Fossil fuel producing countries pushing back against climate action in landmark UN report, leaked documents show

Some of the world’s biggest coal, oil, beef and animal feed producing nations are attempting to strip a landmark UN climate report of findings that threaten the interests of their polluting industries, documents leaked to Unearthed reporters have revealed.

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The revelations, which come just days before a crucial climate summit in Glasgow, show how this small clutch of nations is attempting to water down the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) major upcoming assessment of the world’s options for limiting global warming.

They come from a leak of tens of thousands of comments by governments, corporations, academics and others on the draft report of the IPCC’s ‘Working Group III’ – an international team of experts that is assessing humanity’s remaining options for tackling the climate crisis.

IPCC scientists are under no obligation to accept the comments, and each of them is checked against the scientific literature. However, the comments provide a window into the positions being adopted by leading nations behind the scenes.

An Unearthed analysis of the leaked comments reveals that:

  • Fossil fuel producers including Australia, Saudi Arabia and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), are lobbying the IPCC to delete or weaken a key conclusion that the world needs rapidly to phase out fossil fuels. A comment by an Australian government official rejected the uncontroversial conclusion that one of the most important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to phase out coal plants. Instead, this group is pressing the IPCC to allow carbon capture technology a bigger role in reducing emissions [1];
  • Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s biggest producers of beef and animal feed, have been pressing IPCC authors to delete messages about the climate benefits of promoting ‘plant-based’ diets and of curbing meat and dairy consumption. Argentina pressed for the removal of references to taxes on red meat and even to the international ‘Meatless Monday’ campaign on grounds that these were “biased concepts”;
  • The Australian government asked to be deleted from a list of the world’s major producers and consumers of coal – despite Australia being the fifth largest coal producer in the world between 2018-21 – on the grounds that it does not consume as much coal as other countries. It also asked the IPCC to delete analysis explaining how lobbying by fossil fuel companies has weakened action on climate change in Australia and the US;
  • Various governments also questioned criticism of carbon offsetting despite growing evidence that the concept is flawed. Canada, the US and the UK all questioned the IPCC warning that forestry offsetting could be used as “cheap greenwash” while Saudi Arabia argued in favour of tax incentives for oil that’s been offset by carbon capture and storage or “other carbon-neutral accounting”.

The International Energy Agency has warned that the exploitation and development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year, while a new UN report published yesterday showed that fossil fuel production planned by the world’s governments “vastly exceeds” what is needed to keep global heating to within 1.5C.

Commenting on the revelations, Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said:

“This is an insight into how a small group of coal, oil and meat producing countries continue to put the profits of a few polluting industries before science and our planet’s future. Rather than phasing out fossil fuels and unsustainable meat production, they are using every opportunity to protect their corporate interests and continue with business as usual while the planet burns. The Australian government even goes as far as arguing against the need for a coal phaseout while also trying to rewrite history by denying the role of corporate lobbying in blocking climate action. As the global spotlight moves to Glasgow, other world leaders should be aware of how far these governments will go to sabotage our chances of keeping 1.5 degrees in sight. The key test for world leaders is whether or not they agree to rapidly phase out fossil fuels, as the science warrants. History will not be kind to them if they fail – and we will be watching.”

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