Saudi Arabia was forced to come out with a rare statement, clarifying its stand, after it came under attack from scientists and non-governmental organisations for having blocked a proposal to endorse the recent 1.5-degree report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Saudi Arabia said it appreciated the efforts of the IPCC in coming out with the report, but claimed there were “gaps” in the science related to 1.50-degree target, and that “further research” was required to address these gaps.
The IPCC, a global body of scientists that does periodic reviews of scientific literature to make projections about the earth’s future climate, was asked by the climate change conference in Paris in 2015 to produce a special report to assess the feasibility of keeping global average temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times. The IPCC had delivered that report in November.
It said that while it was still possible to attain the 1.5-degree target, the window of opportunity was closing fast, and that countries needed to do much more than what they were currently doing. It was expected that the decisions coming out of the Katowice climate change conference would have a mention of the 1.5-degree report. In fact, the IPCC gave several rounds of briefings on the report to the climate negotiators here during the first week of talks, and leaders who spoke at the conference, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who repeatedly made a mention of the report to highlight the urgency of the climate problem.
However, serious differences emerged amongst the countries over the language to be used to acknowledge the report in the final agreement to come out of the conference. Late on Saturday, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait blocked a proposal to “welcome” the report in the final agreement. Instead, they wanted no more than the report to be taken “note of”. Some other countries wanted a more stronger welcome in the text, proposing phrases such as “welcome while noting with urgency”.
The choice of the phrase to acknowledge the report is seen as an indication of the importance, and seriousness, that countries want to attach to the recommendations of the report. A stronger endorsement – “welcome” could be considered stronger than merely taken “note of” – could also be a suggestion to a greater willingness on the part of the countries to accept and act on the recommendations.
The decision of the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries invited angry reactions from the scientists and civil society groups present at the conference.
“The IPCC report (on 1.5-degree) is a wake-up call from world scientists that must be heeded. It is a declaration of planetary emergency that governments must respond to with profound action, not merely take note of. Ministers must emphatically reject the effort to downplay the findings of this report and they must acknowledge the need to dramatically scale up the mitigation and adaptation activities,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“As an American, it was especially troubling to see the reluctance of the United States to acknowledge the urgency of the IPCC ‘s findings and welcoming its recommendations. The United States is the world’s foremost scientific superpower and scientists in the US federal agencies, universities, corporations, and non-profit institutions have been deeply involved in the works of the IPCC since its founding… It is a sad day indeed when the United States cannot endorse the findings of this major scientific report,” he said.
“Let me be very clear. I don’t blame professional US diplomats here in Poland for this irresponsible behaviour. The problem is right at the top with President (Donald) Trump,” he said.
Following the criticism, Saudi Arabia issued a statement on Monday evening to clarify its stand.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recognizes the efforts of the IPCC in developing a comprehensive, neutral and non-policy prescriptive reports, including the 1.5 degree Celsius report. We recognize that the current gaps, including the limited literature and scientific uncertainties in the 1.5 degree Celsius report still requires further research and analysis in order to address these gaps. In fact, the Summary for Policy Makers of the IPCC 1.5 degree report indicates gaps and challenges across different chapters,” the statement said.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is hopeful that the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report will address these gaps and challenges, and that a consensus to welcome it among all parties can be reached,” it said referring to sixth in a series of comprehensive reports produced by IPCC that have formed the basis of global climate action on climate change. The sixth assessment report is due to come out in 2021.
The IPCC itself refused to get into the debate. Spokesperson Jonathan Lynn said it was not for the IPCC to suggest how its reports should be treated by the conference. “We are a scientific body and not a political body. So it is up to the parties of this meeting and not the IPCC how the report is recognised,” Lynn said while adding that the negotiators in Katowice had been comprehensively briefed about the report and that its findings would indeed become part of the “process”.
The matter of finding the right, and universally acceptable, language for acknowledging the report has now been referred to the conference president, Poland, which is likely to once again consult the countries at a much wider meeting on Friday.