Leaked documents show major polluters trying to water down UN climate report

Australia, Saudi Arabia and Brazil are among those trying to lobby the IPCC, according to a Greenpeace report.

Leaked documents show major polluters trying to water down UN climate report

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 Australia 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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Romanian president proposes army general as prime minister

A reconstitution of the center-right coalition that collapsed in September amid disagreements between the USR and Cîțu remains very unlikely.

Romanian president proposes army general as prime minister

BUCHAREST — With Romania trapped in political deadlock, President Klaus Iohannis on Thursday asked Nicolae Ciucă, the country’s interim defense minister, to form the next government.

The request marks Iohannis’ second attempt to resolve a political crisis that started last month, when the coalition collapsed. The choice of Ciucă, of the National Liberal Party (known as PNL), represents a U-turn by Iohannis. Until Wednesday evening, he had favored Florin Cîțu — the PNL leader who currently serves as interim prime minister after being dismissed through a no-confidence motion.

“It’s unacceptable to continue like this,” Iohannis told reporters, in reference to the gridlock. “I was very pleased that the PNL came with a new approach.”

Ciucă, ex-army chief of staff, was interim prime minister immediately after a general election last December yielded a center-right coalition between the PNL, the Union to Save Romania (USR) and the ethnic Hungarian party UDMR.

“We will negotiate with all the responsible forces to form a government as soon as possible,” said Ciucă, speaking alongside Iohannis.

Iohannis’ hand was forced after parliament nixed a bid on Wednesday by Dacian Cioloș, the head of the USR, the third-largest party in the legislature, to become the next prime minister.

A reconstitution of the center-right coalition that collapsed in September amid disagreements between the USR and Cîțu remains very unlikely, according to local media.

Cîțu’s role had been a sticking point in talks. Cioloș and his party had demanded that the PNL leader be replaced as prime minister in order for the USR to remain in government. While this ask has now been fulfilled in spirit, the PNL said it would still seek to exclude the USR from the new government, preferring to rely on support from political arch-enemies in the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the largest party in parliament.

These moves come as the country’s public health crisis deepens, with COVID-19 deaths and intensive care occupation rates at record highs. The government has enacted new restrictions as a response.

The PSD didn’t propose its own prime minister candidate in the consultations, but its leader, Marcel Ciolacu, said the group is considering offering its support to a minority government for a short period to manage the pandemic, after which it will demand elections.

Meanwhile, UDMR leader Kelemen Hunor said on Wednesday he and his party had “reservations” about a lifelong soldier leading the country, but added that this was not a personal judgement against Ciucă.

“Ciucă is an exceptional military man … who went into war theaters,” Hunor said, referring to the nominee’s participation in NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia. “On the political side there’s a problem because it is not very usual — in the last 50-60 years, in democratic countries no soldier has led the government.”

However, he added, he understands “the PNL’s decision to find a quick solution, one for the not very long term.”

The vote in parliament on the new government is expected early next week.

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