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Saudi Arabia and Kuwait join bid to block UN backing for global warming report

Gulf states join US and Russia in opposing motion 'welcoming' scientists' call for action to halt catastrophic climate change at Katowice conference
A cyclist rides along the seafront in Kuwait City. Scientists say many areas of the Gulf could be uninhabitable before the end of the century (AFP)

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have joined with the US and Russia in blocking support for a major report on global warming at a United Nations summit being held in Katowice in Poland.

The move could prevent a consensus being reached at the meeting on tackling what’s seen as the increasingly urgent issue of climate change.

The report, painstakingly compiled by thousands of scientists around the world, was commissioned by countries, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, at a landmark international climate meeting in Paris in late 2015 and was issued in October.

The report warns of the dire consequences of not limiting average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. If not, it says, hundreds of millions will suffer the impact of droughts, floods and extreme heat waves.

It says time for action is limited; there are only 12 years left to prevent what would be a catastrophe.

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Saudi Arabia is seen as the main architect of the blocking action at the Katowice meeting. Saudi delegates, supported by those of Kuwait, the US and Russia, rejected a motion that the report be “welcomed".

Instead they merely said they “noted” the findings of the scientists.

This, say observers, will make consensus on global action on climate change more difficult to reach and allow some governments to ignore the report’s findings.

Many at the meeting, delegates as well as scientists, expressed their outrage at the turn of events.

A representative from the Pacific, where the survival of island nations is threatened by rising sea levels – told the meeting it was ludicrous that crucial talks on the world’s future were being held up by arguments over two words.

'Bad behaviour'

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists told reporters the science on climate change cannot be dismissed.

“Saudi Arabia has always had bad behaviour in climate talks but it could be overruled when it was alone or just with Kuwait,” he said.

“That it has now been joined by the US and Russia is more dangerous.”

Alden described as “pretty remarkable” the fact that the group of four countries was seeking to diminish the importance of a scientific report that they themselves had commissioned.

The US, which has said it intends to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement seeking to limit rises in global temperatures, issued a statement saying it was willing to note the report’s findings but not welcome it “as this would denote endorsement of the report.”

Scientists say that many areas of the Gulf could become uninhabitable if temperatures keep rising (AFP)

Observers say the four countries, all big oil producers, objected to the report’s conclusion that if there was to be any prospect of controlling global warming, the use of climate-changing fossil fuels would need to be phased out by mid-century.

US President Donald Trump recently went back on earlier statements he made dismissing climate change as a hoax but said he doubts global warming is a man-made phenomenon.

Observers say the irony – particularly for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – is that those countries are among the most likely to suffer as the world heats up.

In recent years both countries have been hit by unusually fierce heatwaves. Scientists say that climate change could mean that many parts of the Gulf region will be effectively uninhabitable from about 2070 onwards if it continues unchecked.

Dust storms have also been growing both in intensity and frequency in the Gulf, leading to record levels of respiratory ailments such as asthma.

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