World's leading fossil fuel producing countries 'lobby to change key climate report'

Saudi Arabia, Australia and Japan are among the countries attempting to change a landmark climate report ahead of the COP26 climate summit, Greenpeace journalists have said.

Unearthed, an investigative team working for the environmental non-profit, said it had seen documents in which a number of nations and organisations lobbied the UN to "water down" the need to reduce fossil fuel use.

The report comes days ahead of the COP26 climate summit - twelve days of crucial international climate negotiations in Glasgow.

What are the report's key findings?

  • Australia, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are lobbying the the UN's International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to remove or weaken a key conclusion that the world needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels, the report said.

  • Brazil and Argentina "two of the world’s biggest producers of beef and animal feed" have been "pressing to delete messages about the climate benefits of promoting ‘plant-based’ diets and of curbing meat and dairy consumption".

  • Australia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the OPEC advocated for emerging technologies aimed at capturing and storing carbon dioxide. Unearthed argues that currently, only one power station in the world successfully captures some of its carbon emissions.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world's largest oil producers.

What are the chances the IPCC will change its report?

IPPC authors are able to - and have in the past - decline suggested changes to their drafts if the comments are not supported by the scientific literature.

According to Unearthed, a spokesperson for the IPCC said the processes it used for preparing and drafting reports were “designed to guard against lobbying – from all quarters”.

What impact will the report have on the fast-approaching COP26 summit?

The UN's COP26 will run from October 31 to November 12.

The event - which will involve thousands of government representatives, businesses and citizens - has a "unique urgency" amid he worsening climate crisis, the UN has said.

Unearthed argues that any attempts by global powers to change the IPCC report will likely "raise questions about the threat posed to progress at the summit".

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Were all comments submitted to the report critical?The majority of contributions in the document seen by Unearthed were "constructive comments aimed at improving the text", it said. What has been the response to the report?

Climate scientist Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London, told Unearthed: “These comments show the tactics some countries are willing to adopt to obstruct and delay action to cut emissions. “On the eve of the crucial COP26 talks there is, to me, a clear public interest in knowing what these governments are saying behind the scenes.”

A spokesperson for the IPCC told Unearthed: “Our processes are designed to guard against lobbying – from all quarters – there’s more on this further below.

"The main elements are diverse and balanced author teams, a review process open to all, and decision-making on texts by consensus.

“This IPCC process is fully transparent, and we routinely publish the preliminary drafts, the review comments and the author responses to the comments, once the report is finalized.

Brazil, one of the world’s biggest producers of beef, has been pressing to delete messages about the benefits of ‘plant-based’ diets.

He added: “The drafts of the report are just that – early versions of the report where the authors test out their ideas with each other and then revise them in line with discussions within the IPCC and in the light of the review comments formally received in the IPCC review process and of the continued reading of the scientific literature. “That is why we keep them confidential during the preparation of the reports, so that the authors have the time and space to try out and develop their thinking on the assessment.

"The early drafts are not IPCC reports and should not be considered as such. For that reason we do not get into discussions on the contents of the drafts.”