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‘Hours on a footnote’: scientists felt joy and frustration in making a UN climate report

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‘Hours on a footnote’: scientists felt joy and frustration in making a UN climate report

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GENEVA – After spending hundreds of hours in virtual meetings to complete this week’s top UN climate report, scientists Piers Forster and Joeri Rogelj celebrated in a way their peers couldn’t: hugging.

Britain-based Forster was tired of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and invited his co-author to work alongside him in his Harrogate kitchen as they worked with other scientists from around the world to craft the final version of the report. of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1.

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Being together for the last leg of a three-year endeavor “made it more fun,” said Forster, a climate physicist at the University of Leeds.

“However, my neighbors must have thought we were crazy to hear” Thank you, Madam Co-Chair “in response to questions from St. Kitts, India, or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at 4 in the morning.”

When the more than 700 scientists and government delegates finally approved the last part of his 3,949-page report over the weekend, they all erupted in cheers, each separated in their own framework, except for Forster and Rogelj.

A screenshot from Zoom shows the two smiling from the same frame.

This year’s landmark report https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/un-sounds-clarion-call-over-irreversible-climate-impacts-by-humans-2021-08-09, warning that the world is dangerously accelerating toward runaway climate change, it took years of hard work to come together.

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The specialist scientists, all 234 of them working for free, reviewed more than 14,000 scientific studies published since 2013 to draft the latest version of what has now become established science on climate change, before meeting, virtually, to two weeks of final controls and negotiations.

Despite travel restrictions and national lockdowns that delayed completion of the report for several months, organizers say they managed the effort without notable technical glitches to meet the revised deadline.

For many of the scientists, the effort came at a personal cost. “You put a lot of yourself into it,” said ETH Zurich climate scientist Sonia Seneviratne, who had to skip a family vacation to help finish the report.

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While the scientists praised the inclusion of colleagues from 65 countries around the world, some said the resulting time zone challenges were detrimental to their sleep.

“We couldn’t find any time slot other than two in the morning for someone,” said Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. “I’m a night owl, but I’m not that much,” he joked.

WORKING THROUGH A CYCLONE

Completing the politically sensitive “Summary for Policymakers” section, which 195 governments must approve by consensus, presented a particular challenge. Every word in every sentence needed to be analyzed and debated.

To aid in the effort, the organizers displayed each sentence in yellow on a shared screen until it was approved, at which point it appeared in green. If it was rejected, it turned blue, indicating that a review was needed. The disputes then had to be resolved in virtual group sessions.

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“Sometimes we spend hours on a footnote,” said co-chair Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a climate scientist at the University of Paris-Saclay, who described the work in the report as a “marathon.”

An Indian scientist even phoned to attend a meeting as a tropical cyclone moaned outside his window as it cut off his electricity and the Internet, he recalled.

But Masson-Delmotte also said that the opportunity to work on groundbreaking climate research with so many scientists from around the world was “one of the greatest joys of my professional life.”

He took walks in a park among flowers to relax between sessions.

Others said they joined in while getting to know each other’s pets and children, who frequently appeared in the background during video calls.

But for some, loneliness was overwhelming at times. Rogelj, a climate scientist at Imperial College London, said it was helpful to be able to work alongside Forster for the past two weeks, just to exchange ideas or to vent.

“You can do everything that makes us human, which you cannot do through a screen,” he told Reuters. “If I had been alone in my room, it would have been much more difficult to achieve this.”

(Reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva, Andrea Januta in Guerneville, California, and Jake Spring in Brasilia; Edited by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

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