walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Published on: December 12, 2010
Bureaucrats Swindle Greens In Cancun

The climate conference in Cancun was a turning point for the world’s greens.  There were two possible outcomes.  One was a total political meltdown in Cancun that would have been hideously embarrassing in the short run but that in the long term would have cleared the way for more hopeful approaches to carbon issues.  The other was a cobbled together pseudo-deal of some kind that would have avoided short term embarrassment but over the long run would doom the greens to a future of frustration and futility.

Outcome one would have helped the planet; outcome two helps the bureaucratic rent seekers and process junkies of the world’s diplomatic establishment.

Guess who won?

As green negotiators in Cancun ended their embarrassing two-week junket (videos of partying bureaucrats did not go down well with voters in a northern hemisphere freezing in an early winter), it’s clear that the bureaucrats did what bureaucrats do: they kept a ‘process’ (job-creating bureaucratic gravy train) alive while doing little or nothing about the problem they were supposed to solve.

A scene from the recent UN climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico (UN)

The essence of the non-deal deal reached at Cancun: Japan, Russia and other countries sick and tired of the idiocies of the Kyoto Protocol agree to say nothing that prevents other countries from pretending that the Kyoto Protocol lives; advanced industrial countries agree to keep discussing the fantasy that by 2020 they will be collectively shipping $100 billion a year to developing countries; developing countries agree to pretend to believe this will happen; countries agree to continue making laughably inadequate and also non-binding ‘pledges’ on carbon emissions; and everyone agrees not to think about the reality that pigs will fly before a treaty embodying any of these ideas will be ratified by the US Senate.

From a green true believer’s point of view this is less than zero.  If everybody lives up to the pledges made to date, the earth will, according to the scientists involved in the process, warm by more than 4 degrees centigrade instead of the 2 degree target.  And the pledges, weak and symbolic as they are, have unsustainable conditions attached to them.  Without that $100 billion in aid, no developing country will feel bound by its pledge and there is no shadow of an agreement on which rich countries will stump up how much, how this mythical pie will be divided, much less on ways to keep international bad actors and rogue states (North Korea, Iran, Sudan, you name it) from getting their hands on the cash.

But no matter: for the bureaucrats and NGO staff it’s a clear and resounding win.  The mice have unanimously voted to keep meeting at taxpayers’ expense until someone bells that pesky cat.  The UN process has kept just enough diplomatic credibility to make several new rounds of vast, unfocused global gabfests of bureaucrats and NGO administrators inevitable.  More pre-meeting meetings will be held; more secretariats will employ new staff; more non-papers will be circulated, marked up and revised.  Paychecks will be mailed; travel vouchers issued.  Life will be good.

Christiana Figueres and Ban Ki moon in Cancun (UN)

It’s probably a win for the Obama administration, too.  For now, the President got the green monkey off his back.  President Obama hasn’t delivered cap and trade or a carbon tax to his green backers, and the early signs are that the EPA is backing off from fights with the Republicans in Congress — but Cancun didn’t collapse into complete and utter chaos, so the President can, just, argue that his administration is keeping green hopes alive.

Next to the bureaucrats and the White House, the real winners are the climate change skeptics.  If you think that climate change is a myth or a naturally occurring phenomenon, Cancun helped you out.  The UN process of endlessly negotiating a treaty which will either be so weak it is pointless or so controversial the US Senate will never ratify it (and will quite possibly be both) consumes time, money, energy and political capital that would otherwise go towards green efforts that might actually accomplish something.

The “success” of Cancun is a best case scenario from the skeptic’s point of view.  The cost of funding endless UN gabfests in exotic tourist locations (next up: South Africa in 2012) is trivial compared to the cost of any serious efforts to deal with carbon emissions on the scale current scientific theory suggests would be needed.  Bureaucrats will dance, journalists will spin and carbon will spew, and the greens will be unable to escape this dysfunctional UN process for years and maybe decades to come.  More, the fact that axis of ankle-biter countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia use these conferences to flaunt their anti-American credentials — and seek to maximize their influence by threatening to veto the proceedings — ensures that both this process and anything it produces will be unpopular in the US.  The more that the radical anti-American gasbags get mixed up in this process, the easier it will be to find 34 senators ready to kill a climate treaty.  If you are a climate skeptic, a global warming hand-off to the UN is the best thing since the Hummer.

No sane green would want this result, but the greens have run up against a force stronger than climate change, more insidious than the desertification of the Sahel, more inexorable than the rising of the seas: the bureaucratic instinct for process.  Processes and institutions once initiated cannot be allowed to die.

The news reports on the conference are visibly torn.  On the one hand, reporters know that at the level of substance this is a complete travesty and a rout.  A facade of agreement was carefully constructed by relentlessly sacrificing substance from the various texts.  And as loyal spear carriers for the movement, many reporters want to make this point.

But too much emphasis on the utterly empty nature of the ‘accords’ would be, well, defeatist.  It would suggest that the noble greens are failing to save the planet, that their chosen course is disastrous and that the entire global green agenda is utopian.  That cannot be allowed.

Also, even the most servile lapdogs of the press are bound by certain narrative conventions.  There has to be a story.  “Thousands of bureaucrats swill canapes, agree to swill more next year” is not news.  “Greens fobbed off with empty words,” would be a story, but not the kind of story the press wants to tell.

So what we have now is a rash of stories to tell us first that a great victory has been won.  Agreement has been snatched from the jaws of failure; creative diplomats resolve seemingly unbridgeable gaps!  Delegates applaud chair as harmony reigns!  All those naysayers and prophets of doom were wrong: the process worked!

As the AP headline puts it, “UN Climate Meeting OKs Green Fund in New Accord.”  Only in the body of the story do we learn that “The Cancun Agreements created institutions for delivering technology and funding to poorer countries, though they did not say where the funding would come from.”  [Italics added by your humble blogger]  The lack of specificity on funding is no doubt a minor detail:  with mobs rioting in half the capitals of Europe against government funding cutbacks and Tea Party Republicans fixing to take over the US House of Representatives as our deficits skyrocket, funding large new foreign aid programs should not be a problem.

The New York Times turns up the volume:  it is more critical than the AP about the lack of substance, but hails these confessedly vapid agreements as glorious vindications of the wisdom of the greens and pours scorn on those foolish critics who prophesied that nothing serious would come from Cancun.

“In all, the success of the talks was a breath of life for a process that many had declared too cumbersome and contentious to achieve meaningful progress,” asserted the Times, citing the head of climate and energy programs at the World Resources Institute who said:  “‘This agreement was a remarkable turnaround for a multilateral approach to address climate change, including commitments on emissions from all the world’s major economies.”

Yet the Times did better than many of its colleagues; although the second graph of the story is heavy on the official optimism, a sharp eyed reader can infer what actually happened behind the veil: “Although the steps were fairly modest and do not require the broad changes that scientists say are needed to avoid dangerous climate change, the result was a major step forward for a process that has stumbled badly in recent years.” Further below, it allows Jennifer Morgan, the WRI official quoted in the story, to make a couple more crucial points:  “But she said the nations left many issues unresolved, including whether to seek to enshrine the goals into a legally-binding agreement and the sources of the $100 billion in annual climate-related aid that the wealthy nations have promised to provide.”

A genuinely journalistic account of the conference would have highlighted the way Cancun tied the green agenda ever more firmly to a dysfunctional process, and noted more clearly that the $100 billion aid pledge is one of a long list of aid pledges that the rich countries keep making — but which are almost never kept.  It would have compared this pledge, for example, to the solemn and frequently repeated pledges made starting in 1970 to raise foreign aid to 0.7% of GDP among rich countries and to the declarations of various summits on aid for Africa and the much ballyhooed UN Millennium Development Goals.

Forty years after that historic pledge to pay 0.7% of GDP for ODA (Overseas Development Assistance) only 5 (small) members of the rich-nation OECD club have reached this goal.  The big economies — Japan, the US, Germany — are nowhere near.

More recently, at the Gleneagles Summit of the G-8 countries in 2005, the attendees swore an oath of mickle might to double their aid by 2010 including $25 billion per year in new aid to sub-Saharan Africa.  The invaluable Financial Times reports on how that had worked out by the time the target date came around:

The Gleneagles declaration by the Group of Eight in July 2005 to double aid to Africa by 2010 shows the dangers of making specific pledges, writes Chris Giles in London.Now the deadline is due, aid to Africa has not doubled from $25bn in 2004 to $50bn in 2010 and the OECD estimates donor nations will fall $14bn short.

For years after 2005 the G8 ritually repeated the Gleneagles pledge. Even in 2009, when the target was almost certain to be missed, the G8 leaders reiterated “the importance of fulfilling our commitments to increase aid made at Gleneagles”.

But once it became clear the target was going to be missed, the G8 had to backtrack. At the Muskoka summit in June, any mention of Gleneagles was deleted, to the disgust of aid agencies. After this, a new focus without specific targets will be warmly received in many quarters.

Is there anybody on planet earth who thinks that $100 billion is going to be paid?  The point is that all the “concessions” by developing countries are contingent on the satisfactory payment of the full $100 billion in “pledges” by the rich ones.

Next year: Durban (UN)

The news at Cancun is that the global green agenda has now turned into one of these endlessly running UN catfights in which developing countries try to guilt-trip rich countries out of money which their corrupt and inefficient bureaucracies often squander (if the corrupt leaders don’t steal it first).  The rich countries fob off the third world guilt trippers and their clueless but noisy NGO allies in the advanced countries with hollow promises.  These processes usually grind on pointlessly for decades (keeping NGO staff and diplomats gainfully if not usefully employed) with astonishingly little impact on real world events.

That is the big news out of Cancun; the green agenda has fallen into a UN black hole and for now at least it cannot get out.

show comments
  • Angel Martin

    As a huge climate change skeptic, I welcome the result from Cancun.

    Love that video !

  • F.M. Hellsten

    AS a climate realist/climate sceptic I found much to commend in the column. But I would like to know what is the writer´s own view on global warming? I hope it is not the “green agenda” on climate change. And does he actually believe this kind of “science”?: “the earth will, according to the scientists involved in the process, warm by more than 4 degrees centigrade instead of the 2 degree target”.

    I support addressing real environmental problems and fighting real pollution – but the scientifically extremely weak case for AGW is not one of those problems.

  • Jon Jermey

    “the greens have run up against a force stronger than climate change, more insidious than the desertification of the Sahel, more inexorable than the rising of the seas..”

    Yes, but not “..the bureaucratic instinct for process..”

    What the greens ran up against was the failure of the planet to go on warming. If warming had been continuing now at the rate it was in the 90s, Copenhagen and Cancun would have been done deals. As it is, their apocalyptic cult is on the way out, as surely as cold winters are on the way in.

  • Peter

    The ture parasites are not those on wefare but bureaucrats like these clowns.

  • Lex

    People should read these books to cut thru the bs of our world.

  • Jack Bacchus

    One tiny problem chaps; the only link between carbon (which is the real problem or opportunity depending on which end of the public purse you’re seated) and climate change is a couple of dodgy (and quite incestuous) computer models with arbitrary time parameters, corrupt and corrupted data and self seeking promoters

    Maybe a return to the real world and a frank appreciation and admission that simple coincidence isn’t correlation for a start; and better still, an acknowledgement there are serious and poorly understood forces including the PDO, sunspots, the alignment of Jupiter and Saturn, the waxing and waning of the heliosphere, deep cosmic radiation, cloud formation and heaps more

    Better still, a rigorous application of known past data sets into the current models to see what gets generated versus the known

    I wish!

  • jonasm

    “If you think that climate change is a myth or a naturally occurring phenomenon, Cancun helped you out.”

    And also if you – like me – believe that man-made global warming is a rigorous scientific theory that for now (until disproved or replaced by a new theory) we should for the purpose of policy making assume to be true, *BUT* that Kyoto style approaches to the problem are stupid an ineffective, and we should rather invest that money into technology research (green energy etc.) and for *adapting* to global warming.

    I know the leftist eco-religious activists don’t care for such distinctions and put people like me in the “evil skeptics and deniers” category as well, but I still though I’d point it out… ;-)

    [PS: I’m not a native speaker so sorry for any grammatical mistakes.]

  • P Gosselin

    It’s all a big distraction from today’s real problems. It’s much easier to pretend you’re averting the catastrophic problems of the 22nd century.

  • James Handley

    It’s long past time to dump the absurd pretext of the Kyoto Protocol: that the world can agree on and enforce emissions targets… Let the big, polluting nations lead by setting a gradually rising tax on CO2 pollution. WTO “harmonization” would soon push others to follow.

    More at

  • Tom Harris

    I think this writer is not being realistic in his overall thesis. There is no way we would have seen solid legally binding targets for mitigation and adaptation in such a short conference, especially considering the state of negotiations at the start of the event. I think he knows that as he does not list that as one of the possible outcomes (preferring instead that the whole thing imploded even worse than Copenhagen so that they could start over and do things “better”).

    The best COP16 could do is get the process going again after the flop in COP15 and start to built the foundation to lead to getting legally binding targets later on. And that is what they accomplished.


    BTW, I do not accept the catastrophic AGW hypothesis either, preferring instead to see the money going to help vulnerable peoples adapt to inevitable climate change.

  • Steph

    I am just happy.
    Fed up with NGOs, ecofascists, bureaucrats, UN and global warming.
    We have enough REAL economical difficulties in Europe, to worry about non existent problems and greedy “developing” countries.
    They’d like to rip us off 100 billions?
    Who wouldn’t but they’ll just get a kick in the backside instead.

    Now if somebody found the way to definitely eliminate the UN and fire all the bureaucrats, my happiness wouldn’t know any bounds.
    I am sure that such politicians already exist and it’ll just need a bit of time to elect them in power.

  • Ben

    As a skeptic of climate change I disagree with you on some points (namely that a binding agreement would help the planet), but I agree that this psuedo-progress is worse than useless. Out of all possible scenarios, our politicians have chosen grandstanding, the only option with a 100% chance of negative results. No matter whether or not CO2 emissions are dangerous, we are wasting time and money shuffling cards around that could be better used making vaccines for children; helping food stability, fighting hunger, and reducing land use via spread of industrialized farming throughout the world; or any number of other ecological or humanitarian measures. Instead, we have paid a thousand men for a week’s vacation in paradise, and their only decision is grandstanding, ludicrous demands ($100 billion per year to developing countries just to fight climate change? That’s simply stupid), and a standoff where China defended the outright fraud of CO2 credits (unmeasurable reductions of CO2 from future emmmisions that never existed). This nonsense ceased being funny a long time ago.

  • andy

    very good article, someone is always getting swindled and you could argue the true greens are now been patronised and played like a fiddle, but I’m a climate realist, not a skeptic, and I want to see these charlatans get their do.. endless gabfests and hollow affirmations are way too good for these people. I’ve seen their venomous side and how they have bullied and ostracized good scientists, like tim ball for example, there needs to be culpability, I need to hear Al Gore admit he is a liar, and a hypocrite, that would be my best case scenario, you are way too good to these people

  • Beth Cooper

    Advise to UN bureaucrats: Open the double glazed doors and walk out on to the terrace, champagne cocktail in hand, and observe the great outdoors. No measured, catastrophic radiation feedback,the co2 ‘hotspot’)no increasinging temperatures for a decade and the seas just refuse to rise. (Services of King Canute not required.)

  • Mike

    Well, 2010 is now officially the warmest year on record, but what do a bunch of dopey scientists know about anything?

    And Tim Ball, the guy with a PhD in geography? Really?

  • Kennedy Smith

    Always be wary of anything labeled a “process”. They can’t be killed. Though, as a skeptic, I used to enjoy that feature, with public opinion the way it is now these people can’t do any damage, so bribing them seems an unnecessary expense.

  • phil g

    You lost me with the premise of your post which is that carbon is a problem that this boon dogal failed to address.

    Please point me to uncorrupted, definitive scientific evidence that carbon is significantly correlated to climate change.

    I’ll be waiting.

    Until then I’d love to see this empty grandstanding as an excuse to party like it’s 1999 on the tax payer dime. Businesses have been shamed for these types of activities on their dime, but I guess it is fine as long as someone else is paying the bills and it is for a ‘good cause’.

  • Brian H

    Maybe another few close-up whiffs of Global Cooling grapeshot will flip on the Ice Age panic, and coal-fueled power plants will be subsidized, maybe with free electricity for all max-CO2 customers?

    Oh, edit note: you missed a syllable: that should be “de-desertification of the Sahel”.

    BTW, the energy crisis is over, for all practical purposes for good:

  • Jeffrey Eric Grant

    I am a trained retired Engineer, with some long-term environmental activism. I am trained in the scientific method. I have been looking into the Global Warming theory intensively for three years and I have yet to find the ‘aha’ moment, when I finally ‘see’ the underlying evidence and understand the significance.

    I am ‘just’ an interested citizen; I have looked in a lot of places, with many more leads to follow. I have looked at the AGW side as well as the anti-AGW side. I have also tried to find an open source for the technical articles (to no avail – they all cost too much money). I am looking for the science that ‘proves’ the causal link that my use of fossil fuels is the most important reason for global warming.

    This is an area where there seems to be an extraordinary number of variables to understand before a higher level of certainty can be said to exist. To point out some of them (like the polar bear losing its habitat) is interesting, but not conclusive.

    Also, my belief is that the earth climate is a complex system which is ‘fixed’ and therefore can be understood with enough investigation and thought. It is important to continue the scientific focus until the system is more fully understood. The AGW predictions are far enough out that I will be dead before they can be tested.

    However, if we were to find a situation while only midway into the full investigation, which necessitates our stopping the work and addressing that situation, I think it would be prudent to do so.

    That is where we are at right now. Although we do not fully understand the system ( smaller scale phenomena, like atmospheric moisture needs to be investigated), we have found the ‘smoking gun’ that is causing the global warming — which is atmospheric CO2 which only comes from the burning of fossil fuels!

    Just how we blame global warming on that subset of CO2 is somewhat of a mystery. But, after weaving a story from evidence that the scientists keep hidden (just because they can), those scientists exclude other eminent scientists from seeing the evidence and say that their evidence ‘proves’ that they are right. Case closed. Let’s get on with the corrective action that is proscribed by those same scientists. Just trust them – they are right (and we don’t know one way or the other without seeing the evidence, or produce a like amount of scientific evidence by ourselves, without a benefactor).

    So, let’s say we agree to spend our money on the solution. This is very costly, but they say not doing this will eventually be even costlier in the long run. The net effect of spending all this money is: “if we are right, we can prevent the calamity foreseen”. To put it another way; if we fork over all that money ($Trillions) and it is spent, if we are lucky, we won’t see any change at all!

    That’s right……the increased temperatures we foresee in the future won’t materialize, we will have been saved! The trouble is: I DON’T BELIEVE THEM.

    There is no way to prove they are right, or wrong. And after we fork over all that money….there will be no great change from today.

    Do you get it? We’re being duped, and there is no way to say they are right, or wrong — either now or in the future.

    I say: keep spending the money for research. This time, let the data become available to anyone who wants it – scientist, engineer, ballerina, whoever. Put it on the internet without filters. Just don’t lose the data – then we’ll never understand it. Have debate after debate in the public domain on all of it (if this is truly THE most damaging thing on the planet, let’s get all of the ideas out onto the table). Set up a test – such as an ocean level rise of ‘x’ that has been agreed to that is the max save level above which we MUST take action; and when it rises to that level, we THEN TAKE ACTION! But, not before then.


    I think the average human should be well versed in this topic if democracy has a chance of offering any input into this discussion. From what I see, there is NO WAY that will happen within today’s political climate. Therefore, I pin my hopes on a small glimmer that the politicians will get it right and steer us to a proper and just outcome.

  • Less1leg

    If these UN supported Climate Scientists who defrauded the world public with faked reports, altered computer models, with held scientific peer reviews would have been treated the same, as those of investment bankers who defrauded their clients. I would hold reason to listen to climate change. But there was no action taken when so many supporters of Global Warming didn’t get taken to task internationally over their science. In fact more hidden agenda’s were perpetrated against the public record further damaging the science of climate change. Too much money and too many hidden deals in support of a world wide carbon trading scheme. It was too good a deal to not make behind closed doors for those who were in the position to prosper. Until such time as fraud is placed squarely on those of the UN who made Climate Change are tried, I have no faith in the UN or its offices.

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