Countries tried to modify key UN climate report, leaked documents show

Smoke billows from a brick kiln in Karachi, Pakistan, 14 December 2018. (Keystone/EPA/Shahzaib Akber)

Countries are trying to change a major UN scientific report on how to tackle climate change, documents seen by the BBC reveal.

The leaked documents show that countries like Saudi Arabia, Japan or Australia have sought to minimise the need for a rapid exit of fossil fuels. Switzerland, for its part, has tried to reduce the financial responsibility of rich countries towards poor countries.

According to the BBC, the documents reveal more than 32,000 submissions made by governments, companies and other parties to the scientists overseeing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) flagship report, released every six to seven years. The first of the latest four-part report was released on 9 August.

Why this is significant. This is certainly not the first time that UN member states have attempted to mitigate elements considered sensitive during the validation of IPCC reports. The fact that these attempts were not conclusive shows the strength of the validation process put in place within the expert group. But a few days before COP26, which will begin on 31 October in Glasgow, this shows that the commitment is not there, and that the lobbying for fossil fuels remains vigorous at the political level.

Corinne le Quéré, a climatologist at the University of East Anglia, who participated in three IPCC reports, is cited by the BBC :

“There is absolutely no pressure on scientists to accept comments. If the comments are lobbying, if they are not justified by science, they will not be included in the IPCC reports. ”

Some examples.

  • A member of the Australian government rejected the conclusion that coal-fired power stations should be closed, and asked to delete a reference to the role played by oil lobbies on climate policy in Australia and the United States.

  • Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, for its part asked IPCC researchers to withdraw the passage where they concluded that "decarbonization efforts (also called decarbonization, editor's note) in the energy systems sector must be focused on the rapid transition to carbon-free sources and the phase-out of fossil fuels. ”

  • For Norway, CO2 capture techniques should have been integrated as a tool for reducing emissions. The finalised version of the report acknowledges that these technologies could play a role in the future, but mentions "great ambiguity as to the extent to which fossil fuels combined with these technologies would be compatible with the 2 ° C and 1 ° C targets, 5 ° C. "

  • Brazil and Argentina, among the world's largest beef producers, tried to oppose the passage of the report in which researchers cite scientific evidence that “a vegetarian diet would reduce emissions. greenhouse gases up to 50 per cent.”

  • Several Eastern European countries – Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia – as well as India have finally deplored that the IPCC report does not speak out more for nuclear energy.

And Switzerland? According to BBC documents , Switzerland's comments were aimed at reducing the need for financial support from poor countries, in other words the financial responsibility of more advanced countries. At the Copenhagen conference in 2009, developed countries committed to providing $100 billion per year to developing countries by 2020, but current commitments fall short of that target.

Contacted by the BBC, Switzerland’s federal office for the environment replied:

“Even though green finance is a crucial tool for increasing climate ambitions, it is not the only relevant tool to use. Switzerland believes that all parties to the Paris Agreement that have the capacity to do so should provide support to those who need it. ”


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