Issue 13 Editor's Note
October 27, 2021

A massive document leak exposed how some of the world’s largest fossil fuel and animal feed-producing nations are lobbying to strip key findings from the latest IPCC climate assessment. The attack on climate facts comes just a couple weeks before the pivotal COP26, raising questions about the summit’s potential outcome during a critical juncture in international climate negotiations. 

The leaked papers, viewed by BBC News and Unearthed, were a compilation of more than 32,000 comments and edits made by governments, corporations, and academics on a draft of the IPCC’s Working Group III assessment. The report, drawn up every six to seven years, is intended to inform policymakers using the most recent science and data to predict the impact of climate change and recommends actions for international climate negotiations — such as COP26. 

Unsurprisingly, fossil fuel producers including Australia, Saudi Arabia, and OPEC were among the most outspoken, trying to downplay the report’s conclusion that the world needs to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels. According to Unearthed, a senior Australian government official rejected the conclusion that closing coal-fired power plants is imperative for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, despite widespread scientific consensus to the contrary. A Saudi oil ministry advisor also commented that “phrases like ‘the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales…’ should be eliminated from the report.” Meanwhile, Australia and Saudi Arabia are among the largest coal and oil exporters, respectively.

A power plant operates in the distance. Photography from Pixabay.

These nations also argued in favor of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, which the climate justice movement regards to be a false solution. CCS is an integrated process that aims to compress, transport, and then store carbon dioxide underground or below the seabed. The oil, gas, and coal industries in particular are major proponents for these expensive and largely inefficient technologies that have not been tested at scale. Why? It makes a meager argument for not having to stop oil and coal production and export, and it enables them to make even more money by boosting oil production. Moreover, CCS fails to hold polluters accountable for their actions because it only addresses the environmental aftermath. This allows the fossil fuel industry to continue disproportionately impacting low-income neighborhoods, Black communities, and Indigenous People. 

But it is not just the fossil fuel industry. Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s largest beef and animal feed producers, requested to remove or downplay passages in the IPCC report, describing beef as a “high carbon” food, and suggesting that reductions in meat and dairy consumption are “biased concepts.” Brazil suggested that the report should instead focus on other production systems, rather than food, and Argentina even argued that meat-based diets could reduce carbon emissions. 

Many scientists reaffirm that the IPCC will remain unbiased in its report. “In my over 20 years’ experience of writing IPCC reports there has always been lobbying from multiple directions,”  said Professor Piers Forster, professor of climate change and Priestley Centre Director at the University of Leeds. “It is important to note that the authors get the last word as ultimately the report rests on peer reviewed science, not opinion.” 

The leak of documents reveals that away from the public eye, some of the world’s biggest polluters are trying to limit the scope of future climate policy. While this is hardly the first time corporate interests have attempted to interfere with climate action, it adds to a growing list of concerns preceding COP26. 

This week, the UN Environment Programme released its Emissions Gap Report announcing that most of the worst emitters, including the U.S., are far from hitting their pollution targets stated in the Paris Climate Agreement. Countries have eight years to nearly halve greenhouse gas emissions — that means eight years to make the plans, to pass the policies, implement them, and have enough success at implementation to reach that target. But international climate negotiations move pretty slow. While around 50 countries and the EU have pledged a net zero target decades from now, the report concludes that many of these targets are vague or critically insufficient, namely among the wealthiest and most polluting nations. 

Another report published this week by the OECD found that wealthy nations will not fulfill a pledge made in the Paris Agreement to help developing countries fight against the effects of climate change and transition to clean energy with $100 billion a year from 2020 to 2025. The pledge will not be reached until 2023. For the Global South and nations least responsible for emissions, but faced with the harshest consequences, this funding is essential. Climate finance is among one of the prevailing topics to be addressed at the conference. Fiji, a member of the Alliance of Small Island States, will press wealthy governments to finance $750 billion annually to climate action in developing nations. 

And lest anyone forget there is a pandemic raging, it is also profoundly affecting who can attend the climate conference this year. COVID-19 has made it difficult for climate-vulnerable nations to attend at full-scale — only four leaders from Pacific island states will attend in person due to rigorous safety measures, and unequal access to vaccines might exclude officials and activists from developing nations — but developing nations will push hard and demand specific commitments to climate action and support.

The leak and the reports cast a shadow over the official climate negotiations next month, particularly as scientists and activists alike urge bold action now. “This is a particular slap in the face for vulnerable nations who are suffering the worst consequences of climate change…we remain without a commitment from the highest emitters to cover the loss and damage that they have brought on the world,” said Brian O’Callaghan, an author on the UNEP report. 

It remains to be seen what will come out of the official COP26 negotiations. But we are not waiting for international alignment. While world leaders are convening, grassroots climate justice leaders will come together at the COP26 Coalition’s People’s Summit for Climate Justice from November 7-10th, bringing the movement together to discuss, learn, and strategize for system change. Learn more about the COP conferences and what is at stake this year from grassroots climate justice leaders, and attend virtually here. At the Center, we are most excited about the groundswell of activity leading up to the People’s Summit. Join us as we attend!

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