A politically sensitive part of the latest report by the world’s leading authority on climate change was gutted at the insistence of government officials, one of the study’s authors has revealed.
Nearly 75 per cent of a section on the impact of international climate negotiations was deleted at a meeting in Berlin two weeks ago, said one of the authors responsible for that part of the report, Harvard University’s Professor Robert Stavins.
The Berlin meeting was held so representatives of the world’s governments could approve a summary of a massive report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, on how to tackle climate change which took hundreds of authors from around the world nearly five years to compile.
The report was the third of a trilogy of studies the IPCC has released since September in its fifth major assessment of the latest state of knowledge about climate change.
Prof Stavins, a leading expert on climate negotiations at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote to the organisers of the Berlin meeting last week to express his “disappointment and frustration” at the outcome.
“I fully understand that the government representatives were seeking to meet their own responsibilities toward their respective governments by upholding their countries’ interests, but in some cases this turned out to be problematic for the scientific integrity of the IPCC summary for policy makers,” he said.
The original draft of the section summarising a chapter in the main report on the effectiveness of global talks held over the past 20 years to limit emissions of greenhouse gases ran for one and a half pages. It included the finding that the 1997 Kyoto protocol treaty had “limited effects on global emissions because some countries did not ratify the Protocol, some Parties did not meet their commitments, and its commitments applied to only a portion of the global economy”.
After a lengthy meeting between government officials and the report’s leading authors that ran into the early hours of the morning of April 12, the draft was whittled down to half a page of headings.
The section on the Kyoto protocol was changed to simply say:
“The Kyoto protocol offers lessons towards achieving the ultimate objective of the UNFCCC [the UN climate change convention that underpins the global negotiations], particularly with respect to participation, implementation, flexibility mechanisms, and environmental effectiveness.”
Every other section of the draft summary was reduced to similarly bland statements or deleted altogether.
Prof Stavins, who released a copy of his letter on his blog on Saturday, said he had waited to make it public so it would not detract from the coverage of the IPCC report, but believed it was important for the IPCC’s future that the issues it raises are openly discussed.