We have now set a worrying precedent for scientific reports to come, sending the clear message that ‘science is negotiable, and only exists so long as we grant its existence’.Lucy Jordan
Scorched by rising temperatures and oppressive humidity over the past few weeks, Europe has been plunged into a state of dismay, having experienced one of its hottest months in history. Countries such as France, Poland, and the Czech Republic have reported their highest June temperatures on record, while regions such as Catalonia, in Spain, have become engulfed by wildfire. Deaths have been reported across the continent, as health, agricultural, and traffic warnings continue to appear with temperatures repeatedly rising above 40°C.
Meanwhile, in Bonn, afflicted too by blistering temperatures, representatives gathered to continue with discussions from the 24th Conference of Parties in Katowice, Poland, and prior meetings. The annual session, held this year in Western Germany, known as SB50, facilitates the meeting of two of the UNFCCC’s most notable Subsidiary Bodies: the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), which help provide information and advice to the groups of national delegations. Previous meetings have seriously lacked urgency, with discussions often experiencing stagnation and stilted progress. This time around, however, with the effects of climate change literally beating upon the Parties’ backs, one could have hoped for an epiphanic realisation that action needs to be taken, and taken urgently.
In reality, what transpired was, well, something which can only be perceived as a devastating lapse in both democracy and common sense. Last year, the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, published in October, provided a stark message to the world, warning that global temperature increases needed to be kept under a 1.5°C limit to avoid potentially civilisation-altering climate change. The report was a relief to many, perceived as the much needed push for an increase in action in global climate policy. The report faced resistance, however, with countries such as Saudi Arabia, the US, and Kuwait posing fierce opposition to its implementation within the Paris Rulebook. After extensive deliberation, and initial efforts to ‘welcome’ its presence within the rulebook, the final text concluded with its mere ‘noting’ – a disappointment to many around the world.
Returning, however, to the present, the IPCC Report appears to be faring far worse. With yet further resistance from fossil fuel-heavy nations, wording was still hotly debated, with countries raising issues with ‘scientific gaps’ within the report. This resulted in consensus being hard won, with some countries, for example, raising concerns with the needs for further information on finance and technology for developing countries.
Finally, after two weeks of relentless discussion, the final text stated that countries will ‘consider’ the report, taking into account the aforementioned gaps. This is a huge step back for these international negotiations: the nations of the world are not being held accountable to scientific parameters, and have no legal obligation to adhere to the report’s guidance. In fact, the onus now falls on the IPCC to act upon criticisms of the report in the upcoming Sixth Assessment Report, and to undergo further review before COP25.
This has also brought about fear regarding the fate of the IPCC’s upcoming report on the science of ‘Oceans and the Cryosphere’, predicted to outline yet further worsening prospects, which is being drafted in anticipation of Chile’s ‘Blue’ COP25, in Santiago later this year. Given the pitiful state of the IPCC Special Report’s inclusion in current negotiation texts, we have now set a worrying precedent for scientific reports to come, sending the clear message that ‘science is negotiable, and only exists so long as we grant its existence’.
When questioned, most developed delegations, including the UK and EU, quickly point fingers elsewhere, claiming to stand by the science, and promising to adhere to its scientific guidelines regardless of its textual implementation. However, this issue does not exist in isolation. It permeates from entrenched, systematic flaws, which greatly resemble the very errors that led to contemporary climate change in the first place: money continues to dominate, while fact takes second place to profit margins.
For example, the academic rigour with which the delegates approached discussion of the IPCC Special Report, the hyper-critique of its content and faults, appears to disappear in surrounding debate: Namely, in discussions with reference to the ‘Arrangement of Intergovernmental Meetings’, more concisely known as AIM. Topics considered in these discussions include the frequency of negotiations, observer and NGO participation, and the issue of ‘Conflicts of Interest’.
‘Conflicts of Interest’ sits as a highly contentious issue, with many countries, as well as the UNFCCC structure itself, having extensive ties and sponsor links to conglomerate entities with ties to, or direct involvement in, fossil fuels. On numerous occasions, calls have been made for the implementation of a ‘Conflicts of Interest’ policy, aimed to prevent such influences within the negotiations. The plea was first made by a cluster of developing and small-island states, as their pursuit of progressive policy was repeatedly blocked. Yet again, however, was this policy neglected from discussion this month, with countries, both those who actively blocked IPCC’s report, as well as those claiming to stand with its findings, continuously suppressing any mention of its proposal, even within the meeting’s minutes.
Hence, we now encounter a lethal combination. Surrounded by a cacophony of corporate interests, and conflicted political will, science holds as only one of many action incentives, and one which is certainly not the most immediately profitable at that.
So, how do we move on from here? Within the structure of consensus agreement, it is nigh-on impossible to oust such regressive influences from within. One could look to the UNFCCC secretariat itself, an offset of the UN’s central framework, and therefore commanding of its noble status by birthright. However, as mentioned before, such ties are not limited to delegations, and extend far above the heads of negotiators. Furthermore, with talk of the UNFCCC’s funding being restricted, the probability, too, that donations from such profitable entities would ever be turned away seems likely to fall further.
Therefore, once again, does the responsibility for change fall hard upon civil society’s shoulders. Although the UNFCCC attempts to implement policy as an overriding framework, with great sweeping legal documents, such as the Paris Agreement, as the main tool in its repertoire, every government must set ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDC’s), which shape the ambition of climate policy on a national scale. Ultimately, it is these, therefore, which are in the closest reach of the electorate.
With recent public outcry for more ambitious environmental policy, we are seeing strong policy responses around the globe, such as the UK’s climate neutrality commitment close to home. Delegations at these negotiations are ultimately toeing the ‘party line’. It is their national political climate which dictates their actions within this international space: we can never, therefore, become complacent in inciting progress at the micro-scale. Support for community and local initiatives, as well as national and international projects, is key in ensuring that movement is enforced and maintained, at all levels of the policy implementation process.
Moreover, a greater awareness of structural funding, and a generally a call for more open and effective transparency, is essential in understanding the hidden tides acting against progression’s inexorable march.
The obstruction of science rests on our silence, as we continue to allow this ultimately hope-driven process to be dictated by the same profit incentives which landed us in this mess. Therefore, for progress’ sake, it is our task to ensure that it is those who are tasked with implementing the science that are, instead, placed under such scrutiny.
Science is, by its nature, founded in objectivity and impartiality: it can never become negotiable.
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