The COP24 talks in Katowice, Poland have led to a "diplomatic standoff" that has world leaders, climate activists, and experts alarmed as four "oil allies"—the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait—have banded together to "water down" worldwide support for a landmark United Nations climate study released in October.
"It's really an embarrassment for the world's leading scientific superpower to be in this position of having to disbelieve a report that was written by the world's scientific community including a large number of pre-eminent U.S. scientists."
—Alden Meyer, UCS
Most world leaders gathered in Poland to discuss how to meet the goals of the Paris agreement seemed eager to heed the warnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report on what the world could look like if the global temperature rises to 1.5°C versus 2°C (2.7°F versus 3.6°F)—which has elicited demands for "rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented" reforms to avert climate catastrophe.
The four-nation coalition of oil-exporting nations, however, wasn't having it—and aimed to make it easier for governments to ignore such calls for urgent action to address the climate crisis by fighting against a motion to "welcome" the study. Instead, they suggested, it should merely be "noted."
"The United States was willing to note the report and express appreciation to the scientists who developed it, but not to welcome it, as that would denote endorsement of the report," the U.S. State Department said. "As we have made clear in the IPCC and other bodies, the United States has not endorsed the findings of the report."
Last year, President Donald Trump revealed his intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement, provoking immediate condemnation across the United States and the rest of the world. Within a few months of that announcement, all other countries had signed on to the accord, leaving the U.S. as the sole nation opposed to it.
Efforts by the U.S. and others on Saturday to block global support for the IPCC report raised immediate concern and frustration among climate experts.
"It's very frustrating that we are not able to take into account the report's findings: we are talking about the future of the world—it sounds like hyperbole when I say it, but that's how serious it is."
—Rueanna Haynes, St. Kitts and Nevis delegate
"I think it was a key moment," Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) told the Associated Press. "The fact that a group of four countries were trying to diminish the value and importance of a scientific report they themselves, with all other countries, requested three years ago in Paris is pretty remarkable."
"It's really an embarrassment for the world's leading scientific superpower to be in this position of having to disbelieve a report that was written by the world's scientific community including a large number of pre-eminent U.S. scientists," he said.
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Meyer, who has tracked climate negotiations for many years, didn't just lay blame on the U.S. though. He also noted that "the Saudis with their sidekicks the Kuwaitis have long been troublemakers in this in this process."
"We've seen this story before—a small number of bad actors who, in essence, are conspiring to prevent the implementation of an agreement where there's otherwise support among the rest of the world's nations—in this case, the conclusion that we need to keep warming below one-and-a-half degrees Celsius, and that requires substantial reductions in carbon emissions over the next 10 or 12 years," Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann said in an interview with BBC News.
Acknowledging that unfortunately, the small group of countries sabotaging the motion to welcome the study seem to be "focused on their own short-term financial interests at the expense of the larger interests of this planet," Mann reiterated the need for, among other changes, a swift global transition to renewable energy to stabilize warming "below catastrophic levels."
My interview yesterday with @BBCWorld News on Trump administration's collusion with Russia & Saudi Arabia to sabotage #COP24 climate change agreement: https://t.co/3sTsta5Pl6 pic.twitter.com/8RO7bkErua
— Michael E. Mann (@MichaelEMann) December 9, 2018
"Deliberately ignoring the IPCC report would be wholly irresponsible," declared May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, vowing that her group "stands with the rest of world in condemning these climate deniers...and the vested fossil fuel interests behind them."
The sabotage efforts also infuriated some of those participating in the talks in Poland—including Rueanna Haynes, a delegate for St. Kitts and Nevis, who reportedly told her fellow diplomatic representatives during the plenary that it was "ludicrous" to not welcome the IPCC's warnings.
"It's very frustrating that we are not able to take into account the report's findings: we are talking about the future of the world—it sounds like hyperbole when I say it, but that's how serious it is," she told the Guardian. "I would say that this issue has to be resolved. This is going to drag out and the success of the COP is going to hang on this as well as other issues."