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U.N. panel prepares last report of series to shape climate policy

The head of the U.N.'s Nobel Prize-winning panel of climate experts called for quick action because "make no mistake, inaction and delays are not listed as options."

Interlaken, Switzerland seen from the Schynige Platte
Interlaken, Switzerland seen from the Schynige Platte (AN/J. Heilprin)

INTERLAKEN, Switzerland (AN) – The U.N.'s panel of top climate scientists began meeting this week to approve a synthesis of its latest round of reports since the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The synthesis, including a summary for policymakers, is the final instalment in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Sixth Assessment Report, which is intended to prod urgent action.

"This week, we are poised to cross the finish line of the cycle," IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said in opening the weeklong conference on Monday. The reports, he said, provide policymakers with "a much-needed textbook for addressing climate change. Make no mistake, inaction and delays are not listed as options."

Lee, a South Korean economist, also noted the reports are solution-oriented.

"They clearly show that humanity has the know-how and the technology to tackle human-induced climate change. But not only that," he said. "They show that we have the capacity to build a much more prosperous, inclusive and equitable society in this process."

Swiss Federal Councilor Albert Rösti, who oversees the nation's department of the environment, transport, energy and communications, welcomed 650 delegates to the plenary. He said the Alpine nation largely depends on hydropower and is "particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including the melting of glaciers, or extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts, and floods."

"It is estimated that up to 8% of Swiss territory is now unstable due to changes in thawing permafrost," said Rösti. "These have far-reaching consequences, affecting agriculture, infrastructure, health, and ecosystems. Climate change is a global concern, but its impacts are felt locally, in our own communities and daily lives."

'Cold, hard facts' needed

Delegates also heard video messages from U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and the heads of the U.N. weather, climate and environment agencies.

Guterres said the IPCC's latest findings could not come at a more pivotal time, after its report last year clearly demonstrated it's possible to limit global warming to a crucial threshold with rapid, deep cuts in carbon emissions across the board.

"We are nearing the point of no return – of overshooting the internationally agreed limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. We are at the tip of a tipping point," he said. "But it is not too late – as you have shown."

The Nobel Prize-winning IPCC reported last year that half the world's population lives in areas with potentially dangerous climate impacts. A report in 2021 showed some of the changes to oceans, land and ice cannot be reversed.

Guterres called on the panel to once again "point the way to solutions" for world leaders and climate negotiators who gather for climate talks each year "and show the urgent need to end global heating with cold, hard facts."