Brussels, Belgium — Two different groups, data-driven scientists and nuanced offend-no-one diplomats, collided and then converged last week. At stake: a report on the future of the planet and the changes it faces with global warming.
An inside look at the last hours of tense negotiations at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveals how the diplomats won thanks to persistence and deadlines. But scientists note they have the last say.
Diplomats from 115 countries and 52 scientists hashed out the most comprehensive and gloomiest warning yet about the possible effects of global warming, from increased flooding, hunger, drought and diseases to the extinction of species.
In the past, scientists at these meetings thought their warnings were conveyed, albeit slightly edited down. But several of them left Friday with the sense that they had lost control of their document. At one point, NASA's Cynthia Rosenzweig filed a formal protest and left the building, only to return and make peace. Others talked about abandoning the process altogether.
But Yvo de Boer, diplomat and top climate official for the United Nations, countered that if the document stayed the way scientists originally wrote it, some countries would not accept nor be bound it. By changing the wording, "the countries are bound to this," de Boer said.
The report doesn't commit countries to action, like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but those involved agree that global warming is changing the planet and projected to get much worse.
The four-day meeting was supposed to end Thursday afternoon but was extended to Friday morning.
Panel co-chairman Martin Parry of the United Kingdom acknowledged that some parts of the document were eliminated "because there was not enough time to work it through."
With such deadline problems, some countries were able to play hard ball. China and Saudi Arabia wanted to lower the level of scientific confidence (from more than 90 percent to 80 percent) that the report had in a statement about current global warming effects. That's when Rosenzweig protested and walked.
A U.S.-based compromise saved the day, avoiding any mention of scientific confidence.
A comparison of the original document and the finished paper showed major reductions in forecasts for hunger and flooding victims. Yet, scientists have their fallback: a second summary that consists of 79 densely written, heavily footnoted pages.
The "technical summary," which eventually will be released to the public but was obtained by The Associated Press, will not be edited by diplomats. Rosenzweig said it contains "the real facts."