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COP26: Document leak reveals countries pushing to alter key climate report

  • Published at 05:51 pm October 21st, 2021
Climate Change coal
File photo: Smoke and steam billows from PGE's Belchatow power station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant on December 5, 2018 Reuters

Saudi Arabia, Australia, Japan among countries asking UN to underplay need to shift rapidly away from fossil fuels, leaked documents show

A recent document leak has revealed how countries are attempting to alter a significant scientific report on how to combat climate change.

Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Japan are among countries asking the United Nations to underplay the need to shift rapidly away from fossil fuels, reports the BBC.

Moreover, some affluent countries are questioning paying more to poorer nations to move to greener technologies.

Such "lobbying" raises doubts about the impact of the COP26 climate summit to be held in November.

The leak shows countries resisting UN recommendations for climate action and comes just a few days before they are asked at the Glasgow conference to make significant commitments to tackle the climate crisis and limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The documents comprise over 32,000 submissions by governments, companies and other parties concerned to the scientists’ panel making a UN report on tackling climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body tasked with evaluating climate change science, produces these evaluation reports every six to seven years. Governments then use them to decide what action is necessary to combat climate change, and the latest will be a crucial one for negotiations at the COP26 summit.

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These reports possess authority partly due to the fact that essentially all the governments of the world take part in the undertaking to arrive at consensus.

The fossil fuel issue

The leaked documents show several countries and organizations asserting that it is unnecessary to reduce the use of fossil fuels as rapidly as the current draft of the report suggests.

An adviser to Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy demands that "phrases like 'the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales…' should be eliminated from the report".

Meanwhile, an Australian government official discards the conclusion that shutting down coal-fired power plants is essential, despite ending coal use being one of the objectives of the COP26 summit.

Saudi Arabia is one of the largest oil producers in the world, while Australia is a major player in coal exports.

A senior scientist at the Indian Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, which has strong links to the country’s government, forewarns that coal may prevail as the mainstay of energy production for decades to come, owing to the "tremendous challenges" of providing affordable electricity. The South Asian nation is already the second biggest coal consumer in the world.

Several countries bat for emerging and currently expensive techs designed to capture and permanently store carbon dioxide underground. Australia, China, Japan and Saudi Arabia — either significant producers or users of fossil fuels — and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) are all in favour of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

These CCS technologies are claimed to be able to significantly cut fossil fuel emissions from power plants as well as some industrial sectors.

Also Read - Thunberg calls on world leaders for honesty at COP26

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, requests the UN scientists emit their conclusion 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".

Argentina, Norway and Opec disagree with the statement as well. Norway contends that the UN scientists should acknowledge the possibility of CCS as a potential means to decrease emissions from fossil fuels.

The draft report admits that CCS could play a part in the future, but states that there are doubts about its viability. It says "there is large ambiguity in the extent to which fossil fuels with CCS would be compatible with the 2C and 1.5C targets" as put forward by the Paris Agreement.

Australia asks IPCC scientists to omit a mention of analysis of the part played by lobbyists of fossil fuels in attenuating action against climate change in Australia and the US. Opec also asks the IPCC to “delete 'lobby activism, protecting rent extracting business models, prevent political action'”.

When asked about its comments to the draft report, Opec told the BBC that the challenge of tackling emissions has several paths and all of them need to be explored.

All available energy sources as well as clean and more efficient tech solutions need to be utilized, it added.

Meanwhile, the IPCC maintains that remarks from governments are essential to its review process and that its authors are not obliged to include them in the reports.

The IPCC’s processes are designed to stave off lobbying from all fronts, the UN body told the BBC. 

The review process is central to the IPCC's work and is a major source of the credibility of its reports, it stated.

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