27 Feb 2018 Speech Climate change

Not all heroes wear Lycra

Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director for UN Environment and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations

Opening Remarks at All4TheGreen: Mobilizing Climate Science Conference celebrating 30th Anniversary of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Bologna, Italy
26 February 2018

As we gather here in beautiful Bologna to celebrate 30 years of scientific excellence and leadership from the IPCC, the Human Rights Council is gathering in Geneva.

We are meeting 600 miles apart, yet our objectives, our concerns and our priorities could not be closer. Because that Council is gathering to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and because, as climate change continues to bite, it threatens our ability to protect those most fundamental of rights. Things like the right to a standard of living adequate for our health and well-being; the right to own property; and the right to freedom of movement - they all take on a new perspective when a growing population is faced with warming seas, shrinking land, reducing resources and more extreme weather events.

Already, in the last 70 years, since that declaration was signed, at least 40% of civil wars have been linked to natural resources. So, what are the chances those risks will improve as climate pressure grows, when, in the last decade, almost daily disasters related to weather forced an average of 26 million people from their homes each year? When, by 2050, environmental factors could displace as many as 200 million? Or when, within the next few decades, one in every 45 people on this planet could be forced out of their homes and into the unknown?

The statistics are endless and it’s easy to be completely numbed by the numbers. Until the day you or your loved ones become that 1 in 45. Like my family.

In Mauritania in the eighties, a minor dispute over access to land and water sparked an international conflict that wrenched my family into the unknown. My father was among the many, many thousands displaced, denied nationality and deported - from both sides of the Senegal river. He was eventually accepted as a refugee in Senegal and built a new life. But others were not so lucky and it will take generations to restore land, hope and confidence in the region.

Our Italian hosts are only too familiar with the knock-on effects of such displacement – for the refugees, the communities where they relocate and the authorities trying to manage everything in between.

It’s a story being played out by families from the Lake Chad Basin to the Louisiana Bayou to literally thousands of low lying islands and coastal communities in developed and developing countries alike. Played out by real people, not statistics. Played out, because climate change is putting pressure on their rights and resources, ultimately creating new flashpoints for crises, conflicts and inequality.

It is a vicious cycle - but it is not inevitable. Instead, thanks to hundreds of leading scientists at the IPCC, we can use solid findings to build policies that anticipate, mitigate and adapt to the many risks related to climate change.

That the greatest scientific minds in the world volunteer their contributions is awe inspiring. Hollywood got it slightly wrong – not all heroes wear Lycra when they save the world. Sometimes they wear a lab coat! Because even if it too often goes unrecognized, the personal dedication of this IPCC scientific community is indeed heroic. And the magnitude and quality of their work reflects the power and strength of some incredibly talented individuals and teams.

Together, they shape the decisions taken at the UN Environment Assemblies and the Climate Conferences. They inform citizens, educators and decision makers from every country, every sector and every walk of life, and they give us options to break that destructive cycle.

More than that, they give us options to turn that cycle into a force for more equitable, sustainable development. Plus, with the list of authors for the next assessment being finalized, the special report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC due in October, and UN Environment’s annual Emissions Gap and Adaptation Gap reports providing complimentary data, there is plenty of new climate science to drive much needed policies and action to build that force for change.

For that we owe a huge thanks to everyone who has worked for and with the IPCC over the last 30 years.

I think all parents are proud of their offspring. They want them to mature and grow in a way that will leave the world a little better than they found it. It was the case for my father when he left Mauritania. It is the case for my own family. And for UN Environment and our partners at the World Meteorological Organization, it is the case for the IPCC. That world leaders, industrial leaders and community leaders can make life changing decisions safe in the knowledge that the IPCC is providing them with solid scientific data is something we can all be extremely proud of.

In the years ahead, there is no doubt that this increasingly diverse panel of experts will continue to mature in a way that allows us to surmount some enormous challenges. I for one, look forward to seeing just how much your valiant efforts can do to protect all our families and strengthen all our rights by the time the world marks your 70th Anniversary!

Thank you.