A document obtained via Edward Snowden has revealed the talks were spied on to get critical prior information on countries’ negotiating positions

The U.S. government spied on delegates at the high-profile UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2009, a document obtained by some media houses via whistle-blower Edward Snowden has revealed.

The talks were spied on to get critical prior information on the host country and others’ negotiating positions even as U.S. President Barack Obama flew in to sign a deal with them.

The summit saw the coming together of more than 90 heads of state and delegates from more than 180 countries to hammer out a binding global deal on climate change, but the talks collapsed. A political agreement, The Copenhagen Accord, worked out by the U.S., taking the lead to negotiate with four other BASIC countries — Brazil, India, China and South Africa — could not be adopted by consensus as a UN agreement.

The document, an internal U.S. National Security Agency text, reads: “Analysts here at NSA, as well as our Second Party partners, will continue to provide policymakers with unique, timely, and valuable insights into key countries’ preparations and goals for the conference, as well as deliberations within countries on climate change policies and negotiating strategies.”

It goes on to record, “A late November report detailed China’s efforts to coordinate its position with India and ensure that the two leaders of the developing world are working towards the same outcome. Another report provided advance details of the Danish proposal and their efforts to launch a “rescue plan” to save COP-15.”

The Danish hosts prepared an alternative agreement that they intended to float at the annual summit. This after talks for a new deal floundered through the year under immense global scrutiny and civil society pressure to stitch up an ‘ambitious climate deal’.

An early sketch of the elements of this draft was floated by Denmark in a round of informal meetings — referred to in the climate negotiations jargon as the pre-COP — some weeks before the summit, but delegates were not allowed to take back copies of the documents. Delegates from the select countries did take notes as time permitted. The media reported on these elements days before the summit got off the ground.

But the NSA document reveals that the U.S. administration had got early access to the entire document which helped it keep ahead of other countries at the negotiations during the fortnight of talks. The NSA document, authored days ahead of the talks, said, “While the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference remains uncertain, signals intelligence will undoubtedly play a significant role in keeping our negotiators as well-informed as possible throughout the 2-week event.”

For days the rumours of the ‘Danish document’ floated at the Copenhagen talks, with many countries expressing anger and anguish at the opaque and covert operations of the hosts along with geopolitically-powerful countries. The climate talks are meant to be driven by consensus and transparency, but mistrust brewed fast and led to the ultimate crash of the negotiations in 2009. This despite the U.S. being able to stitch together a non-binding political agreement with a very low ambition — something that suited its interests. Over subsequent years, the U.S. got many elements of the political deal embedded in the UN climate negotiations while the distrust got embedded in the talks trenchantly.