Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide a clear scientific assessment of the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts, and to identify possible responses.
At its 59th Session, scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya, during the week of 24 to 28 July 2023, the IPCC is set to elect a new IPCC Bureau and a new Bureau of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. In its letter on 28 March 2023, the Secretary of the IPCC invited Members of the IPCC to submit written nominations for the IPCC Chair and all other IPCC Bureau and Task Force Bureau positions.
One of the hopefuls for the IPCC Chair seat is Belgium’s candidate, Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, who has served as the IPCC Vice-Chair between 2008 and 2015, with similar years of expertise stemming various roles in the UNFCCC since 1995. Prof. Jean-Pascal is a full professor of climate and sustainable development at Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium (UCLouvain) and Co-author of the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019.
Prof. Jean-Pascal in his pursuit of the IPCC chair post envisions for the IPCC to become the most dynamic and inclusive ‘Voice of Climate’ in order to provide all policymakers with the best and most useful scientific information.
Capital’s Metasebia Teshome caught up with the professor in his recent visit to Ethiopia from 8-11th of April 2023, in which he sought to understand the climate situation in the country as well as in running his campaign. The following are excerpts from the candid interview;


Capital: What is the aim of your visit to Ethiopia?

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: I am here for two reasons. The first is to announce my candidacy for the IPCC chair position because it’s an election where each IPCC member country has one vote. Therefore, it’s very important for me to have as many votes as possible including that of Ethiopia since Addis is set at the heart of the African Union. Furthermore, it is very convenient in terms of meeting ambassadors of African countries. Secondly, in relation to my bid, it is vital as the IPCC Chair to reflect all the concerns of the members of the IPCC on climate change as well as on the projects and plans that the IPCC have. So I am here to listen and absorb as much of the information as possible.
Capital: Did you get the chance to visit some practical efforts that Ethiopia is doing to cope up with the impacts of climate change? What is your observation on the same?
Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: I have had two field trips with UNICEF and UNDP. I went on the ground and I saw some projects related to water provision, irrigations, solar energy, feed pumps with deep wells extracting water from the groundwater reserves and so on which was actually very interesting and brilliant to see.
During my field trips with UNICEF and UNDP, I also had the opportunity to interact with local communities and understand their needs and challenges. It was a humbling experience to witness the impact of these projects on people’s lives and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it.
The projects that I have visited clearly need help in the area of adaptation to climate change and increasing resilience; because unfortunately climate change is there with us to stay. It is not something that’s projected for the future but rather is now already happening. At least the first effect of climate change are their already and for those it’s very important to adapt to them. Adaptation is of paramount importance to increase resiliency, and flexibility so that when there is a shock coming from extreme climate such as drought or very intense precipitation leading to floods, cyclones, the infrastructure, the health systems, the buildings, the homes of people will be less affected by those shocks.
The second level of urgency is participation in the international efforts to prevent the temperature from going above 1.5 degrees Celsius because as we know the IPCC has been quite clear about that. This is because if the warming passes significantly above 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will be much more difficult to adapt, because you can indeed reduce the severity of many impacts by adaptation measures, measures of promoting resilience, etc. but if climate change is too much, the warming is too strong. As a result, adaptation becomes very difficult and very expensive. And it will further become impractical to adapt to a situation that is so different from what you had before.
Both adaptation and mitigation are complementary, and they both need to be part of climate policies. Of course, in developing countries, adaptation is much more important than mitigation because the contribution of developing countries particularly the historical contribution of developing countries, is much more less than the historical contribution of developed countries.

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele:

But still it’s important that developing countries don’t simply reproduce the development patterns in terms of fossil fuel usage in particular, that developed countries have had as they had an opportunity now.
When the industrial revolution took place in developed countries 150 or 200 years ago, fossil fuels and later oil and then gas where the only energy sources. But now the opportunity for the developing countries is to leapfrog to jump above that way of reducing or transforming energy by jumping to what’s available now, which was not available 200 years ago and that is to use solar energy and wind energy. That’s an opportunity that developing countries have which of course demands funding and on such issues progress needs to be made at the international level.
As you know the promises in terms of funding made in 2009 i.e. the famous 100 billion dollars per year have not been fulfilled yet, and even if they were fulfilled, it would totally insufficient, as the IPCC has written very clearly in its latest report.


Capital: As someone who has been working for a long time on climate issues, why do you think that developing countries including Ethiopia which are lesser contributors to climate change are affected more? Why are the funds to minimize climate change being underfunded in the grand scheme of things, against initiated plans?

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: Well, it’s related to the short term thinking and the self-centered approach that many developed countries have. They should be a realization that we’re all on the same road, the same planet, which is the only inhabitable planet in the solar system. And that we best take care of it together. And those who have more means should share their resources more with those who have less means, so that everyone can participate to the maintenance in good shape. It is important that climate change is considered in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, which the UN adopted two months before the Paris Agreement.
I don’t know why? Don’t all developed countries understand that we are in middle to long term phases and that it is in their own interests to share more? It’s probably related to short term thinking, I presume and also a lack of understanding of what the effects of climate change means more so, on the ground in many developing countries.
I think that many policymakers from developed countries have not experienced themselves by going on the ground like I did during the weekends. What it means to live in a drought affected areas! What it means to have to walk three hours to fetch water or to collect wood to cook! There isn’t enough firsthand experience of those situations. I think it is of primary interest for maybe some leaders in the developing countries to visit the climate change affected areas in developing countries as this would open their heart a little bit more.

Capital: With the current understanding and efforts to minimize effects of climate change do you think that global targets can be achieved including the below 1.5 degree Celsius target?

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: The present level of action is low, and is totally insufficient to stay below 1.5 degree warming and to reach net zero emissions by 2050. But it doesn’t mean that it cannot be done. But to achieve those targets it requires much more political will at the international level and national level than what is there currently. So, it is possible but it is not happening because the level of action is totally insufficient.
I have a strong vision that if the IPCC were to be a global voice of climate highlighting the countries and the people negatively affected by climate change whilst pushing heavily on the agenda, that things would to some degree move a little more faster.

Capital: What are your plans when selected as the IPCC Chair, specially, in terms of supporting developing countries?

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: The first thing I would like to do when appointed chair of the IPCC is to be the voice of someone who cannot speak, and that someone who cannot speak is the climate itself. In the climate negotiations, everybody is speaking, countries are speaking, NGOs are speaking, big institutions are speaking but the climate doesn’t. And still, that’s what we’re talking about, but the climate itself doesn’t talk. So the first thing I’d like to do is be the voice of the IPCC, and the IPCC needs to be the voice of climate. And by that, I mean the voice of what’s in the IPCC assessments about the effects of climate change: the observed effects already causing loss and damage now. The projected effects if we continue to do way too little to prevent the warming, and the level of international cooperation and funding that is needed to address those issues.

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele:

So I would be the voice of the whole of that pleading every way I can so that climate action goes in the eye of adaptation, mitigation and funding which are basically the three elements in Article Two of the Paris Agreement whose objective is to mitigate to avoid going above 1.5 and to build an increased resilience and promote adaptation etc.
My other priority is facilitating funding and funding transfers which facilities number one and number two, that is, mitigation and adaptation. And I would be an advocate for what’s in the IPCC reports about that and it’s so clear that too little is happening. The IPCC needs to break the silence on climate change and focus on climate justice, biodiversity, poverty, and fair transition. Climate justice is related to the fact that Africa is a large contributor to emissions and still experiences the blow of climate impact, while fair transition is related to climate justice and the SDGs. We need to make sure that nobody is left behind in the transition.
The other thing I would do is to make sure that the IPCC itself as an institution works in the most inclusive way as possible. That inclusivity means four things. The first thing is that we need to improve and increase the participation of developing countries scientists, of course, African scientists in particular because they know best what’s happening in their country. Second, we need to improve the gender equality on the gender equality front since there are not enough women scientists participating in the IPCC process. I’d like to improve that aspect greatly.
Thirdly, I’d like to improve the balance between young authors, young scientists, and more senior scientists because dynamism is key in this generation.
Last but not least, it is very important for Francophone Africa to be more inclusive as well in terms of language. For example much literature in French for Francophone’s and in Spanish for Latin America which is not taken into accounts enough. So I’d like to grow the base to ensure that literature in other languages other than English is also reflected properly in the IPCC process.
Addition to that, I’d like to continue to expand the IPCC scholarship programme that was created in 2007, when it received a Nobel Peace Prize which came with a million dollars at the time; by using the interests the IPCC started to grant PHD scholarships for developing country students.
At the time when I was vice chair of the IPCC, I participated heavily to the expansion of that programme by developing partnerships because $1 million is nothing, especially if you don’t use the capital but only the interest and it being one scholarship every two years, doesn’t benefit a lot of people either. Through combined efforts, we develop partnerships with other foundations especially with Prince Albert of Monaco Foundation and we were able to multiply those scholarships significantly and now, the IPCC grants, at the time that I was last vice, somewhere around 15 scholarships, which is much better. And I definitely plan to seek further with other partners to increase that number to as high as possible.

Capital: It has been about 35 years since the IPCC was established and has now more than 195 member states. In the years of its existence, do you think that the IPCC has been successful in achieving its goal and mission?

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: IPCC has certainly done a lot and achieved a lot but it could do much more as it needs to improve its communication so that the key messages are better understood by everyone. It needs to be more relevant to policymakers as they have certain needs, questions and often need some specific information, to allow them to take decisions and that information is sometimes hidden. Somewhere in those 10,000 pages reports that is not visible enough, needs to be made vivid through proper communication outlets.
There should be a way to facilitate access to the policy relevant information that policymakers and decision makers need so that they can really use it because if the information is hidden in the big reports, it’s not sufficient. So I think the IPCC can improve its communication, its relevance, and its inclusivity to be even more useful and resourceful.

Capital: Being that the Cop meetings are the biggest gathering for climate issues, many have raised concerns about the latest Cop27, citing that is was not as effective as expected to be. What was your observation on the same?

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele:

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: There have always been comments on every Cop except the very few exceptional ones such as Kyoto 1997 and Paris in 2015. On all the others, well various issues have been raised. But of course, throughout the years, there have been small steps in the right direction. But steps that were between 10 and 100 times too small compared to what is needed in terms of international action, international coordination of action etc will often get backlash. So, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt again there was small steps forward that were too small but it was a step in the right direction nonetheless. I mean, the loss and damage Fund was created. It’s nice but the fund is basically empty. So as long as it’s not filled, it’s not very useful. Similarly, on many other fronts, the action is not sufficient, because the emissions are still increasing. Temperature is still increasing which is a proof that not enough is happening.

Capital: How has your meeting with government officials faired on?

Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: Well, it went very well. I had the impression they were quite responsive to what I was saying and quite positive about my candidacy. But it’s also a bit early for them to decide what they will do at the end of July as they will also look at the other candidates, and it is totally understandable. Nevertheless, the contacts were very good. I met with the Director of Environment Protection Authority, and the IPCC focal point who is also a member of the Bureau. I met also with the commissioner to the African Union, and the UNECA Director of Technology, Climate Change and Natural Resources. And that meeting was superb as well.
Capital: Is there anything you want to add?
Prof. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele: I hope to come back in Ethiopia as Chair of the IPCC and to spend even more time to listen to the concerns and visit other projects on the ground because I think it’s very important that the IPCC has his feet on the ground.