A document leak has shown that several countries have lobbied to change a critical scientific report on how best to tackle climate change. The leaked documents, first reported by BBC News, revealed that countries including Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia asked the UN to reduce the urgency of moving away from fossil fuel-derived energy.

The leaked documents consist of over 32,000 submissions made by governments, companies, and other parties to the team compiling a UN report designed to bring together the best scientific evidence on tackling climate change.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces these assessment reports every six to seven years to evaluate the science behind climate change and inform governments on what action is needed to tackle climate change.

Fossil fuel agenda

The leak revealed that a small clutch of nations, who make up some of the world’s biggest coal, oil, beef and animal feed-producing nations, are attempting to strip a landmark UN climate report of findings that threaten those domestic economic interests.

The files name Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, as well as the intergovernmental organisation OPEC, as some nations involved in the effort. Comments revealed in the leak include ones made by an adviser to the Saudi oil ministry who argued: “phrases like ‘the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales’ should be eliminated”.

One senior Australian Government official rejected the conclusion that closing coal-fired power plants are necessary, although the urgent phasing out of coal is one of the stated objectives of COP26.

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Instead, these countries have argued in favour of upscaling emerging and expensive technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) to facilitate decarbonisation, whilst maintaining the production of coal and oil for a more extended period.

Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Norway, and OPEC have requested that UN scientists delete their conclusion that “the focus of decarbonisation efforts in the energy systems sector needs to be on rapidly shifting to zero-carbon sources and actively phasing out fossil fuels”.

The draft report argued that despite CCS showing some promise, there are too many uncertainties around its feasibility as a tool compatible with slowing warming to 2 °C and 1.5 °C. This is supported by a report by the Global CCS Institute, which states that there is currently only one power station in operation globally that successfully captures some of its carbon emissions.

Protecting lobbyists 

The leaked documents also revealed that Australia had asked IPCC scientists to delete the reference to analysis into fossil fuel lobbyists watering down action on climate change in Australia and the US. This is despite the fact that in the year leading up to the Australian general election in 2019, political parties received a record A$85m in donations from resource companies, totalling 69% of all monies raised.

OPEC has also asked the IPCC to “delete ‘lobby activism, protecting rent extracting business models, prevent political action’”.

The IPCC, in response, has stated that while comments from governments are central to its scientific review process, its authors have no obligation to incorporate them into their reports. “Our processes are designed to guard against lobbying – from all quarters.”

Developing vs developed

At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, signatories agreed that developed nations would provide $100bn a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020. This target has yet to be met, but governments have taken umbrage at the agreement, with most of Switzerland’s comments directed at amending parts of the report referred to this.

The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment told the BBC: “While climate finance is a critical tool to increase climate ambition, it is not the only relevant tool.”

The leak shows that countries are pushing back on recommendations just days before the COP26 conference starts in Glasgow.