Blog Post

WikiLeaks Before Durban: Annoyance Or Game Changer?

Sep 15, 2011 | Lynann Butkiewicz

Last year a WikiLeaks cable emerged during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in Cancun without much disturbance to the negotiating process.

The information included alleged bribery in Copenhagen and accusations that the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) were trying to block the negotiations. Some of this information was not really new, but did provide an interesting glimpse of what happens behind the scenes.

WikiLeaks has released further cables since. A few stand out to those of us in the climate policy world and could very well have an impact on negotiations later this year in Durban, or at least shed light on the negotiating tactics of major emerging economies.

“[India’s] Deputy Planning Commissioner Montek Singh Ahluwalia told [United States climate envoy Todd] Stern that the developing countries' rhetoric regarding historical responsibility was a negotiating tool and while India publicly projected that it had no intention of reducing emissions, it was putting in place measures to deploy wind and solar energy that would reduce its emissions from business as usual.”

Once again, the cable reveals what some already know. It is clear that India is reducing its own carbon emissions. India is set to reduce GDP emission intensity 20 percent by 2020 and is starting a national market-based mechanism called Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) that will set efficiency levels for the country’s top polluters that account for 54 percent of the country’s energy consumption.

However, the biggest argument that developing countries use in the UNFCCC is the historic emissions issue. With the end of the Kyoto Protocol quickly approaching and countries deciding on targets in a post-Kyoto context, having this behind-the-scenes chatter aired out may make it difficult to further use it in climate talks.

Another interesting cable points out that India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh was more than willing to submit domestic mitigation commitments. Still, he was unhappy with the way the Copenhagen Accord’s language was initially phrased, making targets legally binding and replacing the two-track process of the Kyoto Protocol and Bali Road Map, again leading back to the notion that developing countries want to reduce carbon emissions domestically without the legal implications of a global agreement.

These cables open the door to the often back room climate talks, but the November UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Durban will reveal whether WikiLeaks cables actually shake up diplomacy or make the atmosphere just a little awkward.