CANCUN, Mexico—Critical negotiations are under way here in Cancun, under the auspices of the United Nations, to reverse human-induced global warming. This is the first major meeting since the failed Copenhagen summit last year, and it is happening at the end of the hottest decade on record. While the stakes are high, expectations are low, and, as we have just learned with the release of classified diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks, the United States, the largest polluter in the history of the planet, is engaged in what one journalist here called “a very, very dirty business.”
Dirty business, indeed. In Copenhagen last year, President Barack Obama swept into town and sequestered a select, invite-only group of nations to hammer out what became known as “The Copenhagen Accord.” It outlined a plan for nations to make a public “pledge” to reduce carbon emissions, and to submit to some kind of verification process. In addition, wealthy, developed nations would, under the accord, pay billions of dollars to help poor, developing nations adapt to climate change and to pursue green-energy economies as they develop. That might sound nice, but the accord was designed, in effect, to supplant the Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding global treaty that more than 190 countries have signed. The United States, notably, has never signed Kyoto.
The WikiLeaks cables help explain what happened. One of the most outspoken critics of developed countries in the lead-up to Copenhagen, President Mohamed Nasheed of the Republic of Maldives, a nation of small islands in the Indian Ocean, ultimately signed on to the Copenhagen Accord. A secret U.S. State Department memo leaked via WikiLeaks, dated Feb. 10, 2010, summarized the consultations of the newly appointed Maldives ambassador to the U.S., Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed. The memo reports that the ambassador said, when meeting with U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing, “Maldives would like to see that small countries, like Maldives, that are at the forefront of the climate debate, receive tangible assistance from the larger economies. Other nations would then come to realize that there are advantages to be gained by compliance.” He asked for $50 million, for projects to protect the Maldives from rising sea levels.