I've been dipping into the IPCC's new report, and reading other people's comments. This struck me from The Economist:
"A crucial part of this document is the “summary for policymakers”, which is, to some extent, also a summary by policymakers. During a five-day plenary process which ended on August 6th the governments that are part of the IPCC worked through a draft summary prepared by the scientific authors to produce a text on which all could agree. In the past this process has sometimes been vexed, with some governments unwilling to see things they found politically troubling expressed as bluntly as the scientists wished. On this occasion, though, the governments’ editing prerogatives were mainly used to ensure the inclusion of language various parties wanted in order subtly to bolster the negotiating positions they intend to take at COP26, the UN climate conference which will take place in Glasgow this November."
The paper went on: "This easy passage probably reflects the extent to which the report assembled by the scientists shows a new level of assurance about its conclusions. The statements in the summary in which the authors express “high confidence” handily outnumber those in which they have only “medium confidence”; in the previous report the two were level pegging."
This is likely to have a positive impact on COP26, although the reality of the phrase "negotiating positions" reminds us that the exercise will be one in which many horses are traded.
Another reality check is that 12 G20 countries, including China, India, South Africa and Saudi Arabia, haven't yet put forward their revised nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – their emissions reductions commitments – that each country has to submit before the COP. Further, although many countries that have put forward quite ambitious NDCs, they yet to set out clear plans as to how to achieve the targets, and it is this which is supposed to be the core purpose of COP26.
Alok Sharma, the cabinet minister leading COP26, said: “I am encouraging every nation to step up action on coal, on cars, on forests and methane, and ultimately to follow the facts, to work together and to keep 1.5 degrees alive by ultimately listening to the science.” And Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK's chief scientific adviser, said that vague promises will not be enough: “Every government needs to develop an evidence-based road map setting out the technologies that they require and by when to achieve net zero.” That includes the UK which is also behind schedule in this regard.
I shall be watching for how the various NGO educational groups that are active around COP26 react to and use this report, particularly the extent to which they actually try to use countries' negotiating positions – which reflect (albeit imperfectly) the reality countries face – in their work with students. And will they be open-minded about issues, or will they default to pushing their preferred line; that is, to privilege the outcomes they would like to see. Schools have a legal duty to present a balance of ideas with students; NGOs do not.