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Under bombing, Ukraine’s climate scientists withdraw from global meeting

Russia’s invasion has forced Ukraine’s top climate experts to exit a global scientific meeting finalizing a major report on the impacts of global warming. 

Delegates were in the final days of a two-week negotiation on the wording of a summary of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) investigation — due for release on February 28 — into the impacts of climate change on societies and ecosystems around the planet.

But Ukraine’s delegation has had to withdraw from the online negotiations as its members were forced to hide in bomb shelters. 

Svitlana Krakovska, a climate scientist who heads the Ukrainian delegation, said she informed the IPCC they had to withdraw on Thursday, in part due to a lack of internet access. 

“We have some delegates from other cities, not only Kyiv, and they were forced to go to shelters,” she said. “But most important is that it’s very difficult to think about climate change impacts when you have impacts of Russian missiles in our Kyiv, and tanks everywhere.” 

Krakovska, who lives in the Ukrainian capital with her four children, said she tried to continue working. 

“But then I just realized that it’s not possible because there’s real danger for me and my family, and all our delegates,” she said. 

This latest cycle of IPCC reports marks the first time Ukrainians are involved as lead authors, so withdrawing now felt “not fair,” she said. 

It was also bitter for Krakovska to consider that, in her mind, the drivers of the war and climate change were the same.

“There’s this connection … all the money for this aggression comes from oil, from fossil fuels. The more we use this, the more we sponsor this aggression,” she said.

Meanwhile, Russian climate diplomats have used the meeting to downplay the warnings of the IPCC report.

According to two people with knowledge of the process, Russia’s delegates have repeatedly tried to insert mentions of the benefits of global warming, including new opportunities for resource extraction and shipping, and positive impacts on agriculture in Russia’s Arctic areas.

Russia’s pushback is not unusual compared with past behavior at the IPCC. But one person involved in the negotiations said: “What we saw was a much more concerted effort. That seems to be much more politically driven to emphasize these opportunities.”

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

In an open letter on Tuesday, around 650 Russian scientists — including dozens from the government-chartered Russian Academy of Sciences — condemned the war and said the invasion has turned Russia into a “pariah,” with consequences for the pursuit of knowledge in that country.

“After all, conducting scientific research is unthinkable without full cooperation with colleagues from other countries. The isolation of Russia from the world means further cultural and technological degradation of our country in the complete absence of positive prospects. War with Ukraine is a step to nowhere,” the letter said.

The IPCC reports, which are published roughly every seven years, are the authoritative summary of the state of climate science and are designed to help guide public policy.

Negotiations at the IPCC are expected to wrap up on Friday, but were only 55 percent completed at the time of publication. Delegates said they expected talks to run over.

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