Greenpeace investigation exposes countries trying to dilute climate report

A new report based on leaked documents obtained by Greenpeace in the UK has exposed countries putting pressure on renowned scientists preparing to release a crucial report on climate change. 

The revelations — which show how a small clutch of nations is attempting to water down the International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) major upcoming assessment of the world’s options for limiting global warming — come just days before the start of crucial international climate negotiations in Glasgow at COP26.

“[The revelations] 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 curbing greenhouse gas emissions or removing them from the atmosphere,” Greenpeace’s investigative arm, Unearthed, said on Thursday. 

In its sixth assessment released in August 2021, the IPCC warned that a certain level of climate change was already locked in and that warming of 1.5°C may become a reality in the next decade. 

The IPCC is a large network of scientists spread across the world, who review existing science on changes to the climate, its effect and the recommended actions to address it. 

Scientific findings have broken down the effects of every degree of warming that will drastically increase sea levels and extreme weather. A second report is expected to be released early next year and will unpack the effects of the warming noted in the first report in August, as well as making recommendations for action. 

The investigation by Unearthed found that that Saudi Arabia, Australia and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) have allegedly asked the IPCC to “remove or weaken a key conclusion that the world needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels”, according to Lawrence Carter and Crispin Dowler, who worked on the leak.

“In one comment seen by Unearthed, a senior Australian government official rejected the largely uncontroversial conclusion that one of the most important steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was to phase out coal-fired power stations,” they said.

They found that the world’s largest producers of beef and feedstock, Brazil and Argentina, have asked the IPCC scientists “to delete messages about the climate benefits of promoting ‘plant-based’ diets and of curbing meat and dairy consumption”.

The great fossil lobby 

The private sector is also under fire over its role in climate lobbying.

Last year, a group of investors sent letters to the chief executives and board chairs of 47 US companies calling for full disclosure on how their climate lobbying aligns with the Paris Agreement.

In 2018, Corporate Accountability International released a report condemning how “coal and oil groups undermine UN climate negotiations”.

“With so many arsonists in the fire department, it’s no wonder we’ve failed to put the fire out,” said Tamar Lawrence-Samuel, an author of the report.  

The climate conference, COP26, which kicks off on 31 October in Scotland, is expected to face the same challenges. 

South Africa’s pavilion at the 2019 conference in Madrid, Spain, was sponsored by the country’s biggest emitters, Eskom and Sasol.

The COP25 conference was bankrolled by Spain’s top energy giants, Endesa and Iberdrola, which account for the bulk of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body that hosts parties to the Paris Climate Accord annually and seeks to keep global temperature increases below 2°C degrees, has previously defended hosting fossil fuel giants and aligned trade groups because “everyone needed to be involved in the transition away from fossil fuels”.

Campaigners in Scotland have, meanwhile, intensified calls for the UK government to decline seats at the negotiating table to fossil fuel companies. 

“Often inside the negotiating room we will have some of the most polluting governments allowing fossil fuel companies to be in the space. We would like to see Glasgow become a fossil fuel-free COP,” Caroline Rance, climate and energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth Scotland, told local publication The National.

Campaigners mount pressure ahead of UN climate talks 

In a separate development, environmental rights organisations 350.org and Notre Affaire à Tous on Wednesday launched a campaign against Total Energies, the French oil giant accused of knowingly continuing to destroy the planet for decades. 

It coincided with an article published in the international journal Global Environmental Change, in which three historians reveal that the managers and employees of Total Energies (at the time Total and Elf) were warned as early as 1971 of the possibility of unprecedented climate change caused by the production of fossil fuels.

The authors claimed that Total fiercely lobbied against any regulation to control or limit its activities and used numerous strategies to undermine climate science. 

The environmental groups are now calling on finance institutions to cut ties with the French oil giant. 

“Even today, Total Energies intends to increase its production capacities and develop new devastating projects in protected regions such as the East African crude oil pipeline and the Arctic LNG2 [liquefied natural gas] projects. According to their current plans, fossil fuels will still represent more than 80% of the group’s investments in 2030,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Justine Ripoll, campaign manager for Notre Affaire à Tous, said legal frameworks and lawsuits were proving to be more and more effective in forcing multinationals to respect their climate commitments, as demonstrated by the case of (Royal Dutch) Shell in the Netherlands.

“But we must be vigilant. These legal initiatives are under constant attack from the lobbies of big business, as we are currently seeing with the EU corporate due diligence and accountability initiative or the UN binding treaty on transnational corporations,” Ripoll said.

The groups have also demanded a French government inquiry to shed light on the way in which climate policy decisions have been taken.

Total Energies dismissed the allegation that it had been trying to hide climate science in the history of its operations.

“Total Energies regrets that it was never approached or consulted by the authors of the paper, which Total Energies will study in detail,” the company said.

“Total Energies deplores the process of pointing up at a situation from 50 years ago, without highlighting the efforts, changes, progress and investments made since then.”

Six NGOs have sued Total over the controversial oil project in Uganda and Tanzania. The plaintiffs allege that Total failed to adequately assess the project’s threats to human rights and the environment.

The Tilenga Project, according to the groups, includes plans to drill more than 400 wells, extracting about 200 000 barrels of oil a day, and to construct a pipeline to transport the oil to Tanzania.

Tunicia Phillips is an Adamela Trust climate and economic justice reporting fellow funded by the Open Society Foundation

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Tunicia Phillips
Tunicia Phillips is an investigative, award-winning journalist who has worked in broadcast for 10 years. Her beats span across crime, court politics, mining energy and social justice. She has recently returned to print at the M&G working under the Adamela Trust to specialise in climate change and environmental reporting.

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