Last word on climate is ours, scientists say
Two distinctly different groups, data-driven scientists and nuanced offend-no-one diplomats, collided and then converged last week. At stake stake: a...
The Associated Press
Summary of the
on Climate Change report:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: www.ipcc.ch/
BRUSSELS, Belgium — Two distinctly different groups, data-driven scientists and nuanced offend-no-one diplomats, collided and then converged last week. At stake: a report on the future of the planet and the changes it faces with global warming.
An inside look at the last few hours of tense negotiations at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting reveals how diplomats won at the end, thanks to persistence and deadlines. But scientists quietly note that they have the last say.
Diplomats from 115 countries and 52 scientists hashed out the most comprehensive and gloomiest warning yet about the possible effects of global warming, from increased flooding, hunger, drought and diseases to the extinction of species.
More than 2,500 scientists worldwide contributed to the report, relying on peer-reviewed studies to make their findings and subjecting them several times to outside review.
The language in the report had to be approved unanimously by governments. Among scientists, changes had to be by consensus. In addition, every change of wording had to be approved by all scientists who wrote the affected section.
In the past, scientists at these meetings believed that their warnings were conveyed, albeit slightly edited down. But several left Friday with the sense that they had lost control of their document.
At one point, a U.S. representative, NASA's Cynthia Rosenzweig, filed a formal protest and left the building in which the talks were being held, only to return, make peace and talk in positive tones. Others talked about abandoning the process.
"There was no split in the science; they were all mad," said John Coequyt, who observed the closed-door negotiations for the environmental group Greenpeace.
But Yvo de Boer, the top climate official for the United Nations, countered that it was a "difficult choice." If it stayed the way scientists originally wrote it, some countries would not accept nor be bound by the science in the document," de Boer said.
The report doesn't commit countries to action, like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but those involved agree that the science is accurate and that global warming is changing the planet and projected to worsen significantly.
Here's how negotiations went, based on interviews and an unusual opportunity for The Associated Press to observe the last 3 ½ hours of debate.
The four-day meeting was supposed to end Thursday afternoon but was extended to Friday morning. A news conference was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday to release the report, but the document wasn't finished until later.
Interpreters had been sent home at 2 a.m. Friday due to financial issues. Some pages had not been discussed, and some of the most critical issues were not solved as small-group negotiations stalled.
Panel co-chairman Martin Parry of the United Kingdom acknowledged that some parts of the document were eliminated "because there was not enough time to work it through as well."
With such deadline problems, some countries — especially China, Saudi Arabia and at times Russia and the United States — were able to play hardball.
China and Saudi Arabia wanted to lower the level of scientific confidence (from more than 90 to 80 percent) that the report had in a statement about current global-warming effects, and it looked as if they would win because they wouldn't accept the original wording. That's when Rosenzweig walked. But a U.S.-based compromise avoided mention of scientific confidence.
A comparison of the original document, written by scientists, and the finished paper showed major reductions in forecasts for hunger and flooding victims. Instead of "hundreds of millions" of potential flood victims, the report said "many millions."
A key mention of up to 120 million people at risk of hunger because of global warming was eliminated.
Yet scientists have their fallback: a second summary that consists of 79 densely written, heavily footnoted pages.
The "technical summary," which eventually will be released to the public, will not be edited by diplomats. The technical summary, Rosenzweig said, contains "the real facts."
Some highlights, not included in the 23-page already released summary:
• "More than one-sixth of the world population live in glacier- or snowmelt-fed river basins and will be affected by decrease of water volume." And depending on how much fossil fuels are burned in the future, "262-983 million people are likely to move into the water-stressed category" by 2050.
• Global warming could increase the number of hungry in 2080 by between 140 million and 1 billion, depending on how much greenhouse gas is emitted in coming decades.
• "Overall, a two- to three-fold increase of population to be flooded is expected by 2080."
• Malaria, diarrheal diseases, dengue fever, tick-borne diseases, heat-related deaths will all rise with global warming. But in the United Kingdom, the drop in cold-related deaths will be bigger than the increase in heatstroke-related deaths.
• In eastern North America, depending on fossil-fuel emissions, smog will increase and there would be a 4.5 percent increase in smog-related deaths.
• Because global warming will hurt the poor more, there will be more "social-equity" concerns and pressure for governments to do more.
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