Some of the world’s biggest polluters are trying to water down a key United Nations report on climate change, according to documents obtained by Greenpeace’s journalism unit Unearthed.
The leak, also reviewed by the BBC, showed Saudi Arabia and Australia are among the countries lobbying against U.N. recommendations that the world swiftly phase out fossil fuels. Meanwhile, major beef producers Argentina and Brazil are trying to get findings in favor of plant-based diets removed.
The documents consist of tens of thousands of comments by governments, civil society and others to the authors of a landmark report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — a U.N. body made up of leading climate scientists — on what the world can do to limit global warming. It comes less than two weeks before world leaders gather at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
The U.K. government, which is hosting the conference, is hoping to get governments to submit more ambitious climate action pledges. Several major polluting countries, among them Australia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, have so far rejected calls to step up their plans.
The IPCC produces reports on the state of climate science every six to seven years, which serve as the basis for global climate policy. Governments are invited to respond ahead of publication and sign off on the report’s final summary, but authors can disregard their input if it’s incompatible with scientific findings. Unearthed said its analysis found that most of the contributions were constructive and aimed at improving the text.
Top IPCC author and University of Leeds professor Piers Forster said: “In my over 20 years experience of writing IPCC reports there has always been lobbying from multiple directions. It is important to note that the authors get the last word as ultimately the report rests on peer-reviewed science, not opinion.”
The first part of the most recent assessment, focusing on the physical science of climate change, was released in August. Unearthed’s leak hones in on comments on a draft of the third part, concerning specific actions to tackle global warming and set for publication next year.
Scientists will likely say a swift exit from fossil fuels is necessary to limit warming to relatively safe levels. According to the leak, however, a small number of countries — including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Japan, as well as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — reject a fast phaseout.
Saudi Arabia, for example, wants the authors to delete their finding that “the focus of decarbonization efforts in the energy systems sector needs to be on rapidly shifting to zero-carbon sources and actively phasing out fossil fuels,” according to the BBC.
Instead, they want the IPCC to acknowledge the potential role of carbon capture technology, which can technically draw CO2 from the atmosphere but does not currently exist on a large scale. The world’s largest carbon capture plant, in Iceland, can remove the equivalent of emissions from 870 cars every year.
Meanwhile, Brazil and Argentina — the world’s second- and sixth-largest beef producers — are pushing authors to water down findings on the need for reducing meat and dairy consumption, according to Unearthed.
Officials from both countries are asking for the removal of passages recommending a shift to a plant-based diet, or calling beef a “high carbon” food. Argentina also pressed for the deletion of references to taxes on red meat and campaigns to reduce consumption, including the “Meatless Monday” campaign.
“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,” said Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.
Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science at University College London, said the lobbying “drives home what we need to do to reduce climate change: Stop using coal as soon as possible, phase out oil and natural gas usage as soon as possible, stop deforestation and start reforestation and move to a more plant-based diet and definitely cut down the amount of beef we produce.”
Karl Mathiesen contributed reporting.
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