Major UN climate report on warming oceans approved after all-night Saudi stand-off

An aerial view of the Apusiajik glacier, near Greenland. A major report detailing the dire impact of global warming on oceans and Earth's frozen zones was approved on Sept 24 after an all-night stand-off with Saudi Arabia over its wording. PHOTO: AFP

MONACO (AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST) - A major report detailing the dire impact of global warming on oceans and Earth's frozen zones was approved by the United Nation's 195-nation climate science body on Tuesday (Sept 24) after an all-night stand-off with Saudi Arabia over its wording.

"Gavelled! The IPCC Special Report on the #Ocean and #Cryosphere is approved!", Dr Jean-Pierre Gattuso, a French scientist and one of the report's many authors, tweeted at the end of the five-day talks.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed with a tweet of its own and will unveil an executive summary on Wednesday.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia held up the adoption of the Summary for Policy Makers - 30-odd pages, vetted line-by-line - by challenging another landmark UN assessment that highlights the need to slash carbon emissions caused by burning fossil fuels, multiple sources told Agence France-Presse.

At issue is what might have been a routine reference to the October 2018 IPCC report on the feasibility of capping global warming at 1.5 deg C.

That assessment detailed the stark consequences for humanity of piercing that threshold, and the need to rapidly draw down the use of fossil fuels.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest oil exporter and has raised similar objections to IPCC reports in the past.

"It really seems like Saudi Arabia only came to this meeting to block any language on 1.5 deg C," a participant in the Monaco meeting told AFP.

Global warming and pollution caused by humanity's carbon-heavy footprint are ravaging Earth's oceans and icy regions in ways that could unleash misery on a global scale, the IPCC report is set to conclude.

The observed and projected impact include vanishing glaciers and expanding marine heatwaves, leading to an irreversible sea level rise that could eventually displace hundreds of millions of people, according to a draft seen by AFP.

Under the IPCC's consensus rules, all countries must sign off on the language of the executive summary, which is designed to provide leaders with objective, science-based information.

The draft phrasing seen by AFP to which the Saudis objected - "This assessment reinforces findings in IPCC Special Report on 1.5 deg C" - was removed.

The 2015 Paris Agreement calls for capping global warming at "well below" 2 deg C, and 1.5 deg C if possible.

The report's approval on Tuesday came a day after world leaders gathered at a UN climate summit where they were berated for not doing enough to tackle greenhouse gas emissions by climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Appearing on a panel at the summit, the Swedish teen on Monday chastised leaders for praising young activists like herself while failing to deliver on drastic actions needed.

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing," an emotional Thunberg said. "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"

United States President Donald Trump, who stopped by the summit for only 15 minutes on his way to a forum on religious freedom, responded to Ms Thunberg's speech with a sarcastic tweet later that night.

"She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" Mr Trump posted on Twitter alongside a clip of the speech.

Cameras had caught Ms Thunberg, who began skipping school in her native Sweden a year ago to protest against climate inaction, giving Mr Trump an icy stare as he arrived at the UN gathering.

Mr Trump, who in the past has called climate change a "hoax", gave scant attention to the issue and left after listening to remarks from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel.

California Representative Eric Swalwell, a former Democratic presidential candidate, reacted to Mr Trump's tweet about Ms Thunberg with one of his own on Tuesday.

"By rallying the world to save itself, she'd already make a better @POTUS than you," he wrote, referring to the official presidential Twitter account.

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