||Evict Washington from Cancun and Durban to save the climate
(WikiLeaks proves the US is an untrustworthy partner)
Patrick Bond The Mercury EYE ON CIVIL SOCIETY column 7 December 2010
CANCUN, MEXICO - Such a shame that now, just when world climate negotiations here depend upon decisive action, an excellent opportunity has arisen thanks to WikiLeaks, yet meek voices are dominating The Mercury in Durban, host of the 2011 climate summit.
On December 1, our favourite newspaper’s editorial page reprinted a ridiculous Los Angeles Times tirade demanding that Washington ‘safeguard information’ - just like the African National Congress is attempting at home (where, thank goodness, The Mercury has been sensible, helping fight Pretoria’s censorship of information and the press).
That editorial argued, “Many disclosures of classified information, such as the release of the Pentagon papers in 1971, have served the public interest. The latest document dump by WikiLeaks so far falls short of that noble purpose. The primary objective seems to be to embarrass the US and complicate its foreign policy.”
Well, it’s about time! In the world’s public interest, US foreign policy should now be made so embarrassed and ‘complicated’ that no one dares go near a Washington diplomat for fear of exposure to the Ugly American bullying revealed by WikiLeaks’ ongoing disclosure of State Department and Pentagon cables.
But even worse, Independent newspapers foreign reporter Peter Fabricius (in The Mercury, December 3) glibly remarks, “the cable traffic published so far does not seem to have revealed anything sinister”, aside from Washington’s spying on top UN officials (even their frequent flier numbers!).
Is Fabricius professionally incompetent or morally bankrupt? Or both? Consider just one sinister example: Barack Obama’s collaboration in the most recent coup against an elected government in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras.
Observes Dr Robert Naiman of the organisation JustForeignPolicy.org, “According to a leaked cable, by July 24, 2009, the US government was totally clear about the basic facts of what took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009. But a month after the cable was sent, the State Department was publicly pretending that the facts were murky and needed further study.”
On August 25, a top State Department official justified nurturing the coup regime because, as he said, “As you know, on the ground, there’s a lot of discussion about who did what to whom and what things were constitutional or not, which is why our lawyers are really looking at the event as we understand them in order to come out with the accurate determination.”
According to Naiman, “the July 24 cable shows that this was nonsense. Had the State Department shared publicly the Embassy’s clear assessment of the June 28 events after July 24, history might have turned out differently, because supporters of the coup in the United States - including Republican Members of Congress and media talking heads - continued to dispute basic facts about the coup which the US Embassy in Honduras had reported were not subject to reasonable dispute.”
That allowed the State Department to permit the new regime to consolidate power. “Top officials in Washington supported the political aims of the coup,” explains Naiman: “the removal of the ability of President Zelaya and his supporters to pursue a meaningful reform project in Honduras.”
So Washington ignored the earlier, more honest cable assessment that there was a coup. Hillary Clinton thus avoided cutting off support to the new regime and condemning the stage-managed Honduran election. Today, says Naiman, Clinton “is lobbying for the government created by that disputed election to be readmitted to the Organization of American States, in opposition to most of the rest of the hemisphere, despite ongoing, major violations of human rights in Honduras, about which the US is doing essentially nothing.”
The word ‘sinister’ does not do justice to Washington’s imperialism, in the wake of scores of US-promoted coups across the world, or the State Department’s determination (until a special Congressional law was passed in 2008) that Nelson Mandela was a ‘terrorist’.
Countless examples could be cited of Washington’s threats now revealed by WikiLeaks: bullying the German government to suppress information about US torture of one of its innocent citizens; halting a Spanish judge’s attempted prosecution of US officials for torture and murder; collaboration with New Labour in Britain to keep secret the use of US cluster bombs. Yet to Fabricius, WikiLeaks “does not expose wrongdoing by the US government.”
In addition to invasion, occupation and the imposition of corrupt, stooge regimes (see WikiLeaks for gory details) on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention more than a million lost civilian lives, Washington’s most serious wrongdoing today threatens us all in future decades: denialism of US responsibility for climate change.
Explains Prof Bill McKibben, founder of the leading US civil society climate group, 350.org, “From the very beginning of this process, 16 long ‘Conferences of the Parties’ ago, US politics have set the tone and pace. And every time with the same message: be less ambitious, so Congress won’t nix the deal.”
Last December 18, an ill-advised Jacob Zuma was one of four heads of state to immediately legitimize Obama’s Copenhagen Accord, a half-baked deal mainly meant to appease the reactionary US Senate with a pathetic non-binding pledge that will leave the world nearly 4 degrees warmer and hence doom hundreds of millions of Africans, including the two leaders’ Zulu and Luo relatives.
“But here’s the thing,” says McKibben. “The US flirts, it shows some leg, but it never ends up in your arms. The Senate never comes through - it didn’t ratify Kyoto, and it didn’t pass the climate legislation last summer. All the watering down was for nought.”
Thanks to WikiLeaks revelations, McKibben is justifiably outraged that US climate negotiators are “essentially buying votes for the American do-little position by promising to dole out assistance money - or to withhold it if countries stuck to their guns.” Leaders of the Maldives islands, soon to be underwater, were apparently bought for $50 million, promising Washington that the payola would show other corrupt rulers “the advantages to be gained by compliance” with the Copenhagen Accord.
McKibben concludes, “After fifteen years of empty promises, it’s pretty clear that Washington is playing the world for suckers.”
In an ideal world, WikiLeaks disclosures would allow serious climate negotiators the opportunity to reject US sabotage and, with the haste that science demands, seal a deal consistent with climate justice. Sending US diplomats home, imposing sanctions against Washington, and withdrawing UN headquarters from New York would be the next logical actions, until US emissions cuts are made and its vast climate debt is paid. (And the spying stops.)
With South Africans amongst the world’s least-informed citizenries about catastrophic climate change, according to international polls, we have a special responsibility to urgently raise consciousness and also to raise the costs of the US agenda from Cancun to Durban. Washington’s agenda can be summed up in two words: climate injustice.
(Patrick Bond is co-editor of the 2009 UKZN Press book Climate Change, Carbon Trading and Civil Society: Negative Returns on South African Investments.)
The US embassy cables WikiLeaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate accord
Damian Carrington 3 December 2010
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 US 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 US state department sent a secret cable
on 31 July 2009 seeking human intelligence from UN diplomats across a
range of issues, including climate change. 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.
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 US 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
US, the world's biggest historical polluter and long isolated as a
climate pariah, 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 of the US's 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. But the accord cannot guarantee the
global greenhouse gas cuts needed to avoid dangerous warming.
Furthermore, it threatens to circumvent the UN's negotiations on
extending the Kyoto protocol, in which rich nations have binding
obligations. Those objections have led many countries ? particularly the
poorest and most vulnerable ? to vehemently oppose the accord.
Getting as many countries as possible to associate themselves with the
accord strongly served US interests, by boosting the likelihood it would
be officially adopted. A diplomatic offensive was launched. 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
(?19bn) 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.
By 23 February 2010, the Maldives' ambassador‑designate to the US, Abdul
Ghafoor Mohamed, told the US 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
A diplomatic dance ensued. Ghafoor referred to several projects costing
approximately $50m (?30m). Pershing encouraged him to provide concrete
examples and costs in order to increase the likelihood of bilateral
The Maldives were unusual among developing countries in embracing the
accord so wholeheartedly, but other small island nations were secretly
seen as vulnerable to financial pressure. 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,
and such a link as heretical. But on 11 February, 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
The pair were concerned at how the $30bn was to be raised and Hedegaard
raised another toxic subject ? whether the US aid would be all cash. She
asked if the US would need to do any creative accounting, noting some
countries such as Japan and the UK 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.
Along with finance, another treacherous issue in the global climate
negotiations, currently continuing in Canc?n, Mexico, is trust that
countries will keep their word. Hedegaard asks why the US 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 Pershing as saying.
Trust is in short supply on both sides of the developed‑developing
nation divide. On 2 February 2009, a cable from Addis Ababa reports a
meeting between the US undersecretary of state Maria Otero and the
Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, who leads the African Union's
climate change negotiations.
The confidential cable records a blunt US threat to Zenawi: sign the
accord or discussion ends now. Zenawi responds that Ethiopia will
support the accord, but has a concern of his own: that a personal
assurance from Barack Obama on delivering the promised aid finance is
not being honoured.
US 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,
Hedegaard and other EU officials.
Froman said the EU needed to learn from Basic's skill at impeding US and
EU initiatives and playing them off against each in order to better
handle third country obstructionism and avoid future train wrecks on
Hedegaard is keen to reassure 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. Hedegaard and Froman discuss the need to neutralise,
co‑opt or marginalise unhelpful countries including Venezuela and
Bolivia, before Hedegaard again links financial aid to support for the
accord, noting the irony that the EU is a big donor to these
countries. Later, in April, the US cut aid to Bolivia and Ecuador,
citing opposition to the accord.
Any irony is clearly lost on the Bolivian president, Evo Morales,
according to a 9 February cable from La Paz. The Danish ambassador to
Bolivia, Morten Elkjaer, tells a US diplomat that, at the Copenhagen
summit, Danish prime minister Rasmussen spent an unpleasant 30 minutes
with Morales, during which Morales thanked him for [$30m a year in]
bilateral aid, but refused to engage on climate change issues.
After the Copenhagen summit, further linking of finance and aid with
political support appears. Dutch officials, initially rejecting US
overtures to back the accord, make a startling statement on 25 January.
According to a cable, the Dutch climate negotiator Sanne Kaasjager has
drafted messages for embassies in capitals receiving Dutch development
assistance to solicit support [for the accord]. This is an unprecedented
move for the Dutch government, which traditionally recoils at any
suggestion to use aid money as political leverage. Later, however,
Kaasjager rows back a little, saying: The Netherlands would find it
difficult to make association with the accord a condition to receive
Perhaps the most audacious appeal for funds revealed in the cables is
from Saudi Arabia, the world's second biggest oil producer and one of
the 25 richest countries in the world. A secret cable sent on 12
February records a meeting between US embassy officials and lead climate
change negotiator Mohammad al‑Sabban. The kingdom will need time to
diversify its economy away from petroleum, [Sabban] said, noting a US
commitment to help Saudi Arabia with its economic diversification
efforts would 'take the pressure off climate change negotiations'.
The Saudis did not like the accord, but were worried they had missed a
trick. The assistant petroleum minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told
US officials that he had told his minister Ali al‑Naimi that Saudi
Arabia had missed a real opportunity to submit 'something clever', like
India or China, that was not legally binding but indicated some goodwill
towards the process without compromising key economic interests.
The cables obtained by WikiLeaks finish at the end of February 2010.
Today, 116 countries have associated themselves with the accord. Another
26 say they intend to associate. That total, of 140, is at the upper end
of a 100‑150 country target revealed by 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 mid‑point of the major UN climate change negotiations in Canc?n,
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.
WikiLeaks cables: Canc?n climate talks doomed to fail, says EU president
Herman van Rompuy dismisses Copenhagen climate summit as 'incredible disaster' and expects Cancun to be no better
Ian Traynor (guardian.co.uk) 3 December 2010
Herman van Rompuy, president of the European council Herman van Rompuy, president of the European council. Photograph: Christophe Karaba/EPA
The European Union's new president, Herman Van Rompuy, has predicted
disaster at the latest crucial round of global climate change
negotiations in Mexico and voiced relief that he stayed away from the
Copenhagen summit a year ago.
Reporting on a meeting with Van Rompuy in December last year, just after
he was the surprise choice to be the first president of the European
council, a senior US diplomat described the Belgian as animated and
Van Rompuy said the Copenhagen climate change talks had been an
incredible disaster. Looking forward to the current negotiations in
Canc?n in Mexico, the European leader predicted that these would be a
The US cable paints a picture of an isolated Van Rompuy. The devoutly
Catholic former Belgian prime minister has been chairing all EU summits
His first in February amounted to a Copenhagen postmortem of why the EU,
proudly branding itself the world pioneer in combating climate change,
had been snubbed by the US and China at the talks in Denmark, delivering
a blow to prestige from which the EU has yet to recover.
The US diplomat's meeting with Van Rompuy took place on 23 December last
year in the cavernous Justus Lipsius building that is the EU
headquarters in Brussels. Van Rompuy clearly cut a lonely figure a week
before taking up his new job. Brussels' EU quarter had been abandoned
for the holiday. The only person around was Frans Van Daele, the veteran
Belgian diplomat and baron who is Van Rompuy's chief of staff. They
invited me to have some coffee for about an hour. Given the holiday
period the EU building was virtually empty and both men seemed to have
time to spare. We first discussed many social pleasantries, the US
Van Rompuy complained bitterly that the Europeans had been totally
excluded and mistreated in Copenhagen and said he was only lucky that
he had decided to stay away.
Had I been there my presidency would have been over before it began,
the cable quotes him as saying. The diplomat noted: He thought it was a
wise decision not to attend the conference despite the pressure. He was
not angry, in the sense that he never seems angry, but he was as
animated and as frustrated as I have seen him.
In public the EU is talking up the case for reviving climate change
agreement hopes in Canc?n, but last December Van Rompuy was dismissive
and pessimistic, both about the Canc?n negotiations and about the very
format for the talks. Van Rompuy said he has 'given up on Mexico', the
American reported, while his chief of staff, Van Daele, likened the
Canc?n talks to the repeat of a bad film and said: 'Who wants to see
that horror movie again?'
Van Rompuy strongly criticised the unwieldy format of the talks, with
too many players involved. He urged a concentration on the US, the EU
and China, focusing his efforts towards a European‑American breakthrough
at their summit planned for last May, which in the end did not take place.
Multilateral meetings will not work, Van Rompuy is quoted as saying.
The diplomat went on: Rather than waiting for a failure at Mexico City
he intends to address Copenhagen issues with the United States at
Madrid; he envisioned engaging China thereafter. In his mind talks with
the US would have to focus on Madrid and not Mexico City.
Van Rompuy's disaster in Copenhagen was compounded by a further
setback a few weeks later when Barack Obama brushed aside Spanish
pleadings for a visit to Madrid for a summit with the EU.
The Spanish took over the rotating six‑month presidency of the EU at the
start of the year. On 1 February William Kennard, Obama's new ambassador
to the EU, met the Spanish ambassador.
Among other things they discussed the prospects for a US‑EU summit in
Madrid in May, a subsequent cable says.
The EU thinks it would be a mistake for the US to opt out of the
summit, the cable reports.
But the US ambassador said that while the White House understands the
important symbolism of the summit Obama was more focused on results.
The Spanish said climate change was one reason for holding the summit
but they would be happy if it was cancelled, as long as it was replaced
by a bilateral Obama trip to Spain.
The cable notes drily that the two ambassadors parted with the American
promising to keep the Spaniards posted. He placed a phone call later
that evening and eventually informed [the Spanish ambassador] of the
White House decision on the morning of 2 February.
At the same time US officials in Madrid were talking to the Spanish
prime minister, Jos? Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, and the then foreign
minister, Miguel Moratinos.
Spanish disappointment is profound, reported ambassador Alan Solomont.
The summit with the US ? the first visit of a US president in eight
years ? was to be the climax of Spain's [EU] presidency. The Spanish do
not feel betrayed but they are deeply disappointed ? Zapatero has taken
a serious political blow.