Service to the Planet, Sentence-by-Sentence


John Broome (Oxford) is among the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent “Fifth Assessment Report.” One of his tasks is to help the IPCC and its delegates craft the “Summary for Policy Makers” (SPM), a 30-page précis of the 2000-page report that, it is hoped, policy makers (or their assistants) will actually read.  Every single sentence of the SPM had to be approved by delegates from various governments. He describes the process in a post at the London Review of Books. Here’s an excerpt:

Late on Wednesday evening, during a brief break, the delegates formed a huddle in the corner, trying to agree [on the] text between themselves. We, who would be named as authors of the final product [the SPM], were left as spectators. The US called in a more senior delegate. The main issue was whether we should mention a ‘right to development’, as the developing countries wanted. Eventually we were presented with a few sentences that, we were told, the developed countries would reject, and an alternative few sentences that, we were told, the developing countries would reject. As he left the room, one delegate privately advised us not to depart far from his version of the text, because his delegation was very close to deleting the whole section anyway. This was the moment when I began to enjoy the whole event. The threat was not frightening. We privately pointed out in return that, if our section was deleted, we would no longer be authors of the SPM. We would be free to go to the press and publish what we liked. Moreover, all the ethics would have been deleted from the SPM. That would be embarrassing to whoever had deleted it, since the IPCC had been making a big show of incorporating ethics into its report.

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