Leaked documents reveal that a number of countries are attempting to alter a landmark UN report on climate change, lobbying the organization to downplay the need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels, and to understate the climate benefits of plant-based diets.
The leak – seen by Unearthed, a group of investigative journalists tied to Greenpeace – comprises more than 32,000 comments made by governments, corporations, academics and others on a draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report, due to be published next year, aims at assembling the best scientific evidence on climate change mitigation. However, the leaked comments show that some countries are seeking to strip the report of key findings, specifically those that threaten domestic economic interests, like coal and oil industries or animal agriculture.
It is important to note that these leaked comments are only suggested amendments to the IPCC draft, which authors can reject if unsupported by scientific literature. Following the leak, the IPCC itself insisted that the drafting process is ‘designed to guard against lobbying – from all quarters,’ while experts were quick to affirm the integrity of the report’s authors. Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, stressed that ‘this lobbying has no impact on the scientific credibility of the report.’ ‘The IPCC upholds the science in the face of such forceful vested interests.’ Nevertheless, ‘these comments,’ remarked Simon Lewis, a professor of global change science at University College London, ‘show the tactics some countries are willing to adopt to obstruct and delay action to cut emissions.’
Major oil and coal producing countries – including Australia, Saudi Arabia and the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – repeatedly called for recommendations to rapidly phase out fossil fuels to be removed from the draft report. Elsewhere, Argentinian and Brazilian officials sought to delete passages that emphasized the importance of plant-based diets in reducing emissions. With both nations ranking amongst the largest beef and animal feed producers globally, such recommendations might threaten their domestic interests.
The leaked comments show the willingness of certain nations to neglect the climate crisis, and avoid climate action, in order to preserve these domestic interests. As Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, explains: ‘if a nation has huge reserves of fossil fuels they may feel some national interest to protect that interest and try to encourage the world to use them. But that’s not in the global interest.’
The leak comes just days before the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, where UN member-states are expected to make new commitments to reducing emissions and limiting climate change. While the conference has been described as the ‘last best change to get runaway climate change under control,’ the leak raises real concerns over the commitment of some nations to combat the climate crisis. Only recently, Greta Thunberg has criticized world leaders for neglecting the climate crisis, accusing them of simply employing ‘communication tactics and PR in order to make it seem as if they are taking action.’ The leaked comments offer a unique insight into the positions some nations are adopting behind closed doors, and perhaps provides some clues into their respective approaches to Cop26.
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