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 cyber warfare are used to seek out leverage.
The leaked 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 last year.
Negotiating a climate treaty is a high-stakes game, not just because of the danger warming poses to civilization, 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 US state department sent a secret cable on July 31 last year seeking human intelligence from UN diplomats. The request originated with the CIA. As well as countries’ negotiating positions for Copenhagen, diplomats were asked to provide evidence of UN environmental “treaty circumvention” and deals between nations.
However, intelligence gathering was not just one way. On June 19 last year, the state department sent a cable detailing a “spear phishing” attack on the office of the US climate change envoy, Todd Stern, while talks with China on emissions took place in Beijing. Five people received e-mails, personalized 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 US, had something to cling to. The Copenhagen accord, hammered out in the dying hours but not adopted into the UN process, offered to solve many US problems.
The accord turns the UN’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 UN process. However, the accord cannot guarantee the global greenhouse gas cuts needed to avoid dangerous warming.
Getting as many countries as possible to associate themselves with the accord served US interests, by boosting the likelihood it would be officially adopted. A global diplomatic offensive was launched with from Accra to Zagreb, by way of Kathmandu and Lima. Diplomatic cables flew thick and fast between the end of Copenhagen in December last year and late February, when the leaked cables end.
Some countries needed little persuading. The accord promised US$30 billion 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 US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, expressing eagerness to back it, with a primary reason being the US$30bn fund.
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. However, on Feb. 11, US deputy climate change envoy, Jonathan 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.”
At the UN 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. US diplomatic wheeling and dealing may, it seems, be bearing fruit.
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