Information and (random) thoughts on environmental governance
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WikiLeaks, Climate Politics and Cancun

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The past few weeks have been “eventful” in the climate change arena. The whistle-blower group WikiLeaks exposed some obscure practices surrounding international climate negotiations (which have been called by some climate bullying, bribery, espionage, blackmail and dirty diplomacy).

The confidential US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal how US and EU governments used money, threats and espionage to gain support, particularly from developing countries, for their “climate” agenda at the United Nations Climate Summit (COP 16) last year in Copenhagen. The objective of the US diplomatic offensive was to gain political backing for the controversial “Copenhagen Accord”.

The Copenhagen Accord is an unofficial document (that is, not adopted in the UN process), which serves many of the US interests. The accord allows that each nation chooses more amenable targets for greenhouse gas emissions cuts, and cannot guarantee the cuts needed to avoid dangerous effects of climate change. Also, it threatens to circumvent the UN efforts to extend or craft an adequate replacement for the Kyoto protocol, by which developed economies have binding obligations. As a result, strong objection to the Accord mounted among many countries, particularly developing nations and those nations more vulnerable to climate change. The mission of the US were then to overwhelm such opposition – by gaining support of as many countries as possible, it would be more likely that the Accord would be officially adopted.

The leaked diplomatic cables show how nations such as the Maldives, Saudi Arabia and representatives from the Alliance of Small Island States and African Union were “persuaded” to back up the Accord. They also reveal the US determination in forging alliances against their most influential adversaries: Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

Currently, the Copenhagen Accord is backed by 140 countries – which comprise 75% of the countries that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and are responsible for over 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

See some of the US diplomatic cables relating to climate change:

  • On potential financial and technical support to Saudi Arabia in diversifying its economy in the face of climate change
  • On the prospects of US and EU bringing nations to support the Accord
  • On the Dutch government’s ploy to solicit support for the climate Accord from countries receiving development assistance
  • On the Maldives government promise to support the Accord in exchange for US funding
  • Meanwhile, the first major UN meeting on Climate Change after the failed Copenhagen Summit took place in Cancun, Mexico. Expectations were naturally low. None the less, modest progress was made in relation to cutting carbon emissions, climate aid, preventing deforestation, enabling technology transfer and monitoring emissions. These outcomes are far from “saving the planet”; however, for many commentators the Cancun agreements help restoring credibility of UN’s negotiation process.

  • WikiLeaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate accord (
  • Cancun climate agreements at a glance (
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    December 19, 2010   No Comments

    Video – How much could population trends influence climate?

    Just a follow up note on my last post about the implications of population growth for CO2 emissions.  In the video below, Brian O’Neill explains his research, which shows that a slowing of population growth could contribute to significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. See also the previous post for more information on the research, and link to O’Neil’s paper published in PNAS, last week.

    October 20, 2010   No Comments

    Effects of Population Change on CO2 Emissions

    World population

    Image by Arenamontanus via Flickr

    After being silent for nearly a month, I am back to blogging and now committed to write, at least, a new post every week.  This week’s post is on the link between demographic trends and CO2 emissions. Please feel free to leave your comment below.

    Population growth has been affecting energy use and greenhouse gas emissions growth for the last several decades. The relation between demographics and carbon emissions seems to be obvious. As the human population grows so does the demand for energy; as more energy from fossil fuel is used, more greenhouse gases are produced. Energy demand and emissions can also be affected by a range of demographic dynamics, such as urbanisation, aging and household size, according to a study featured this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

    The implications of demographic change for global emissions have been assessed by Brian O’Neil – from the Climate and Global Dynamics Division and Integrated Science Program, National Center for Atmospheric Research – and colleagues. These researchers developed a set of economic growth, energy use, and emissions scenarios using data from 34 countries, representing 61% of the global population, and an energy–economic growth model. The model used – the Population-Environment-Technology (PET) model – accounts for the effect of (i) population growth rates on economic growth rates, (ii) age structure changes on labour supply, (iii) urbanisation on labour productivity, and (iv) anticipated demographic change (and its economic effects) on savings and consumption behaviour.

    O’Neil and colleagues show that both changes in population composition and size can have a significant effect on emissions in certain regions. For example, they estimate that aging can reduce emissions by up to 20% in the long term, particularly in developed country regions. Urbanization, on the other hand, can increase projected emissions by more than 25% in developing country regions. A slow population growth could help to achieve 16-29% of emissions reductions suggested to be needed to avoid dangerous climate change by 2050. By the end of the century the effect of slower population growth could be even greater, accounting for reductions of 37-41% in emissions from fossil fuel use. Given such significant influence of demographics on emissions, the study suggests that family planning policies would have an important role in mitigating climate change.

    Global Demographic Trends and Future Carbon Emissions. O’Neil, B. et al. (2010), PNAS, Vol 107, no. 41,

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    October 17, 2010   No Comments