Government Attempts to Tamper With IPCC Report Don't Muffle Message

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The IPCC, a United Nations Organization, released a strong warning about the hazards of climate change in its latest report.

The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has surprised many with its dire warnings of the catastrophic potential of climate change. Even Saudi Arabia and the United States, countries typically slow to acknowledge the adverse effects of fossil fuel burning, approved the assessment, which predicts massive droughts, floods, extinctions, and disease after only a few degrees of temperature rise.

But, according to Greenpeace’s John Coequyt, who witnessed the often-tense deliberations on the report’s summary, government negotiators watered down key points from the original draft. Coequyt notes that while “the overall picture that the summary ended up painting is not that different…on sum…than what was in the draft,” small changes take on extra significance because the summary is the only part of the report the public is likely to read.

Of four charts in the original document, only one made it into the final summary, Coequyt says. He notes that because charts offer a visual representation of climate change’s probable effects, they are second only to summary headings in importance. Yet the combined efforts of China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were enough to have the overarching climate scenario charts—“the backbone for all of the work that goes into this kind of analysis,” according to Coequyt—deleted from the final summary.

Another contentious issue was related to a passage on the effects of recent warming on natural systems. The statement originally read: “Based on observational evidence from all continents and most oceans, there is [very] high confidence that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.” But China and Saudi Arabia insisted that the word “very” be removed, even though the data reflects more than 99.9% confidence, according to Greenpeace. A senior climate scientist described the deletion as “an act of scientific vandalism,” according to Coequyt. NASA’s Cynthia Rosenzweig formally protested the change, but was pacified by a U.S.-brokered deal to remove any mention of scientific confidence from the statement.

Despite these significant adjustments, there were unexpected successes in the negotiations, Coequyt says. Two potentially contentious chapters assessing key vulnerabilities and risks of climate change—such as reduced food security and sea-level rise—were not edited by governments. And the inclusion of a line in Chapter 20 emphasizing that climate change could impede achievement of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty represented another victory, Coequyt notes.


This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.