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The approval process for the SPM was almost incredible. Until I saw it, I did not believe a report could be edited in detail at a plenary session of hundreds of delegates from across the world. About 120 countries sent delegations, ranging in number from one to more than a dozen. We all gathered in a conference room holding several hundred people in a vast hotel in Berlin. In a way, it was flattering to me as an author to have so many people paying such careful attention to the details of what I had written.

Five days, Monday to Friday, were allocated to approving the SPM. However, Friday was not required to end at the conventional time of midnight. The meeting went into continuous session on Friday morning, with short breaks for meals, and did not stop until more than 24 hours later.

The process relied on someone on the podium who was very adept at typing amendments into text and using track changes. Projected on the screen at any time was a segment of the text, with the particular sentence under discussion highlighted in yellow. The discussion of each sentence continued, and amendments were made, until there was consensus on it among the delegates and authors. Then the chair of the session would bring down his gavel and the highlighting would turn to green. A green sentence was not supposed to be reconsidered. This process continued until the entire SPM had received approval by consensus.

At first I was amazed at the lack of cooperation shown by the delegates. It was plain from the start that it would be very hard to approve the whole SPM in the time available. There was a gauge behind the podium that showed the proportion of words approved compared with the proportion of available time expended. Even by 6:00p.m. on Friday, when in theory the meeting should have wound up, it showed that only 50 percent of words had been approved. Yet the delegates wasted time and made pointless comments.

On Monday, each delegation that spoke started by saying, “Mr Co-chair, since this is the first time my delegation has spoken at this meeting, I would like to thank the government of Germany for its generous hospitality, and the authors of the report for their excellent work.” When 100 people repeat this formula, it occupies a lot of time. However, it was explained to me that the delegates were deliberately marking time through most of the week because they knew that all the action, and all the dirty work, would be on Friday night.


There were opening speeches on Monday morning. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, took the trouble to mention that now, for the first time, philosophers were serving as authors of the IPCC.

Business started when co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer projected on the screen for consideration, highlighted in yellow, the first words of the report. These were ‘Section 1. Introduction.’ Immediately many countries flagged up their desire to comment. They did not really want to object to these words, but they wanted to make a complaint. The governments had been sent a draft of the SPM, and some had sent detailed comments in reply. But after the draft had been sent out, Section 1 and the theoretical Section 2, which I was involved in, had been substantially rewritten by the TSU. I think this was self-censorship again: the TSU had been worried that the beginning of the SPM was too direct and unqualified to be acceptable to governments. So the governments arrived in Berlin and found they had commented on a draft that had been deleted and they were facing a new draft they had not seen before. That made them unhappy.

Section 2 came up toward the end of Monday morning and was immediately in trouble. Largely because of its ethical content, it was perhaps the most controversial section of the SPM. Some countries wanted ethics excluded entirely from the IPCC. I particularly remember an intervention from the UK delegate. He congratulated the authors on having coped so well with the difficulty of introducing broad and complex issues of ethics into the SPM. However, he said, these issues were actually too broad and complex to be fitted into a short report, and he therefore proposed that the ethical parts of the text should be deleted. I am British and I assume (but do not know) that the UK government nominated me as an IPCC author, so this seemed like a stab in the back.

The IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, soon intervened to send Section 2 to a ‘contact group.’ We (authors of the section) were sent to another room to hammer out a text with the relatively small number of delegates that chose to join us.

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