Debunking the U.N. Climate-Change Conspiracy


National Journal
Coral Davenport
See more stories about...
Coral Davenport
Oct. 21, 2013, 12:55 p.m.

The United Na­tions Cli­mate-Change Con­spir­acy The­ory — the idea that hu­man-caused glob­al warm­ing is a false con­struct in­ven­ted by the U.N. to jus­ti­fy gov­ern­ment con­trol of eco­nom­ies and people’s daily lives — is alive and well in the United States.

The flames of the the­ory were freshly fanned last month after the U.N.’s In­ter­gov­ern­ment­al Pan­el on Cli­mate Change re­leased a land­mark re­port con­clud­ing with 95 per­cent sci­entif­ic cer­tainty that burn­ing fossil fuels are warm­ing the plan­et, with dan­ger­ous con­sequences.

The re­port “proves that the U.N. is more in­ter­ested in ad­van­cing a polit­ic­al agenda than sci­entif­ic in­teg­rity,” said Sen. James In­hofe, R-Okla., au­thor of the book The Greatest Hoax: How the Glob­al Warm­ing Con­spir­acy Threatens Your Fu­ture. In­hofe is far from alone. Around the coun­try, Re­pub­lic­an law­makers, blog­gers, and even some loc­al TV weath­er­casters panned the re­port as fur­ther evid­ence of the U.N.’s plans to use al­legedly false cli­mate data to jus­ti­fy a glob­al takeover.

So what do the U.N.’s top of­fi­cials make of this?

In an in­ter­view last week, I asked Chris­ti­ana Figueres, the ex­ec­ut­ive sec­ret­ary of the U.N. Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, about the con­spir­acy the­ory. By phone from her of­fice in Bonn, Ger­many, she ini­tially laughed at the ques­tion.

“I’m ser­i­ous, this is a real thing,” I said. “Are you aware of this?”

“Yes,” she re­spon­ded, still laugh­ing.

“Is this hap­pen­ing any­where else in the world?” I asked her.

“No!” she said. Figueres ad­ded, “Here’s the simple truth. The U.N. does not do any­thing that its mem­ber coun­tries don’t want to do. Peri­od. There is no such thing as the U.N. be­ing a su­per-na­tion­al au­thor­ity im­pos­ing any­thing on gov­ern­ments. It just doesn’t ex­ist. Syr­ia is the clearest ex­ample of that. It’s about what the coun­tries de­cide to do. All the U.N. does is provide a plat­form for con­ver­sa­tions and an ex­change of views.”¦ But there’s no such thing as the U.N. im­pos­ing any reg­u­la­tion.”

Figueres ac­know­ledged that the cli­mate-change con­spir­acy the­ory has been key to slow­ing and block­ing ac­tion on cli­mate change in the world’s biggest eco­nomy and his­tor­ic­ally largest pol­luter. “It’s very un­for­tu­nate that cli­mate change has been politi­cized in the U.S.” But she said that lately she’s had reas­on to be heartened. Figueres has heard about tea-party groups who are so skep­tic­al of the gov­ern­ment they’ve gone off the elec­tric grid and in­stalled sol­ar pan­els. “That’s ac­tu­ally a wel­come de­vel­op­ment!” she said.

“We’re mov­ing in­to a fas­cin­at­ing fu­ture where every one of our homes and build­ings will pro­duce the en­ergy those build­ings need. We won’t de­pend on a cor­por­a­tions or gov­ern­ment to pro­duce en­ergy. That’s an ex­cit­ing fu­ture, and I be­gin to see the seeds of that in the U.S and it’s very en­cour­aging — the ‘Green Tea Party.’ “

Still, the con­spir­acy the­or­ists will have more fod­der over the com­ing year, as U.N. of­fi­cials work to­ward for­ging a his­tor­ic, leg­ally bind­ing glob­al-warm­ing treaty in Par­is in 2015. Next fall in New York, on the side­lines of the U.N. Gen­er­al As­sembly, world lead­ers will of­fer up their terms for the treaty: taxes and reg­u­la­tions on the fossil-fuel in­dus­tries, paired with fresh spend­ing on green tech­no­lo­gies and ad­apt­a­tion to the new cli­mate real­ity. Those pro­pos­als will then go in­to a draft treaty, to be writ­ten in Lima, Peru, at a U.N. sum­mit in late 2014.

One con­tro­ver­sial new concept that’s ex­pec­ted to be part of the treaty ne­go­ti­ations is the set­ting of a “car­bon budget” — the max­im­um num­ber of tons of car­bon pol­lu­tion that could be emit­ted glob­ally be­fore the plan­et tips in­to a cata­stroph­ic level of warm­ing — which U.N. sci­ent­ists say will hap­pen at 2 de­grees Celsi­us, or 3.6 de­grees Fahren­heit. The U.N. IP­CC pan­el es­tim­ates that budget at 1 tril­lion met­ric tons of car­bon — a cap sci­ent­ists es­tim­ate we’ll hit some­time in the next 30 years. Figueres said the car­bon-budget concept adds fresh ur­gency to the call for gov­ern­ments to put for­ward ag­gress­ive car­bon-cut­ting pro­pos­als. “The car­bon budget clearly is one part of the time equa­tion. We are def­in­itely run­ning out of time. The win­dow to the 2 de­grees is not closed but it’s clos­ing. We’re called upon to truly in­crease speed and scale,” she said.

The biggest chal­lenge in for­ging a suc­cess­ful U.N. cli­mate treaty, she said, will be to cre­ate bind­ing leg­al com­mit­ments re­quir­ing coun­tries to cut fossil-fuel pol­lu­tion without halt­ing eco­nom­ic growth, par­tic­u­larly in the world’s most rap­idly de­vel­op­ing eco­nom­ies. In the com­ing years, China and In­dia in par­tic­u­lar hope to lift bil­lions of people out of poverty and in­to the middle class, which means put­ting bil­lions of new cars on the road and heat­ing and light­ing bil­lions of new homes with elec­tri­city. As those eco­nom­ies grow, she said, they’ll need to “leapfrog” past the tra­di­tion­al fossil-fueled de­vel­op­ment path taken by the U.S. be­fore them and some­how achieve eco­nom­ic growth without the at­tend­ant growth in glob­al-warm­ing pol­lu­tion.

To that end, she said she’s en­cour­aged by re­cent ma­jor shifts in the do­mest­ic cli­mate policies of the world’s two biggest pol­luters — the U.S. and China. His­tor­ic­ally, the stan­doff between the two eco­nom­ic su­per­powers, neither of whom wished to act in­de­pend­ently to curb their fossil fuel con­sump­tion, has been the chief hurdles to achiev­ing a glob­al treaty. But in re­cent months, lead­ers of both na­tions have rolled out his­tor­ic new cli­mate-change policies. Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced plans to use the au­thor­ity of the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency to cut emis­sions from coal-fired power plants — a move which could freeze con­struc­tion of coal plants and even­tu­ally lead to the clos­ure of ex­ist­ing ones — while China has launched a pi­lot cap-and-trade pro­gram in sev­en provinces.

Both sides are mo­tiv­ated by forces oth­er than achiev­ing a U.N. treaty. In China, where thick coal pol­lu­tion has con­trib­uted to thou­sands of deaths, health prob­lems, and anti-gov­ern­ment ri­ots, of­fi­cials are chiefly mo­tiv­ated by clear­ing the air loc­ally. In the U.S., Obama is mo­tiv­ated by what his ad­visers say is a sin­cere de­sire to take ac­tion to save the plan­et — but also, in part, by choos­ing policy ac­tions that could build his leg­acy over the long term.

“I see a China that is mov­ing for­ward very, very ser­i­ously,” she said. “They’re talk­ing about a na­tion­al emis­sion-trad­ing scheme. Three of the most pop­u­lous cit­ies have banned coal burn­ing around the city — not for glob­al warm­ing but be­cause of the health im­pact.”

Of Pres­id­ent Obama, she said, “He is re­vamp­ing his com­mit­ment to this is­sue. Obama un­der­stands that when the pages of his­tory are writ­ten, the ques­tion will be, what did the U.S. pres­id­ent do on cli­mate change? This is the long-term chal­lenge of his pres­id­ency. He is aware of that and com­mit­ted to have the U.S. con­trib­ute to the solu­tion.”

But she con­cluded with a fa­mil­i­ar re­frain: It’s still not enough. Of Obama’s plan to reg­u­late coal plants, she said, “It cer­tainly be­gins to item­ize where the U.S. can be­gin to con­trib­ute to the solu­tion “¦ but I don’t think the U.S. or any coun­try is at the max­im­um level of con­tri­bu­tions they can make. The sum total of all the parts on the table is not enough.”

What We're Following See More »
Clapper: ISIS Will Try to Attack U.S. This Year
1 days ago

“Leaders of the Islamic State are determined to strike targets in the United States this year,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a congressional panel today. Clapper added that “al-Qaida, from which the Islamic State spun off, remains an enemy and the U.S. will continue to see cyber threats from China, Russia and North Korea, which also is ramping up its nuclear program.”

CBC PAC to Endorse Clinton This Morning
3 hours ago

The Congressional Black Caucus PAC will formally endorse Hillary Clinton this morning, and “nearly a dozen CBC colleagues will descend on” South Carolina next week in advance of that state’s important primary. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the highest ranking black member of Congress, reversed his earlier position of neutrality, saying he’ll make a decision “later in the week.”

Senate Votes 96-0 to Sanction North Korea
2 hours ago

In a unanimous vote Wednesday night, the Senate echoed the House’s move last month to stiffen sanctions against North Korea. The bill “would sanction anyone who engages in, facilitates or contributes to North Korea’s proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, arms-related materials, luxury goods, human rights abuses, activities undermining cyber security and the provision of materials for such activities.” Senate Democrats said they expect the president to sign the bill. In related news, after South Korea suspended operations at a jointly run power station in the North, Pyongyang declared the area a military zone and cut off a hotline between the two countries.

How Large Is Hillary Clinton’s Delegate Lead?
2 hours ago

Three hundred fifty-two, thanks to superdelegates pledged to Clinton, and the vagaries of the delegate allocation process in early states. Not bad, considering her results have been a virtual tie and a blowout loss.