Cop26: Leaked documents reveal the countries lobbying UN to water down climate crisis response

World is currently far off track to meet globally-agreed targets to limit temperature rises

Tom Batchelor
Thursday 21 October 2021 10:03 BST
A worker checks equipment at a coal mine in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China. Reducing demand for coal is crucial for meeting climate targets, say scientists
A worker checks equipment at a coal mine in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China. Reducing demand for coal is crucial for meeting climate targets, say scientists (Getty Images)

Some of the world’s most polluting countries are attempting to water down a landmark UN climate report, according to a massive leak of documents.

More than 30,000 files, obtained by Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, Unearthed, reveal Australia, China, Saudi Arabia and India are among the nations to have made submissions to a panel of scientists urging them to remove key phrases or downplay the need to switch away from fossil fuels.

In one instance, major beef producers Brazil and Argentina are said to have disputed assertions that the world needs to reduce its meat consumption in order to tackle climate change.

India and several eastern European countries said the draft report should be more positive about nuclear power, while Australian officials challenged the idea that coal-fired power stations would need to close.

Countries around the world – particularly those with the largest carbon footprints, many of which are named in the leak – are under pressure to increase their ambition to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The world is currently far off track to meet globally agreed targets to limit temperature rises and curb dangerous warming.

The crucial Cop26 summit taking place in Glasgow in less than two weeks' time is the effective deadline for countries to bring forward more ambitious national climate plans in a five-year process under the global Paris climate treaty.

But the leak of documents suggests that behind the scenes, many of the biggest polluters are attempting to limit the scope of future climate targets.

Contained in the trove were tens of thousands of responses issued by governments and businesses aimed at a team of experts working on a contribution to the International Panel on Climate Change’s landmark Sixth Assessment Report.

Their assessment will help define the outcome of Cop26 and the emissions targets governments will be required to meet.

Most of the leaked submissions made on behalf of governments and corporations were described as constructive. But many of the comments seen by Unearthed were focused on watering down plans for the tough new environmental targets which scientists say are needed.

Climate Change: COP26 might change our world

Among the comments was a call to “omit” a statement that the “focus of decarbonisation efforts in the energy systems sector needs to be on rapidly shifting to zero-carbon sources and actively phasing out all fossil fuels”. This, Unearthed said, came from an adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.

A scientist from India's Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, which has ties to the government, reportedly argued that the “tremendous challenges” of affordable electricity mean coal is likely to remain an energy source for decades.

And a senior Australian government official is said to have rejected the assumption that coal-fired power plants would need to be closed as part of efforts to address the climate crisis.

Brazil and Argentina were said to have called for references to the importance of “plant-based diets” to be removed or edited, as well as descriptions of beef as “high carbon”. Argentina also argued for the removal of references to the “Meatless Monday” campaign and taxes on red meat, Unearthed said.

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The leak revealed that China, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the organisation of oil producing nations, Opec, all back carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a means of reducing their environmental impact.

CCS involves trapping carbon at its emission source, such as a fossil-fuel power station. But scientists have warned that CCS can play only a small part in reducing the impact on the planet.

Sian Bradley, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, told Unearthed there had “never been any credible suggestion that it [CCS] could deal with the bulk of fossil fuel-related emissions as they stand today”.

In the files, Switzerland was said to focus on amending elements of the draft report that argue developing countries will need financial support from rich countries to meet their climate targets.

The IPCC said the processes by which a report is compiled were “designed to guard against lobbying – from all quarters”.

A spokesperson told The Independent the IPCC process was “fully transparent, and we routinely publish the preliminary drafts, the review comments and the author responses to the comments, once the report is finalised”.

He added: “The drafts of the report are just that – early versions of the report where the authors test out their ideas with each other and then revise them in line with discussions within the IPCC.”

Climate scientist Professor Corinne le Quere, who has helped compile three IPCC reports, told the BBC that there was “absolutely no pressure on scientists to accept the comments” and that “if the comments are lobbying, if they're not justified by the science, they will not be integrated in the IPCC reports”.

The Independent has contacted OPEC and representatives of the countries mentioned in the report for comment.

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