminate knowledge but also spark dialogue. Inclusivity will be central to my programme as chair. During my campaign visits to more than 25 countries, I was struck by the diversity of human experience. I met many people who had been deeply affected by climate change, ranging from vulnerable women in fishing communities in Bangladesh, to a boy who had seen his friend drowned in a Belgian river swollen by torrential rains, to ministers from small islands that had seen a quarter of their annual GDP wiped out by a hurricane. I also met those trying to help, from experts in carbon capture and storage in Saudi Arabia to remote-sensing scientists monitoring disasters at the European Space Agency. I have talked to climate modellers trained in physics, just as I am; to social and behavioural scientists studying the mental and sociological obstacles to further climate action; and to pension-fund managers trying to make their portfolios greener. Climate change experienced in Alaska, France, Vanuatu or Zimbabwe differs in ways we can only grasp and respond to if we study the situations of those on the frontline in different parts of the world. The IPCC is a global organisation, and to continue to be respected globally it must be even more inclusive than it is today. I aim to increase the participation of experts from developing and climate-vulnerable countries, particularly women and early-career scientists, from all relevant disciplines, including economic and social sciences. There is evidence that women are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. It cannot be acceptable that they make up only one-third of IPCC report authors. And we need more young expertswho will have more time to make a differencejust as much as we need the knowledge of indigenous people. We also need to remedy the under-representation of experts from the global south. The IPCC is well established as an epistemic authority in climate science and serves as a model of international expertise. But it needs to evolve if it wants to stay ahead of the climate emergency and a fast-changing social and geopolitical context. In the next assessment period, our work must be characterised by greater relevance, stronger communication and, above all, inclusivity. I am determined to serve as the chair who makes the IPCC the most solid, most scientific and most eloquent voice on climate, leaving no one unaware, no one behind. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele is professor of climatology and sustainable development sciences at UCLouvain. He was vice-chair of the IPCC between 2008 and 2015. Read a piece by another candidate to chair the IPCC, Debra Roberts, here.