Science meets politics – Climate Weekly

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The IPCC's latest report is discussed in last week's approval session in Switzerland (Photo credit: IISD's Earth Negotiations Bulletin)


After years of unpaid hard work and a week of sleepless negotiations, the IPCC’s scientists celebrated in the swish Swiss city of Interlaken as their latest report was approved on Sunday.

The report says a lot of things. But none particularly new. It’s a synthesis of the previous three reports, which themselves summarised a vast amount of scientific studies done before the end of 2021.

Most of its conclusions will be familiar to regular readers. It says we’re on course for more than 1.5C of warming, a scenario that will cause huge suffering. 

Some of that pain is unavoidable. But the rich world has largely failed to help the developing world respond to that which can be avoided. 

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To avoid the worst, we must cut emissions too. That’s why UN boss Antonio Guterres seized on the report to launch a new set of benchmarks for countries’ net-zero targets.

Rich countries should aim for net zero by 2040, he said, and emerging nations by 2050. 

But most big polluters are at least ten years off these targets and pressure has focussed more on getting policies to meet the targets rather than setting new ones.

The I in IPCC stands not for “independent” but for “intergovernmental”. That means that government negotiators go through the reports line-by-line with the scientists.

While it dilutes the scientific purity of the report, that process does offer interesting insights into governments’ priorities.

This session showed that developing countries, even relatively wealthy ones like Chile and Mexico, want their regions to be considered “particularly vulnerable”. That will help them get loss and damage finance.

It showed too that Saudi Arabia wants climate strategies to focus on carbon capture and storage while the Europeans and others favour renewables.

That split dominated the last hours of Cop27 and was center stage at a gathering of 50 climate ministers in Copenhagen this week.

With “consultations and deliberations” continuing, that question will keep running to Cop28 and perhaps beyond.

Read more on: UN climate talks