By David RoseRevelation: Professor Robert Stavins, said officials representing 'all the main countries and regions of the world' insisted on changes to the report A top US academic has dramatically revealed how government officials forced him to change a hugely influential scientific report on climate change to suit their own interests.
Harvard professor Robert Stavins electrified the worldwide debate on climate change on Friday by sensationally publishing a letter online in which he spelled out the astonishing interference.
He said the officials, representing ‘all the main countries and regions of the world’ insisted on the changes in a late-night meeting at a Berlin conference center two weeks ago.
Three quarters of the original version of the document ended up being deleted.
Prof Stavins claimed the intervention amounted to a serious ‘conflict of interest’ between scientists and governments. His revelation is significant because it is rare for climate change experts to publicly question the process behind the compilation of reports on the subject.
Prof Stavins, Harvard’s Professor of Business and Government, was one of two ‘coordinating lead authors’ of a key report published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month.
His chapter of the 2,000-page original report concerned ways countries can co-operate to reduce carbon emissions.
IPCC reports are supposed to be scrupulously independent as they give scientific advice to governments around the world to help them shape energy policies – which in turn affect subsidies and domestic power bills.
Prof Stavins said the government officials in Berlin fought to make big changes to the full report’s ‘summary for policymakers’. This is the condensed version usually cited by the world’s media and politicians. He said their goal was to protect their ‘negotiating stances’ at forthcoming talks over a new greenhouse gas reduction treaty.
Prof Stavins told The Mail on Sunday yesterday that he had been especially concerned by what happened at a special ‘contact group’. He was one of only two scientists present, surrounded by ‘45 or 50’ government officials.
He said almost all of them made clear that ‘any text that was considered inconsistent with their interests and positions in multilateral negotiations was treated as unacceptable.’
Many of the officials were themselves climate negotiators, facing the task of devising a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol in negotiations set to conclude next year.
Prof Stavins said: ‘This created an irreconcilable conflict of interest. It has got to the point where it would be reasonable to call the document a summary by policymakers, not a summary for them, and it certainly affects the credibility of the IPCC. The process ought to be reformed.’
He declined to say which countries had demanded which changes, saying only that ‘all the main countries and regions were represented’.
Some deletions were made at the insistence of only one or two nations – because under IPCC rules, the reports must be unanimous.
He revealed the original draft of the summary contained a lot of detail on how international co-operation to curb emissions might work, and how it could be funded. The final version contains only meaningless headings, however, with all details removed.
His comments follow a decision two weeks earlier by Sussex University’s Professor Richard Tol to remove his name from the summary of an earlier volume of the full IPCC report, on the grounds it had been ‘sexed up’ by the same government officials and had become overly ‘alarmist’.
Prof Stavins’ letter provoked a response from Bob Ward, policy director of the London School of Economics’ Grantham Institute and a fierce critic of those who dissent from climate change orthodoxy.
Mr Ward asked on Twitter whether it showed the ‘IPCC government approval process is broken’.Yesterday he admitted the affair showed that ‘the IPCC is not a perfect process, though it’s hard to imagine a better one’.
Prof Judith Curry, the head of climate science at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, said that between them, Professors Tol and Stavins had shown the process was ‘polluted by obvious politics’.
The IPCC headquarters in Geneva could not be reached for comment.