Oil and politics play a role in final wording of U.N. climate change report

New climate change report expected to be grim

Monaco — Delegates from dozens of countries worked all night in Monaco to nail down the final wording of the United Nations new report on climate change. The report is due to be released on Wednesday morning, but as CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips reports, the document based on science is tangled up in politics.

It was already clear from a draft version that the news the U.N. is about to deliver on the Earth's changing climate isn't good. In fact, it's their gloomiest set of predictions to date, and it will be delivered during a week of highly-charged argument and emotion on the topic.

At the special United Nations climate summit in New York, it was not government leaders who stole the show, but Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg. Phillips notes there wasn't much stealing to do from President Trump, who she gave a hard stare, as the administration has already pulled out of the U.N. climate pact, and Mr. Trump made only a brief appearance on Monday.

But the leader of the teen-movement for climate action directed her anger at a target far broader than the Trump administration, or even the United States. She tore into everybody.

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg watches as U.S. President Donald Trump enters the United Nations
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg watches as President Trump enters the United Nations to speak with reporters in a still image from video taken in New York City, September 23, 2019. REUTERS

"People are suffering. People are dying and dying ecosystems are collapsing," she told the gathered leaders through tears. "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!"

But it will take money to try to slow climate change. The U.N. summit was called to prod countries to raise their pledges on how quickly they will cut back on the use of fossil fuels that produce the greenhouse gasses that are warming the Earth. There were larger pledges made, but not enough to slow the warming to levels that most scientists agree is necessary.

The final editing of the new report from the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided the usual drama, as oil-producing countries tried to tone-down the rhetoric on the implications of global warming, and the scientists cited studies showing that things really are worse than previously thought.

The negotiations were being held behind closed doors, but frustration seeped out. French news agency AFP quoted one of the representatives from inside the talks as saying the delegation from Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer, had blocked language taken straight from last year's IPCC report.

The lines discuss the scientific consensus on the dangers of letting the planet's temperature rise by just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

"It has been 24 hours and there has been absolutely no compromise from the Saudis," AFP quoted a participant in the negotiations as saying early Tuesday. "They are undermining the science underlying this report, and it is despicable." 

U.N. climate report expected to reveal devastating impact of rising sea levels

Phillips said while the Saudis did object to including the specific language from the 2018 report, the other delegations agreed to replace it with a reference to "relevant IPCC reports." With the impasse broken, they apparently agreed a new draft on Tuesday.

An earlier draft of the report seen by CBS News said the melting of ice in the polar regions has already accelerated to the point where it's increasingly likely that sea-level rise will force hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers around the globe to abandon their homes within this century.

People in the room told Phillips that the report says global warming has progressed to the stage where some of its most severe consequences; flooding, intense storms and prolonged drought, are already inevitable.  

The argument in Monaco, much like global warming itself, goes on.