Scientists Get Last Say in Climate Study
Saturday, April 7, 2007; 4:25 PM
BRUSSELS -- Two distinctly different groups, data-driven scientists and nuanced offend-no-one diplomats, collided and then converged this past 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 few hours of tense negotiations at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveals how the diplomats won at the end thanks to persistence and deadlines. But scientists quietly note that 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.
The 23-page summary certainly didn't sound diplomatic. But it was too much so, scientists said.
In the past, scientists at these meetings felt that 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, make peace and talk in positive tones. Others talked about abandoning the process altogether.
"There was no split in the science _ they were all mad," said John Coequyt, who observed the closed-door negotiations for the environmental group Greenpeace.
But Yvo de Boer, a diplomat who is the top climate official for the United Nations, countered that it was a "difficult choice." If it stayed the way scientists originally wrote it, some countries would not accept nor be bound by the science in the document. By changing the wording, "in exchange 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 the science is accurate and that global warming is changing the planet and projected to get much worse.
Here's how negotiations went, based on interviews and an unusual opportunity for The Associated Press to observe the last 3 1/2 hours of debate.
The four-day meeting was supposed to end Thursday afternoon but was extended to Friday morning. A news conference was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday to release the report, but the document wasn't finished until after that time.
Interpreters had been sent home at 2 a.m. Friday due to financial issues. Some pages had not been discussed and some of the most critical issues were still not solved as small group negotiations stalled.
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 as well."