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Twenty-first Session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

UN office, Vienna, 3 November 2003


Speech by

Joke Waller-Hunter, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC secretariat



Mr Chairman, dignitaries,

Thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this opening of the twenty-first session of the IPCC. I have long admired the excellent work of the IPCC and I am confident that the tradition of excellence established by your predecessors will continue under your leadership. Since this is my first appearance before this body, I would like to provide you my perspectives on the interface between science and policy making, a subject that is central to the evolution of our respective organizations.

Generally speaking, it will be important for the IPCC to look at all the factors affecting climate change and its impacts on society. This may differ at times from how climate change is considered under the Convention. My point is that the IPCC has the freedom to address scientific and technical issues in a manner it deems appropriate. The Convention process on the other hand will make use of the information in its own ways.

In my view, at this moment in time there are several key questions, that, if answered, could make a significant difference to future policy making. These are:

  • What is the state of knowledge about the sensitivity of the climate system to human produced emissions?
  • What more can be said about the detection and attribution of climate change including the relative magnitude of such changes compared to natural variations?
  • What are the likely impacts and critical thresholds associated with different concentration levels? What mitigation or adaptation actions will be required to prevent those impacts, and when must they be taken?
  • While I am aware of the intrinsic limitations in our ability to predict the details of climate change, there is a continuing call for information on regional impacts. Clear and authoritative information on what is happening at the regional level, for example, in the arctic would be particularly interesting, since it could have broad implications.
  • Will new mitigation technologies be effective and by when do they need to be deployed? Do we need totally new technologies to help us adapt?
  • There is also great interest in understanding the economic and social aspects, particularly the potential economic damages of climate change and the cost of mitigation and adaptation measures. Bringing greater coherence to the approaches and ensuring clarity to these issues would be a great service.

You see, our demands are not modest, but I am confident to find answers in AR4 and before.

In summariszng the scientific information, please bear in mind the need to lay out… make clear.. its implications to policy makers, who may other wise struggle to understand and interpret your report. It will then be up to the policy makers to determine how to respond to your findings.

It is interesting to recall that the First Assessment report of the IPCC, in its section on response strategies, included a suggestion of an international convention to deal with climate change. In those early days the scientific community sent not just a scientific message, but one that had significant policy implications. The United Nations General assembly heard that message and responded by forming the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to draft the Convention. Today the UNFCCC is nearly a universal instrument, having been signed and ratified by almost all countries.

There is no doubt that the Parties to the Convention appreciate the work of the IPCC in assessing scientific knowledge as repeatedly expressed by the Conference of the Parties and in particular by its Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. The information you provide is not only relevant to the international process, but is also important in helping Parties formulate their national policies. The IPCC and its Bureau therefore have a great responsibility to communicate, explain and defend their findings in public forums. Each successive assessment report will reduce uncertainties as new research contributes to our information base, but communicating information about your reports requires a sustained outreach strategy that should be one of your critical ongoing activities.

Before closing I will touch on one other aspect of your work, that is of great importance to the implementation of the Convention, that is, the need to develop improved and more accurate greenhouse gas inventory methodologies. These methods are the tools that will help us determine whether we are winning or loosing the battle over the coming decades. The support you provide in this area is greatly appreciated.

Mr. Chairman, both the UNFCCC and the IPCC are strong, healthy and vibrant. I am confident that this 21st session of the IPCC and our COP 9 in Milan in December will show testimony of that. Both entities are evolving and maturing… we have already seen examples when the SBSTA has demonstrated that it is prepared to tackle certain critical issues which might have been previously addressed by the IPCC. This suggests a need for continued close co-operation through the Joint Working Group and striving to ensure that each process addresses activities for which it is best suited. In this regard, one thing is certain: The world will continue to look to the IPCC as the authoritative source of objective scientific, technical and socio-economic information on climate change.

I wish you a very good meeting!


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Please note: This is prepared text of the speech and may differ from the delivered version.

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