Who is Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the Belgian climatologist running to head the IPCC for the second time?

On 26 July, we will know who will succeed South Korea’s Hoesung Lee as chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One of the candidates is Belgian climatologist Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, who also ran in 2015. The Brussels-based scientist has an impressive CV for the top job.

Van Ypersele was born in Brussels in 1957. He studied physics at UCLouvain, did an internship at the UN Environment Programme – where he studied climate and desertification in Nairobi – and wrote his thesis on the effect of CO2 on the climate.

In 1979, as a 22-year-old student in Geneva, van Ypersele attended the first major international conference on climate organised by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations, where his fascination with the subject was further fueled.

Professor of climatology

With his degree in hand, van Ypersele embarked on his doctorate, which he completed with the highest distinction in 1986. He became a professor of climatology and environmental sciences, specialising in the numerical simulation of climate change from an interdisciplinary perspective, working on global and regional scales.

He was particularly interested in the impact of human activities on the climate, the effects of climate variability and change on ecosystems and human activities, and what can be done about it. He wrote numerous scientific papers on climate, including the climate of the 20th and 21st centuries, regional climate change in Europe, Greenland and Africa, and the ethics of responsibility for climate change.

“Several elements suggest an observable human influence on global climate”

In November 1995, van Ypersele was the first and only Belgian to attend a meeting of the IPCC in Madrid. He contributed a short sentence that has since gone down in the annals of the organisation: “Several elements suggest an observable human influence on global climate.”

For the first time, it was clear that the climate was changing and that this was no longer a vague projection of the future based on theoretical calculations.

As well as being an active member of the IPCC for many years, van Ypersele has been a mediator at the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Climate Convention for two decades.

First nomination

In 2008, he was elected vice-chair of the IPCC. In 2014, he was nominated by the Belgian government as a candidate to succeed Rajendra Pachauri as chair of the IPCC in 2015. For 20 months, he travelled the world to present an ambitious programme to policymakers, scientists, industrialists and journalists. He aimed to further strengthen the IPCC’s influence.

Despite the support of the Belgian government, his vision to maintain the scientific independence of the IPCC and his commitment to inclusiveness and communication, van Ypersele was not elected. He received the votes of 56 countries, 12 short of being elected.

As his mandate as vice-chair had expired, he could no longer be a member of the IPCC Bureau. However, he continued to attend plenary meetings as a representative of the Belgian delegation.

On 2 April 2019, he announced that he would be standing again for the chairship. Whether he succeeds will be known on 26 July