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Saudi Arabia Made Best Efforts to Stall IPCC Science Report

It wouldn’t have been a United Nations climate negotiation without one of the world’s most profligate fossil fuel producers (and human rights abusers) trying to bog down the proceedings and water down a final report. And several news reports had Saudi Arabia doing exactly that as the IPCC meeting in Incheon, South Korea went into overtime Saturday.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia is seeking to block adoption of a key UN climate change report unless a passage highlighting the inadequacy of national carbon-cutting pledges is removed or altered,” Agence France-Presse reported.

“We are very concerned that a single country is threatening to hold up adoption of the IPCC Special Report if scientific findings are not changed or deleted according to its demands,” said one meeting participant, who declined to be identified.

“This has become a battle between Saudi Arabia, a rich oil producer, and small island states threatened with extinction,” added another participant.

“The Saudis have been running interference across the board, on main and minor issues,” said a third.

Although IPCC processes didn’t allow countries to alter the science in the main report on 1.5°C scenarios, the battle lines were drawn over the 20-page summary for policy-makers (SPM)—the shorter, more readable synthesis intended to give non-scientist decision-makers a basis for action. “Under the IPCC’s consensus rules, all countries must sign off on the language” in the SPM, AFP notes. “At issue is a passage in the summary stating that voluntary national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, annexed to the 2015 Paris climate treaty, will fail to limit warming to 1.5°C.”

Saudi Arabia apparently challenged that language, even though it’s common knowledge that full implementation of the Paris Agreement would deliver average global warming in the 3.0°C range, possibly higher.

In case of an impasse, the chairs of an IPCC meeting can override an objection from one or a few countries, recording the objection in a footnote,” AFP noted. But “it’s quite rare that a government will be willing to have their name on the bottom of the page with an asterisk,” said IPCC Communications Director Jonathan Lynn. “We do everything we can to avoid it.”

AFP noted that “Saudi Arabia has a long track record of raising questions and objections within UN climate forums.