A massive leak of data obtained by BBC News reveals how nations are attempting to alter a key scientific study on how to combat climate change.
According to the leak, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia are among the countries requesting that the UN downplay the need to transition swiftly away from fossil fuels.
It also demonstrates that some affluent countries are hesitant to pay more to poorer countries in order to encourage them to adopt greener technologies.
This “lobbying” raises concerns about the COP26 climate meeting, which will take place in November.
The leak exposes nations resisting UN suggestions for action, just days before they are urged to make substantial pledges at the summit to halt climate change and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
More than 32,000 comments from governments, corporations, and other interested parties were leaked to a team of scientists putting up a UN report aimed at bringing together the best scientific data on how to combat climate change.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN organization responsible with reviewing climate change research, produces these “assessment reports” every six to seven years.
Governments use these studies to determine what action is required to combat climate change, and the most recent will be a critical contribution to the Glasgow conference’s deliberations.
The fact that nearly all of the world’s governments engage in the consensus-building process lends credibility to these reports.
The majority of the government comments the BBC has seen are intended to be helpful and enhance the final report’s quality.
Greenpeace UK’s Unearthed team of investigative journalists received the cache of comments and the newest draft of the report, which they passed on to BBC News.
Fossil fuels are a type of energy that comes from the decomposition
According to the leak, a number of nations and organizations argue that the world does not need to cut its use of fossil fuels as rapidly as the report’s present form suggests.
“Words like ‘the necessity for urgent and expedited mitigation efforts at all scales…’ should be removed from the study,” according to a Saudi oil ministry expert.
Despite the fact that eliminating coal usage is one of the declared goals of the COP26 meeting, one top Australian government official disputes the conclusion that it is necessary to close coal-fired power facilities.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s top oil producers, while Australia is a significant coal exporter.
Because of the “tremendous problems” of supplying inexpensive power, a senior scientist from India’s Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, which has significant ties to the Indian government, cautions that coal would likely remain the basis of energy production for decades. India is already the second-largest coal user in the world.
A number of countries argue in favor of developing, but still expensive, methods for permanently capturing and storing carbon dioxide underground. Saudi Arabia, China, Australia, and Japan, all major producers or consumers of fossil fuels, as well as Opec, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, favor carbon capture and storage (CCS).
These CCS technologies are said to have the potential to significantly reduce fossil fuel emissions from power stations and some industrial sectors.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has asked UN scientists to rescind their finding that “the priority of decarbonisation activities in the energy systems sector should be on swiftly transitioning to zero-carbon sources and actively phasing out fossil fuels.”
Argentina, Norway, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) all disagree with the assertion. Norway says that UN scientists should enable CCS to be considered as a viable method for lowering fossil-fuel emissions.
CCS might play a role in the future, according to the draft study, although there are concerns about its practicality. It claims that “the extent to which fossil fuels with CCS would be consistent with the 2C and 1.5C objectives” laid out in the Paris Agreement is “very ambiguous.”
Australia has requested that a reference to an examination of the role of fossil fuel lobbyists in watering down climate action in Australia and the United States be removed from the IPCC report. Opec also requests that the IPCC “remove ‘lobby advocacy, safeguarding rent extraction economic models, and preventing political action” from its report.
When asked by the BBC about its views on the draft report, Opec said: “As the IPCC report shows, the problem of reducing emissions has many avenues to take, and we must examine them all. To assist cut emissions and ensure that no one is left behind, we must use all available energy as well as clean and more efficient technology solutions.”
The IPCC claims that government comments are critical to its scientific review process, but that authors are under no duty to include them in their reports.
The IPCC informed the BBC that “our systems are structured to defend against lobbying – from all corners.” “The review process is (and has always been) a critical component of the IPCC’s work, and it is a key contributor to the robustness and credibility of our reports.
Professor Corinne le Quéré of the University of East Anglia, a renowned climate scientist who has contributed to three key IPCC reports, has no reservations about the reports’ impartiality.
She claims that all remarks, regardless of source, are assessed entirely on the basis of scientific evidence.
She told the BBC that there is “absolutely no compulsion on scientists to accept the statements.” “If the comments constitute lobbying, or if the science does not support them, they will not be included in the IPCC reports.”
She believes it is critical for professionals of all types, including governments, to examine the science.
“The more the reports are scrutinized, the more solid the evidence will be in the end,” says Professor le Quéré, “because the more the arguments are brought and stated in a way that leans on the finest available research.”
Christiana Figueres, the Costa Rican diplomat who presided over the historic United Nations climate summit in Paris in 2015, agrees that countries must be involved in the IPCC process.
“It is necessary for everyone’s voice to be heard. That is the whole point. There isn’t just one thread here. This is a tapestry made out of a large number of strands.”
The IPCC’s work on climate science and the critical role it has played in the struggle to combat climate change earned the United Nations a Nobel Prize in 2007.
Consuming less meat
Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s largest producers of beef and animal feed crops, argue forcefully against the draft report’s findings that cutting meat consumption is vital to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Plant-based diets can cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50% compared to the average emission-intensive Western diet,” according to the draft study. This, according to Brazil, is wrong.
Both nations demand that paragraphs in the text referring to “plant-based diets” as a means of combating climate change or describing beef as a “high carbon” meal be deleted or changed. Argentina also requested that references to red meat tariffs be deleted from the study, as well as allusions to the international “Meatless Monday” campaign, which encourages people to go without meat for a day.
The South American country advises “avoiding generalizations on the effects of meat-based diets on low-carbon alternatives,” claiming that meat-based diets may also cut carbon emissions.
On the same topic, Brazil claims that “plant-based diets do not guarantee the reduction or control of associated emissions” and that the focus of discussion should be on the amounts of emissions from various production methods rather than food kinds.
Brazil, which has witnessed large increases in deforestation rates in the Amazon and other forest areas, denies that this is due to changes in government restrictions, stating that this is inaccurate.
Money for less-developed countries
A large proportion of Switzerland’s comments are aimed at revising portions of the report that imply that poor nations would require assistance from affluent countries, notably financial assistance, in order to fulfill emission reduction objectives.
At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, wealthy countries pledged to contribute $100 billion per year in climate funding to poor countries by 2020, a target that has yet to be reached.
Australia makes an argument that is comparable to Switzerland’s. It claims that developing nations’ climate promises are not entirely reliant on foreign financial assistance. It also labels a remark of the lack of genuine public financial pledges in the draft report as “subjective judgment.”
According to the BBC, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment: “While climate financing is an important instrument for increasing climate ambition, it is far from the sole one.
“Switzerland believes that all Parties to the Paris Agreement who have the means to do so should assist those who require assistance.”
Taking the nuclear option
A group of primarily eastern European nations believe that the draft report should be more optimistic about nuclear power’s contribution in reaching the UN’s climate goals.
India goes even farther, claiming that “nearly every chapter contains an anti-nuclear energy bias.” It claims that it is a “established technology” with “strong governmental support” in all but a few nations.
The Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia object to a table in the study that claims nuclear power can only help achieve one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They claim that it can help the UN achieve the majority of its development goals.