U.S. manipulated climate accord in Copenhagen: WikiLeaks

President Barack Obama speaks at the morning plenary session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Barack Obama speaks at the morning plenary session of the United Nations Climate Change Conference at the Bella Center in Copenhagen, Denmark, Friday, Dec. 18, 2009. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Hidden behind the save-the-world rhetoric of the global climate change negotiations lies the mucky realpolitik: money and threats buy political support; spying and cyberwarfare are used to seek out leverage.

The U.S. diplomatic cables reveal how the US seeks dirt on nations opposed to its approach to tackling global warming; how financial and other aid is used by countries to gain political backing; how distrust, broken promises and creative accounting dog negotiations; and how the US mounted a secret global diplomatic offensive to overwhelm opposition to the controversial “Copenhagen accord”, the unofficial document that emerged from the ruins of the Copenhagen climate change summit in 2009.

Negotiating a climate treaty is a high-stakes game, not just because of the danger warming poses to civilisation but also because re-engineering the global economy to a low-carbon model will see the flow of billions of dollars redirected.

Seeking negotiating chips, the U.S. state department sent a secret cable on 31 July 2009 seeking human intelligence from U.N. diplomats. The request originated with the CIA. As well as countries’ negotiating positions for Copenhagen, diplomats were asked to provide evidence of U.N. environmental “treaty circumvention” and deals between nations.

But intelligence gathering was not just one way. On 19 June 2009, the state department sent a cable detailing a “spear phishing” attack on the office of the U.S. climate change envoy, Todd Stern, while talks with China on emissions took place in Beijing. Five people received emails, personalised to look as though they came from the National Journal. An attached file contained malicious code that would give complete control of the recipient’s computer to a hacker. While the attack was unsuccessful, the department’s cyber threat analysis division noted: “It is probable intrusion attempts such as this will persist.” The Beijing talks failed to lead to a global deal at Copenhagen. But the U.S., had something to cling to. The Copenhagen accord, hammered out in the dying hours but not adopted into the U.N. process, offered to solve many U.S. problems.

The accord turns the U.N.’s top-down, unanimous approach upside down, with each nation choosing palatable targets for greenhouse gas cuts. It presents a far easier way to bind in China and other rapidly growing countries than the U.N. process. But the accord cannot guarantee the global greenhouse gas cuts needed to avoid dangerous warming.

Weaker nations bribed into backing the accord

Getting as many countries as possible to associate themselves with the accord strongly served U.S. interests, by boosting the likelihood it would be officially adopted. A global diplomatic offensive was launched with officials from Accra to Zagreb, by way of Kathmandu and Lima, given a briefing to deliver. Diplomatic cables flew thick and fast between the end of Copenhagen in December 2009 and late February 2010, when the leaked cables end.

Some countries needed little persuading. The accord promised $30bn (GBP19bn) in aid for the poorest nations hit by global warming they had not caused. Within two weeks of Copenhagen, the Maldives foreign minister, Ahmed Shaheed, wrote to the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, expressing eagerness to back it, with a primary reason being the $30bn fund.

By 23 February 2010, the Maldives’ ambassador-designate to the U.S., Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, told the U.S. deputy climate change envoy, Jonathan Pershing, his country wanted “tangible assistance”, saying other nations would then realise “the advantages to be gained by compliance” with the accord.

A diplomatic dance ensued. “Ghafoor referred to several projects costing approximately $50m (GBP30m). Mr. Pershing encouraged him to provide concrete examples and costs in order to increase the likelihood of bilateral assistance.” Any linking of the billions of dollars of aid to political support is extremely controversial - nations most threatened by climate change see the aid as a right, not a reward. But on 11 February, Mr. Pershing met the EU climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, in Brussels, where she told him, according to a cable, “the Aosis [Alliance of Small Island States] countries ‘could be our best allies’ given their need for financing”.

The pair were concerned at how the $30bn was to be raised and Ms. Hedegaard raised another toxic subject - whether the U.S. aid would be all cash. She asked if the U.S. would need to do any “creative accounting”, noting some countries such as Japan and the U.K. wanted loan guarantees, not grants alone, included, a tactic she opposed. Pershing said “donors have to balance the political need to provide real financing with the practical constraints of tight budgets”, reported the cable.

Plans to manipulate BASIC against each other

Along with finance, another treacherous issue in the global climate negotiations, currently continuing in Cancun, Mexico, is trust that countries will keep their word. Ms. Hedegaard asks why the U.S. did not agree with China and India on what she saw as acceptable measures to police future emissions cuts. “The question is whether they will honour that language,” the cable quotes Ms. Pershing as saying.

U.S. determination to seek allies against its most powerful adversaries - the rising economic giants of Brazil, South Africa, India, China (Basic) - is set out in another cable from Brussels on 17 February reporting a meeting between the deputy national security adviser, Michael Froman, Mr. Hedegaard and other EU officials.

Mr. Froman said the EU needed to learn from Basic’s skill at impeding U.S. and E.U. initiatives and playing them off against each in order “to better handle third country obstructionism and avoid future train wrecks on climate”.

Mr. Hedegaard is keen to reassure Mr. Froman of EU support, revealing a difference between public and private statements. “She hoped the US noted the EU was muting its criticism of the US, to be constructive,” the cable said.

Today, 116 countries have associated with the accord. Another 26 say they intend to do so. That total, of 140, is at the upper end of a 100-150 country target revealed by Mr. Pershing in his meeting with Hedegaard on 11 February.

The 140 nations represent almost 75% of the 193 countries that are parties to the UN climate change convention and, accord supporters like to point out, are responsible for well over 80% of current global greenhouse gas emissions.

At the U.N. climate change negotiations in Cancun, Mexico, there have already been flare-ups over how funding for climate adaptation is delivered. The biggest shock has been Japan’s announcement that it will not support an extension of the existing Kyoto climate treaty. That gives a huge boost to the accord. U.S. diplomatic wheeling and dealing may, it seems, be bearing fruit.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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