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Race for climate think tank chief picks up steam ahead of July vote


Prof Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a climate physicist at the Louvain University and Belgium’s candidate for the IPCC chair elections scheduled for July 23–28, 2023, in Nairobi during the interview on June 2, 2023. PHOTO | SIMON LIBAFU | NMG

Kenya, like the rest of the world, is grappling with the negative effects of climate change as a result of increasing temperatures.

On the global stage, the international community is searching for elusive solutions as the big polluters in the industrialised world side-step commitments seen as a threat to their economic interests.

Recently, President William Ruto called for an end to the United Nations Climate Change Conferences (COPs), which he said have yielded no tangible action to address the impacts of carbon emissions, especially on Africa, which has suffered the most yet remains the least polluter globally.

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The global community is on the spot for not walking the talk in implementing concrete measures to address the thorny issues of carbon emissions in developed nations while extreme weather events wreak havoc in Africa.

“Stop the conversation of global North versus global South. This is not a global south problem, this is not a fossil fuel versus green energy problem, this is a problem we can sort out together,” Dr Ruto told delegates attending the UN-Habitat Assembly in Nairobi, which ends on Thursday.

"The day we realise this, we will get the solution but as long as we imagine that it is the problem of the global North versus global South, as long as we continue to imagine that this is going to be sorted out by aid or by assisting this and that country, there is no country that is going to assist the North. We can only work together," the President said.

On the policy front, however, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been churning out scientific guidelines for governments and other institutions including businesses to adopt in mitigating the impact of climate change by adopting sustainable practices.

“The future is in our hands and we can do much more if we want to make the situation better not only in the climates aspect but in many others especially if we put climate action in the broader context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” says Prof Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a climate physicist at the University of Louvain and Belgium’s candidate for the IPCC chairman elections.

Nairobi is expected to host the 55th Session of the IPCC from July 23 to July 28 during, which new office bearers for the body will be elected.

With the polls around the corner, candidates are flocking to Nairobi in a charm offensive to win the coveted position at the body.

Prof Ypersele is in Kenya to drum up support for his candidature, saying he is vying to make the organisation the global voice for the climate.

“I'm probably one of the candidates with the longest experience in climate science. I am the only climate scientist in the fall. I've worked on climate change not only from the physical point of view but also in collaboration with scientists from many other disciplines during my 40-year career, almost 30 years at the IPCC. I just want to put this experience at the service of the community,” he told the Business Daily last week before heading to Nyeri where he participated in a tree-planting exercise to mark the Environment Day.

Other candidates gunning for the IPCC chair during the 55th session in Nairobi next month are Brazil’s Krug Thelma, Roberts Debra Cynthia from South Africa and Skea Jim of the United Kingdom.

Ms Cynthia was in Nairobi recently to campaign for the position of IPCC chair. She is so far the only African fronted from Africa to the position.

Should her bid go through, she will be the first African and the first female IPCC chair.

“Our current development is challenged by the impact of climate change — damaged infrastructure, damaged livelihoods and impacts on health,” she says.

The talk about climate change by scientists is all gloom and doom as efforts to keep global warming below 1.5°C face obstacles. However, Prof Ypersele says all is not lost.

“If we break the silos and see how we can collaborate and find synergies between the different problems and solutions to those problems, we can do a lot to improve not only climate but also some of the other SDGs including energy access for the 800 million people who don't have basic energy and eradicating poverty.

I am by nature, optimistic. I am not a doom and gloom person at all neither am I naive. The climate situation is really bad. But we can make things much better if we want. I want the IPCC to be at the service of that movement,” he says.

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Prof Ypersele, however, says the IPCC would push for the implementation of climate change policies within the organisation’s mandate to avoid potential conflict with the international community.

“The IPCC is not in charge of climate policies in the world…the IPCC’s role is to advise looking at the scientific, technical and socio-economic aspects of climate change now. The IPCC is a UN body, so it has to look at what is happening, what might happen and also the solutions that could be offered by or to all countries in the world,” he says.

“So for example, in the latest IPCC report on impacts and adaptation to climate change, there's a specific chapter about Africa. In that chapter, you find the justifications for the statement that is often made, for example, during the COPs, that Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents as far as climate change is concerned.

It's vulnerable to drought and floods. It is important on the solution side because it has a lot of forests, which store a lot of carbon, for example, the Congo Basin and surrounding areas.

There are many issues related to agriculture and clean water provision, which are very important for the health of the population."

The climate scientist is passionate about keeping carbon emissions low and is pushing for adaptation measures and policies to reduce greenhouse gases so that global warming does not go beyond the 1.5°C mark and warns Africa would contribute to the higher temperatures if the continent ignores the mitigation measures.

“The IPCC is very aware that Africa as a whole contributed very little to the global emissions. That it will contribute more later if it doesn't also change its development pathways. This is why it's important to keep the warming below 1.5°C, which is the most ambitious target of the Paris Agreements signed in 2015. And this is why I have this message on my tie. Keeping warming below 1.5°C is very important to allow for adaptation,” says Prof Ypersele displaying his white tie with “I Love 1.5°C” in bold print.

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