Just ahead of the COP26 climate change conference later this month, it’s been revealed that a number of countries are attempting to water down the global climate crisis response and downplay the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels.
Leaked documents, seen by BBC News and Greenpeace’s Unearthed, reportedly show that Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Australia are some of the countries attempting to influence the draft report of the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), the UN body tasked with evaluating the science of climate change.
For example, an adviser to the Saudi oil ministry reviewing the draft report commented: "phrases like 'the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales…' should be eliminated from the report.”
An Australian government official rejected the conclusion that closing coal-fired power plants is needed to avoid further warming, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus saying the opposite, the BBC reported. Australia also asked the IPCC to delete analysis explaining how lobbying by fossil fuel companies has stalled climate action in Australia and the US.
The leaks show thousands of review comments left on the second draft of Working Group III’s contribution to the IPCC’s landmark Sixth Assessment Report, set to be published next year. At this phase of the report, an array of scientists, academics, governments, NGOs, and businesses will review the contents and leave comments on the draft report with the aim of creating a well-rounded final report that’s been through the peer-review process.
The purpose of the IPCC report is to provide policymakers with the latest scientific assessments on climate change and provide an agreed-upon framework for international climate negotiations, such as those expected to commence at the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference held in Glasgow from October 31. Although the majority of these comments are constructive and valid, designed to improve the quality of the final report, it appears some governments have attempted to steer the report to suit their interests.
In another instance, Brazil and Argentina — two meat-producing nations with strong agribusiness lobbies — attempted to downplay the need to cut down on meat and dairy production to fight the climate crisis.
Saudi Arabia, China, Australia, and Japan also appear to push for further investment in climate capture techniques, technologies that could capture carbon from the atmosphere and permanently store it underground. While this emerging technology could play a useful role in addressing the climate crisis, it is currently very expensive and some have argued we should not be banking on them as a fail-safe rebuttal to greenhouse gas emissions.
A number of countries — including India, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia — argue that the report should have a favorable view towards nuclear power since it does not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions, despite posing its own environmental risks.
While the leaked comments will undoubtedly raise questions about the potential outcome of the COP26 negotiations, many scientists believe that the revelations don't undermine the legitimacy of the final IPCC reports. They argue that the IPCC process is largely transparent, trustworthy, and sturdy enough to withstand the influence of most heavy-handed politics.
“The... report exposes the behaviour of certain nations that have attempted to hold back progress on decarbonization through the IPCC process. This lobbying has no impact on the scientific credibility of the IPCC report, however," said Professor Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at the Imperial College London.
"That the IPCC upholds the science in the face of such forceful vested interests is a triumph, and we should be grateful to the scientists involved for not yielding to such pressure.
Be under no illusion, decarbonization at the level we need to avoid dangerous climate change will be opposed by some, perhaps many, in the fossil-fuel industry and by a number of people, companies, and nations that benefit financially from fossil fuels,” he added.