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WikiLeaks: The EU and Germany Are Failing to Lead on Climate Change

Perhaps, prior to the WikiLeaks scandal, small island nations which stand to be deluged by rising sea levels might have looked to the European Union and, specifically, Germany to provide leadership on climate change. Recent disclosures, however, have probably dashed any such hopes. Far from looking out for the interests of vulnerable countries imperiled by global warming, the European Union has conspired with the United States to limit the scope of climate change reform in international negotiations.


Even if the EU wanted to set an ambitious course on climate change, there are serious doubts about the bloc's ability to do so. Indeed, when it's not negotiating with the U.S. behind closed doors, the EU has shown little unity on issues of vital environmental importance. To make matters worse, Germany and the U.S. reportedly lied about a satellite program ostensibly designed to collect information about climate change. In reality, Germany had no intention of employing the satellites for any such purpose —- the technology would be simply used for spying.
 
The WikiLeaks scandal represents a kind of fall from grace for Germany, which has long prided itself on its green credentials. Indeed, it wasn't so long ago that U.S. diplomats painted a rather flattering environmental portrait of the Angela Merkel government. In December, 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia noted that "Germany has long been the leading contributor of financial and technical assistance to Brazil on deforestation and climate change." U.S. Chargé d'Affaires Lisa Kubiske added that Germany planned to invest 100 million Euros on climate change and renewable energy projects. Furthermore, Kubiske added, "Germany has long played the leading role in the international effort on conserving the Amazon forest."


Even as it sought to deal with the Amazon, however, Germany fretted about climate change politics closer to home. According to cables, there were acrimonious divisions within the 27- member EU prior to the Copenhagen climate summit held in December, 2009. When the Dutch demanded that the EU cut its emissions by 30 percent, Italy and Poland balked during a particularly "vicious" meeting. One German official dismissed Poland's argument disdainfully as "give us two billion euros for technology." "Germany is concerned that a lack of internal solidarity is leading to problems with the EU's position and leadership internationally," noted the U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in Brussels.


Copenhagen and German Lack of Leadership

While Germany certainly confronted a disconcerting scenario, Merkel failed to push ahead and seemed to accept a zero sum game. Prior to the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, U.S. ambassador to Germany Phillip Murray wrote Secretary of State Clinton that "German leaders recognize the challenge of passing climate change legislation in the U.S. and have lowered their expectations for the possibility of reaching a legally binding agreement next month at Copenhagen. They have begun to describe the Summit as one step in a larger process — a politically binding framework — and may be preparing the German public for a less ambitious outcome."  Far from seeking to exercise true leadership on climate change, Merkel advocated a strong "US/EU position towards the major emerging economies, particularly China and India, to urge them to commit to ambitious national actions at Copenhagen."


During the conference itself, major powers such as China, the U.S. and Brazil amongst others cobbled together a hastily agreed upon climate compromise. In the wake of the summit, some countries were left feeling bitter and pessimistic. The EU signaled that it would only sign on to a new UN treaty if other big economies agreed to make deeper cuts in their emissions. According to cables, incoming European Council President Herman Van Rompuy felt "angry that Europe was elbowed out of discussions in Copenhagen."


Van Rompuy was pessimistic that upcoming climate talks at Cancún would yield any positive result, and suggested that the U.S. and EU negotiate on their own and then approach China. The EU official was not the only one to share such a dismal outlook: Chancellor Merkel too was frustrated by the lack of progress at Copenhagen and started to move away from her goal of limiting climate change to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Merkel even signaled to the rest of the EU that she would not support the idea of Europe going it alone on climate change. Playing the blame game, the Chancellor said that China and India represented a true "structural problem" when it came to reaching a binding climate agreement.


Climate Change Shenanigans


The EU, then, felt excluded from negotiations but was not prepared to act as a trailblazer on climate change, arguing instead that emerging economies such as China and India should assume responsibility. The EU takes its cue from Germany, and in this case Merkel's lack of leadership had unfortunate consequences: in early 2010, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman met with EU officials, including Van Rompuy's Chief of Staff, in Brussels. The aim of the discussions was to "push back against coordinated opposition of BASIC countries (China, India, Brazil and South Africa) to our international positions." Though the BASIC group had widely differing interests, U.S. diplomats observed, the bloc was "surprisingly united" and would "take turns" playing the U.S. and EU off against each other.
 
To be sure, BASIC is a huge obstacle when it comes to climate change and other nations should take a stand against the bloc at international summits. On the other hand, the U.S. is not much better than BASIC when it comes to setting policy. If they wanted to take a more principled stand at this point, EU officials might have refused to take sides with either the U.S. or BASIC in the meaningless race to the bottom. According to cables, however, the EU cynically negotiated with the U.S. in an effort to head off meaningful change. When Froman remarked that "the U.S. and EU need to... work much more closely and effectively together... to better handle third country obstructionism and avoid future trainwrecks on climate," the Europeans agreed to lobby BASIC as well as the G-77 group of poor nations in advance of the next climate summit in Cancún, Mexico.


If Washington had any doubts about where Europe stood, EU officials certainly cleared up any uncertainty: when Froman remarked that it would be necessary to "neutralize, co-opt or marginalize" radical Latin American nations which were advocating deeper cuts in carbon emissions, the Europeans agreed that it was imperative to "work around unhelpful countries such as Venezuela or Bolivia." An EU official then noted how "ironic" it was that Europe donated a lot of money to radical Latin American countries, but they in turn were "actively discouraging" others from signing on to Copenhagen, a heavily criticized accord which the EU nevertheless sought to foist on the rest of the world. Simultaneously, in preparation for Cancún the EU aimed to downgrade public expectations for the summit, hoping to merely score modest agreements on climate financing and a climate warning system.


Cancún Expectations


Despite such unpromising backroom diplomacy, the Cancún summit ended with Germany agreeing to reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2020. That would be well ahead of pledges made by the EU bloc as a whole, which only agreed to reduce emissions by 20 percent. Indeed, Der Spiegel reports that "other countries in the [EU] club are appreciative of Berlin's pledge — but none have followed the example." For Cancún to be effective Germany will have to cajole other member states to make deeper commitments, but already there are indications, in the words of Der Spiegel, that the central European powerhouse "no longer wants to be the model EU pupil."


Since China and the U.S. left Cancún without offering concrete carbon pledges, it is up to the EU to make the greatest difference on global warming. German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen, a member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats, argues that his country must "advance decisively," in the post Cancún milieu. A new eco-boom, he declares, might create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. If other EU members should renege on carbon reductions, Röttgen argues, Germany should lead even further by raising its targets to between 42 and 50 percent.


Throwing cold water on that idea, Merkel says that such a deep commitment would put pressure on the economy. Officials at the Chancellery declare that "Germany, with its national reduction target of 40 percent, is at the upper limit" of its Cancún targets and that other EU countries need to make up the difference. Seeking to avoid a confrontation with Merkel, Röttgen has now changed his tune and lambastes other EU countries, demanding that they "make a contribution that corresponds to the German contribution."


The Satellite Imbroglio


Failing to inspire fellow EU members is disappointing enough, though further WikiLeaks cables show that the Merkel government has truly acted cynically. Recently, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten released U.S. cables from the American Embassy in Berlin dating from early 2009 to early 2010. The documents show that Germany and the U.S. sought to develop a joint satellite program which would be operational by 2013. Code named HiROS, or High Resolution Optical Satellite System, the project would reportedly detect objects on the ground as small as 50 centimeters in diameter and take infrared images at night.


Because of the controversial nature of HiROS, the U.S. and Germany planned to present the project to the public as a civilian project which would study climate change and improve the environment. In reality, however, HiROS was "under the total control" of German intelligence and the national aerospace center. Observing the growing German-U.S. détente, neighboring France grew concerned and sought to derail the satellite program at every turn. The Merkel government, however, which had long sought to become a leading player providing satellite data, disregarded French entreaties.


The satellite imbroglio reveals the Merkel government at its most crass. At a time when the world desperately needs satellite data to further understand global climate change, Germany seems more intent on outmaneuvering its fellow EU members on intelligence gathering. Even as its rails against other European countries for not living up to their carbon commitments, Germany is pursuing narrow self interest and failing to use its technology for the benefit of all. If anything, the WikiLeaks scandal may sow suspicion amongst EU members and make further environmental diplomacy that much more difficult to achieve.


On the other hand, ongoing disclosures might actually spur a public outcry and further debate. With the chances for climate change legislation looking dimmer and dimmer in the new Republican-dominated U.S. Congress, the EU must be a more forceful player on global warming. As the most significant political and economic country in Europe, Germany must lead in a much more convincing way than recent WikiLeaks cables suggest. Perhaps, German environmentalists and the media will raise a stir and pressure the Merkel government to finally assume its historic responsibility.

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WikiLeaks: The U.S. Must “Neutralize, Co-opt or Marginalize” Radical Latin American Bloc in Climate Negotiations

As activists launch protests at the Cancún climate summit in Mexico, could negotiators be engaged in cynical backroom deals? In light of recent WikiLeaks disclosures, such an eventuality seems more than likely. Indeed, U.S. diplomatic cables show that the Americans have been trying to strong arm other countries in order to get their way at international summits. The cables, which go back to last year's Copenhagen summit, show the U.S. as a manipulative and opportunistic power seeking to water down important environmental agreements.


Judging from documents, the WikiLeaks scandal could well turn into the Climate Gate scandal. When reporting to his colleagues, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires in La Paz John Creamer described Bolivian President Evo Morales' climate justice activism in the most unflattering light. An impoverished Andean nation, Bolivia is poorly equipped to deal with the ravages of climate change and has been a leading critic of the United States and the Global North at international summits like Copenhagen.

In a report, Creamer remarked that Morales "seemed to revel" in his opposition to the Copenhagen summit, which was dominated by the United States and other large powers. The Bolivian, the diplomat continued, made "extraordinary demands" like reparations and aid, thus alienating conference organizers and most delegations. The Danes became "fed up" with Morales and the pesky left-leaning ALBA bloc of countries from Latin America, which kept on mounting "propaganda arguments" against the Copenhagen accord [following the environmental debacle in Denmark, Morales invited international activists to Bolivia for a counter climate summit in Cochabamba].
 
Blackening Morales' Image

One would expect U.S. diplomats to be critical of Morales in their reporting, but in going over the WikiLeaks cables I've been struck by the remarkably supercilious tone and vindictive accusations hurled at the Bolivian leader. At this point, it's difficult to establish the exact veracity of all the many claims, and diplomatic historians will no doubt look into the charges in more depth in future. Perhaps American diplomats genuinely had high placed intelligence on Morales upon which to base their reports, or maybe they simply wanted to satisfy their superiors in Washington with wishful propaganda.


Not surprisingly, Creamer's own political bias doesn't differ much from that of his colleagues. In a report dating to early 2010, he acknowledges that Bolivia "is already suffering real damage from the effects of global warming." Yet, the diplomat continues sarcastically, Morales is immature as he "seems to prefer to score rhetorical points rather than contribute to a solution." Morales, the diplomat implies, is like a four-year old child for opposing the Copenhagen accord. "Our assessment," Creamer states, "is that Bolivia remains beyond reach on Copenhagen, at least until Morales sees the limits of his approach."


Creamer writes that Morales' activism made him a hero in the eyes of anti-globalization activists, while at the same time alienating neighboring South American nations [Creamer doesn't name the countries, but presumably he is referring to Brazil]. Ascribing cynical motives to Morales, Creamer remarks that the Bolivian leader "views climate change as a vehicle for raising his and Bolivia's international political stature." Creamer cites one senator from Morales' political party who believed that the Bolivian president saw
"environmental issues as one area where he can carve out an international identity independent from that of his close ally, President Hugo Chávez. She recounted to us that an animated Morales told her he was surrounded by well-wishers in Copenhagen urging him 'not to abandon them,' while Chávez was alone in the corner."


Creamer then calls out Morales for environmental hypocrisy, remarking that "many Bolivians" are eager to point out that "Morales's climate change campaign is about enhancing his global stature, not about the environment." Creamer goes on to quote a former Morales cabinet official who says "there is a huge gap between Morales' strident, pro-environmental rhetoric in international fora and his domestic emphasis on industrialization as they key to development. The foundation of this effort is large-scale natural gas, iron, and lithium production projects, enterprises that have historically proven extremely damaging to the environment."  Creamer then points out that the Inter-American Development Bank had recently presented the Bolivians with a report detailing serious potential environmental hazards associated with extracting lithium.
 
Brazil's Environmental Duplicity

To be sure, Creamer makes a number of valid environmental points but needless to say it was the United States, and not Bolivia, which exacerbated climate change over the years. Not only does Creamer's report illuminate U.S. hypocrisy, however, but also that of the other big powers. In La Paz, Chinese diplomats prodded Bolivia, urging Morales to support the Copenhagen accord. However, such efforts were rapidly demonstrated to be "pointless" and the Chinese concluded that Brazil would have to convince Bolivia and the other ALBA nations to come round.


I have always suspected that, behind the scenes, Brazil has played a negative environmental role in the region. In midtown Manhattan, Brazil employs a fancy PR firm to extol the country's green credentials and send out e-mails about Brasilia's progressive programs. At one point, I even got the opportunity to interview Izabella Teixeira, Brazil's Environment Minister. I asked her to clarify Brazil's precise negotiating role at international summits, to which she would respond, time and again, that Brazil was an equal opportunity and good faith player, consulting with Third World nations within the G-77 group, for example.


Perhaps what she really meant to say was that Brazil sought to strong arm Bolivia into coming into line and playing a zero sum game. According to Creamer and WikiLeaks, "Bolivia refused to adopt Brazil's position on Copenhagen," but Brasilia's Foreign Affairs Ministry or Itamaraty would "continue to press Bolivia... hoping that Bolivia's isolation on this issue will eventually bring it around."


U.S. and Europe vs. BASIC and ALBA


For anyone interested in learning how strong arming occurs in advance of climate change confabs, U.S. diplomatic cables make for obligatory reading. In February, 2010, Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman met with EU officials in Brussels. The aim of the discussions was to "push back against coordinated opposition of BASIC countries (China, India, Brazil, South Africa) to our international positions." Though the BASIC group had widely differing interests, U.S. diplomats observed, the bloc was "surprisingly united" and would "take turns" playing the U.S. and EU off against each other.


"The U.S. and EU need to learn from this coordination," Froman believed, "and work
much more closely and effectively together ourselves, to better handle third country obstructionism and avoid future trainwrecks on climate." In advance of Cancún, the Europeans and Americans hoped to get BASIC and the G-77 on their side and to "be in close touch with Mexico" which would be chairing the meeting. In one damning passage of the report, it is mentioned that "Froman agreed that we will need to neutralize, co-opt or marginalize" the more radical Latin American bloc including Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and others.


What is ironic about these cables is that the U.S. wants to undermine not just ALBA but also BASIC. Yet, BASIC and Brazil are hardly what we might call a progressive bloc of countries. Indeed, it was BASIC itself which helped to draft the inadequate Copenhagen Accord with the U.S. at the eleventh hour. Clearly, however, the U.S. doesn't even want to put up with BASIC, most likely because the bloc wants the Americans and Europeans to assume most of the responsibility for solving our climate crisis.


Cancún Strategy: No Friendly Overture toward Brazil

If these cables are any indication, Cancún could wind up being a zero sum game with the EU and U.S. seeking to oppose BASIC and all three groups hoping to circumvent the more radical proposals advocated by Bolivia, ALBA, and the small island nations. It all makes for a rather pessimistic scenario, yet perhaps the WikiLeaks documents will shame and embarrass the big powers into making some concessions.


In an earlier online column, I suggested that activists might consider making a friendly overture toward Brazil in the hope that the South American juggernaut might cease its counter-productive negotiations within the BASIC group which is fast becoming a chief obstacle to enacting progressive climate change legislation. I reasoned that Brazil, more than other countries in the bloc, would be more likely to take the side of ALBA and small island nations in international climate negotiations. In the first round of Brazil's presidential election, Green Party candidate Marina Silva garnered 19% of the vote, suggesting that environmental consciousness is on the rise in the South American nation.


WikiLeaks documents, however, reveal Brazil's true colors behind closed doors. In light of the disclosures, it doesn't seem to make much sense for activists to conduct any "friendly overtures." At this point, there's got to be a concerted campaign on Brazil designed to humiliate and embarrass the Lula government so that we can see some movement at Cancún. ALBA and the small island nation group do not constitute a formidable geopolitical bloc, and so activists will have to up the ante and exert more pressure on Brazil in the hope of creating a countervailing force to the U.S. and EU.

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