BRUSSELS, Belgium – 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.
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The report doesn't commit countries to action, as does 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 3½ 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."
With such deadline problems, some countries — especially China, Saudi Arabia and at times Russia and the United States — 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, and it looked like they would win because they wouldn't accept the original wording. 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, written by scientists, and the finished paper showed major reductions in forecasts for hunger and flooding victims. Instead of "hundreds of millions" of potential flood victims, the report said "many millions." A key mention of up to 120 million people at risk of hunger because of global warming was eliminated.
Yet, scientists have their fallback: a second summary that consists of 79 densely written, heavily footnoted pages.
The "technical summary," which will eventually be released to the public but was obtained by The Associated Press, will not be edited by diplomats. The technical summary, Rosenzweig said, contains "the real facts."
Some of its highlights, not included in the 23-page already-released summary:
— "More than one sixth of the world population live in glacier- or snowmelt-fed river basins and will be affected by decrease of water volume." And depending on how much fossil fuels are burned in the future, "262-983 million people are likely to move into the water stressed-category" by 2050.
— Global warming could increase the number of hungry in the world in 2080 by anywhere between 140 million and 1 billion, depending on how much greenhouse gas is emitted into the air over the next few decades.
— "Overall a 2 to 3 fold increase of population to be flooded is expected by 2080."
— Malaria, diarrhea diseases, dengue fever, tick-borne diseases, heat-related deaths will all rise with global warming. But in the United Kingdom, the drop in cold-related deaths will be bigger than the increase in heatstroke related deaths.
— In eastern North America, depending on fossil fuel emissions, smog will increase and there would be a 4.5 percent increase in smog-related deaths.
— Because global warming will hurt the poor more, there will be more "social equity" concerns and pressure for governments to do more.