Emissions impossible: Did spies sink key climate deal?

Fort Meade The headquarters of the NSA in Maryland, where information gleaned from intercepts was processed

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The revelations of the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, are an ongoing embarrassment for the US government.

From Angry Birds to the mobile phone of Angela Merkel to the banal conversations of millions of people, the scale of the National Secutiry Agency's spying activities knew few boundaries.

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All the spying in the world wouldn't have secured an agreement in Copenhagen”

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But can the world's inability to fix the problem of global warming also be laid at the spooks' door?

Wind your mind back to December 2009, when world leaders converged on Copenhagen to cook up a global climate deal that would solve the problem of rising temperatures.

But it appears the US already knew what everyone else was thinking.

According to documents released to a Danish newspaper by Snowden, the NSA was ready, willing and able to provide "unique, timely and valuable" insights into the negotiating positions of the countries that attended the blockbuster summit.

By monitoring "signals intelligence", the spies would keep US negotiators "as well informed as possible" about "sidebar discussions", informal huddles and corridor conversations during the two week conference.

In other words, the sneaky buggers (well, they do install bugs, don't they?) were giving the US a major advantage in the negotiations.

Listening post

"It is interesting to have your fears confirmed," says Kit Vaughan from climate campaigners Care International.

He was among those who attended the meeting, known as Cop 15, in the Danish capital.

"All of us thought that this was happening. To know that it was happening is even more worrying."

The Danish Security and Intelligence Service were supposedly in charge of making sure there was no obvious eavesdropping going on.

Obama Serious expressions were widespread as political leaders realised the difficulties in securing agreement at the Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009

Known by the acronym PET, many climate campaigners believe these great Danes were, in reality, the lap dogs of the Americans.

"Greenpeace carried out an action. Forty minutes later we were in the pub, celebrating with a few of them. A few minutes later, the police arrested the guys out of the pub," says Mr Vaughan.

"The only way to follow them was to follow the phones and the email traffic coming from that group. It was all monitored."

I put this claim to a Danish source who was closely connected to the negotiations.

"Copenhagen is pretty small: if you suddenly have 15 activists celebrating in a bar, it's not going to be a secret for a very long time," he said.

"You don't need electronic surveillance for this!"

Coming in from the cold

The Danes didn't lend a hand to the Americans in their secret squirrel activities, he says.

In fact, he says, the Danes were a bit naive in this regard.

"We got some Chinese viruses on our computers which we thought was rather odd, but we didn't do that much about it," says the source.

"We didn't use encrypted emails which we probably should have done, but that was five years ago and no one knew about the NSA."

Not only were the US at it, and it would appear the Chinese, but the non-governmental organisations weren't going to be left out in cold either, says Kit Vaughan.

"There are people in the NGO and civil society movement who are very closely aligned with parts of intelligence groups of other agencies. That's the business and the game of climate, there's too much at stake for them not to be."

One element that really soured the atmosphere in Copenhagen was the so-called Danish draft: not one of the excellent local beers, but the text of a deal, drawn up by the home government in an effort to move the talks forward.

protestors For your eyes only: Many climate campaigners were convinced that security services were intercepting their communications

Many campaigners believe the US got hold of the document via email intercepts. My Danish source denies this. He points to the fact that wire agencies had a copy of the text two weeks before the conference began.

"All the spying in the world wouldn't have secured an agreement in Copenhagen," he says.

"We all knew the Gordian knot was that China wouldn't accept an agreement that omitted the Kyoto Protocol and the US wouldn't accept one that included it."

"This was impossible to cut through and everyone knew this beforehand."

And so it was that "Hopenhagen" rapidly became "Brokenhagen".

But despite the spies and the failure of the meeting, there's a quantum of solace for those who believe that a global, legally binding treaty is the only way to tackle climate change.

A deal, of one type or another, at Paris in 2015 remains on track.

Somehow, some way, the "zombie talks process" staggers forward.

Follow Matt on Twitter.

Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 443.

    New Climate Data Rigging Scandal Rocks US Government
    The ramifications are that hundreds of bilions of tax dollars have been misallocated to "solve" a non-problem

    also given cobra, £100m etc why didn't the uk govt get reports from sun science models that predicted the flooding? wilful spite?

  • rate this

    Comment number 442.

    #437 andyg
    Very true, unfortunately the greens are one of the biggest culprits with regards AGW as they seem to reject the most credible solutions.
    They don't wan nuclear even though ThoriumLFTR w.."

    I Did a calculation recently and it turns out that ordinary nuclear is already something like 1000 times safer than fossil fuels. So how much safer would Thorium have to be...? : )

  • rate this

    Comment number 441.

    The weather we are getting now is exactly what GW predicts. Deniers can bury their heads in the sand, but if they do, it won't be long before it's washed away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 440.

    re. 435.Batman
    "We live in a world run by liars and the corrupt rich. Is this what I grandparents fought for in ww1 and ww2?"

    Pretty much, yes. All those wars settled was which group of liars and corrupt rich would be running things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    I assume you are speaking for yourself - and other monetarians.

    There is a massive gulf betwen the monetarians and humanitarians, neither understands the other. Humanitarians have to face the mess monetarians make every day. They know it exists.
    Monetarians assume everybody is like them.
    Do not tar everybody with your money-addict lack of morals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 438.

    Look out the window. Humans PLAYING at being intelligent.

    40 + years of knowing and doing little.

    Fossil energy usage generating climate change.
    Fossil energy used by pumps in Somerset.
    You coudn't make it up.

    1.5 Earths needed just to sustain current numbers.


    And you want to Frack.

    In any other scenario you would be incarcerated.

    There something seriously

  • rate this

    Comment number 437.

    Very true, unfortunately the greens are one of the biggest culprits with regards AGW as they seem to reject the most credible solutions.
    They don't wan nuclear even though ThoriumLFTR would be a safe clean nuclear option,. and they don't want to use ocean-iron-fertilization to sequester carbon and boost fish stocks as it's geoengineering and might actually ruin their crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 436.

    Here's the New Scientist link: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21873-geoengineering-would-turn-blue-skies-whiter.html

    It appears that the role of Sunlight is very much on the mind of scientists...

    But artificial cloud banks..? (it's already happening folks...)

    Haven't they heard of the Greenhouse Effect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 435.

    We live in a world run by liars and the corrupt rich. Is this what I grandparents fought for in ww1 and ww2?

  • rate this

    Comment number 434.

    It's only in recent months that some warmists and their compliant media have 'acknowledged' the role of Solar activity on Earth's climate, this data strangely missing in their many climate 'models', still many still refuse to link the Sun and climate together.

    So why did New Scientist publish this ? http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/geoengineering-could-turn-skies-white/

  • rate this

    Comment number 433.

    Well if they did, they will be going down with everybody else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 432.

    Under-Sec of State, D o Energy & Climate (Baroness Verma) HM Govt does not rely on specific statistical model for the analysis of global temp time series.

    Global temps, along with aspects of the climate, are analysed using physically-based mathematical models, rather thanstatistical models
    govt has abandoned the temp records as evidence for GW. Everything comes down to the climate models

  • rate this

    Comment number 431.

    430.Steve Richards

    'Just try living without the use of your feared carbon'

    Tricky for a carbon-based life form. CO2 is essential for life on earth. But doubling CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to climate changes which are likely to devastate more living things than they benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 430.

    16. Matt K :

    The lazy people do not want to give up their cars!!

    Okay, lets propose that you get zero product from anything made from any carbon based fuel source, that would include food and water, electricity and gas, travel, communications, medicines, books.

    Did I say food and water?

    Just try living without the use of your feared carbon, you'll soon change your mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 429.

    428. DCW87

    As you gaze in awe, DCW87, at the intellectuals on the other side of the great gulf fixed between you and them, please take comfort in the fact that a few of us idiots find your comments quite amusing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    The divide between intellectuals and idiots within these comments never ceases to amaze me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 427.

    I spy what needs doing in view of the climate

    Time to reroute the railway inland from Dawlish

    And to raise the railway line at Cowley Bridge above flood plain

  • rate this

    Comment number 426.

    People cannot fix global warming the planet will fix it's self one way or another, as long as mankind stops polluting the atmosphere and land, also the misuse of haarrp by the US military, Norway, and Russia all three altering the Air Stream we have yet to see the worst of their meddling and the NSA will be looking for people who know the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 425.

    If someone is concocting climate change who's behind it? 'Following the money' doesn't seem to lead anywhere sensible. If I could see a big organisation that would profit from solving GW I'd be sceptical, but I don't. I do see lots of big corps benefiting from denying it.
    GOVERNMENTS plus the EU with Climatology being owned by said institutions. theres your audit trail

  • rate this

    Comment number 424.

    The people you accuse of greed, corruption, selfishness etc are actually no different from you and me - they're just in different circumstances. We are all the same. Everybody will always climb on top of others to get what they want. Even philanthropists do it in more acceptable ways.


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