Cablegate and US climate policy: fighting a global price on carbon, fears of a German-US split on climate

[Still rebuilding blog, however another in my occasional series of blog posts on interesting primary materials] 

Cablegate“, the release of over 250,000 diplomatic cables has been raising eyebrows around the world as the inner workings of US global diplomacy are revealed. 

Only a small portion has been released, notably those related to Iran. Others are simply amusing, such as the gossipy description of Gaddafi’s “voluptuous” blonde Ukrainian nurse. 

While the insight into the American obsession with Iran is valuable, I believe these leaked documents may provide a greater understanding into US climate policy.  

The German-American split on climate policy 

A January 2008 cable from the Berlin Embassy (08BERLIN122) hints at the Bush Administrations opposition to targeted reductions and cap-and-trade. 

Titled “Welcome to Berlin”, it is an overview of German politics and their impact on US interests. The cable outlines the need to cajole the German’s into committing more resources to the “War on Terror”:  

“…Encouraging greater German involvement in Afghanistan is a key priority of Mission Germany; we have made some progress, but the Germans remain very reluctant about deploying combat forces outside of the North….”

However, for me what are interesting are the hints of a split between the US and the rest of the world on climate change policy.  

Cap-and-trade not in US interest? 

The same January 2008 cable reviews the climate policies of Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

It notes the “aggressive stance” the Germans were prepared to take on climate change policy:

“(C) Chancellor Merkel and the rest of Germany’s political leadership remain serious about pursuing aggressive international measures to meet the challenges of global warming.  Merkel has made climate change a priority of her Chancellorship and enjoys the overwhelming domestic support on this.  Merkel’s support for mandatory, targeted global limits on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and an international cap-and-trade regime reflects a deep-seated belief that only drastic, concerted efforts on the part of the international community can slow — and ultimately reverse — the human
contribution to global warming…”

It would seem Merkel was in tune with the wishes of her electorate, and willing to support targeted reductions for greenhouse gases (GHG).

But it would seem this approach ran counter to the preferred American approach.  

Indeed, the cable refers to “fundamental differences” between US and German policy:  

“…If anything, Steinmeier supports tougher standards. While the Germans have been willing to consider alternative solutions, such as new technologies for clean coal and renewables, fundamental differences in our approaches to the issue of climate change remain, and could lead to more public disagreement in the future.  For example, while Germany will send a delegation to the January 30 Major Economies Meeting (MEM), the German Government remains skeptical about the value that the Major Economies Process (MEP) adds to the UNFCCC track. The Germans are particularly concerned about the need to avoid duplication of effort in the various other climate change-related forums, including the UNFCCC and the G-8.”

 However, it appears the US was uncomfortable with the Germans “tougher stance”.

Self interest: key driver of Bush Administration climate policy

Granted this is one cable. However it hints at key elements of the US climate policy under the Bush Administration:

  • it would appear targeted reductions and a price on carbon run counter to US interests
  • while there seems to be acceptance of the science, the US would prefer to rely on technological fixes (such as clean carbon and renewables)
  • the Germans wanted an “aggressive” approach, which again seems counter to the preferred US approach
  • there is concern about a future “public split” on climate policies between the US and Germany

This cable lays bare the simple fact that “cap-and-trade” and “targeted reductions” were not seen to be “US interests” by the Bush Administration.  

They preferred to place it hopes – and those of the rest of the planet – on technology.  

The debate is about policy responses, not the science itself

Of course the “climate sceptics” will fail to understand – or brush over – the fact that even the Bush Administration accepted the science supporting climate change. They’ll continue to indulge their fantasies for conspiracy theories.

Where the US differed from the most of the world was on policy.

Let me stress, the leak of these confidential and “secret” diplomatic cables demonstrates the science itself is not question. It shows just how difficult the politics of crafing a global response to global warming is.

While the Bush Administration appears to view global agreements as running counter to US self-interest, there are hints the Obama Administration is prepared to take collective action.

A January 2010 cable from the Riyadh Embassy (Saudi Arabia) notes the Saudi’s agreeing with the need for collective action on climate change.  


“8. (SBU) A/S Feltman noted the importance that the President places on Climate Change, and the Copenhagen Accord. Given that Minister of Petroleum Al-Naimi was involved in crafting the final agreement, A/S Feltman noted the United States is counting on Saudi Arabia to associate itself with the accord by January 31. Prince Torki said that Saudi Arabia was very pleased the United States was more actively engaged in this issue, and said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supports trying to address this issue.  He noted that the MFA will have to consult with other involved ministries, such as the Ministry of Petroleum, and promised to respond before January…”

When the Saudi’s are very happy to see the US become more active on climate change, I think we can say the science is well and truly settled.

At the very least, this later cable indicates Obama places some importance on climate change, despite the recent shelving of cap-and-trade legislation in the US.  

Call for more climate policy cables to be released

The history student in me loves primary documents, and in the release of these diplomatic cables we see American power wielded behind the scenes. 

I’d ask Wikileaks to release cables specifically detailing US climate policy, particularly around the time of Copenhagen, Kyoto, and the Rio Earth Summit etc. We need to understand US policy on climate as the the US is central to any global agreement.

12 thoughts on “Cablegate and US climate policy: fighting a global price on carbon, fears of a German-US split on climate

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I was wondering if the leaked cables would have anything on discussions climate change and you did what I hadn’t bothered to do – actually look into it.

    You’re probably right however, deniers will overlook the fact that the science really isn’t in question – it solely is a policy/political debate, nothing more.

    That said, if a great more reveal a true effort to misinform, that is to say, a real conspiracy (unlike the non-event Climategate), I wonder how it will be treated by the same pack that screamed for climate scientist blood a year ago.

    • klem says:

      “unlike the non-event Climategate”

      I love it when people call Climategate a non-event. Climategate was responsible for the utter failure of Copenhagen, it was responsible for Obama leaving Copenhagen empty handed, it was responsible for HimalayaGate, it was responsible for the imploding of the UN IPCC, it was responsible for skeptical climate media coverage, it was responsible for climate not being mentioned at the G20 & G8 summits, it was responsible for the failure of Cap&Trade legislation in the USA, it was responsible for the ass-kicking of the Dems in the congressional mid-terms, I could go on. Just mention the term Climategate and everyone knows what you’re talking about, say ‘Cancun Summit’ and they likely haven’t a clue. Climategate a non-event, what planet are you living on? Lol!

      • Manuel Moe G says:

        One year past the alleged “Climate-Gate”, and even the thoroughly free market London Economist newspaper has their cover article devoted to dealing with the reality of climate change (November 27th-December 3rd 2010).

        From the post “deniers will overlook the fact that the science really isn’t in question”. Oh Klem, what a silly predictable green squiggle you are!

      • Manuel is right: just because the ill-informed took it and ran with it, doesn’t make it any more real. It’s the same as saying that any one of the major religions must be correct because it exists. Logical fallacy, my friend – but your good at those I suspect.

        That HimalayasGate was unrelated – it was due to one of a few typos in the 4th IPCC report, nothing more.

      • Watching the Deniers says:

        As I predicted climate “sceptics” such as Klem misses the point that even the Bush Administration and the Saudis accept climate change. The only debate taking place at the international level is about policy responses.

        The sound and fury of the denial machine is a distraction, and preventing people from participating in the much more important debate about mitigation and adaptation.

      • toby says:

        It is very naive to pretend that a whole raft of countries like China turned on a sime and changed their policies because of the e-mail hack. What happened at Copenhagen was always going to happen, hack or no hack.

        One year on … four or five enquiries that cleared the scientists, a pile of evidence for climate change, a report on the IPCC that did not unseat Chairman Pachauri, some improvement on communications about science .. is that it?

        The UK Met office announced it was going to rivisit the global data. It did so and indeed revised its trend estimate …. upwards.

        A year ago, the e-mail hack was proposed to the the coup de grace for global warming. Now, global warming continues apace and the evidence is double. It is true is has emboldened the ignorant, the obscurantist and the anti-science crowd, but they will inevitably be exposed.

      • klem says:

        “Logical fallacy, my friend – but your good at those I suspect. That HimalayasGate was unrelated – it was due to one of a few typos in the 4th IPCC report, nothing more.”

        A few typos? I think this might be referred to as the typo fallacy – but your good at those I suspect.

        Keep your head in the sand. Cheers.

      • Klem, I haven’t heard such a pathetic argument since I left the playground 20 yrs ago.
        “I know you are, I said you are, so what am I?” retorts are simply laughable.
        Indeed after many independent evaluations of the report, the science behind it isn’t in question. Who, btw, found the Himalayas typo? A “clever” denier, writing some “wiz” blog? No – but the scientific community itself. Still, angry little people like you hold up the typo as a victory. What did it change? Not a great deal. It really shows how flimsy your argument is that all you have is something so trivial as that to argue against ACC

  2. […] “sceptical” political groups don’t really question the reality of  ACC, see WtD, Cablegate and US climate policy: fighting a global price on carbon, fears of a German-US split …) we have a stalemate situation. Deniers feel confident to ignore all the telling signs of ACC, […]

  3. […] interesting comment at Watching the Deniers about what the Wikileaks reveal about climate policy. Cablegate and US climate policy: fighting a global price on carbon, fears of a German-US split on cl… It reveals that, while deniers may have thought that the Bush Administration was on their side, in […]

  4. putra says:

    good job for you !

  5. Brad Harris says:

    Climate-gate was in large part ochestrated by the Saudis as their energy minister was caught red handed on camera informing the global community the Saudis were relieved climate change science had been exsposed as a hoex and the world could finaly move on.
    Germany would make a much better Global leader than Americas Crony Corporatism without a doubt.

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