This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
In the words of Rajendra Pachauri, his organization’s “main customer” isn’t governments around the world struggling to understand the complicated issue of climate change so they can make wise decisions. No, numerous scientists toil away writing reports that run to thousands of pages for another reason altogether.
According to Pachauri, the IPCC exists primarily to support a United Nations initiative:
The UNFCCC is our main customer, if I could label them as such, and our interaction with them enriches the relevance of our work and ensures that the audience that we are trying to address is receptive to our outputs.
UNFCCC stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This international treaty was adopted back in 1992 at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro.
What happened there was that the cart was put before the horse. The UN didn’t wait around for climate science to mature. Rather, 19 years ago movers and shakers at the UN had already accused, tried, and convicted greenhouse gases of being dangerous. With the help of environmental activists, it then ‘sold’ this idea to governments around the world.
As early as 1992, no fewer than 154 nations were prepared to endorse this premature conclusion by becoming signatories to the UNFCCC (the total number of countries has since risen to 194). That document declared that something needed to be done about human-generated greenhouse gases – even though the science was still in its infancy and the IPCC had as yet produced only one of its four assessments (released in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007).
Since Rio, the UNFCCC has held a series of meetings in often exotic locales aimed at coming up with an effective emissions reduction plan. The Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year – and which many people consider an abject failure – is an example of the fruit of its labours.
Also integral to these climate talks is the idea that rich countries should help poor ones adapt to climate change by giving them money and technology. In itself this may be an admirable thing. But the plan appears to involve the deposit of vast amounts of money into a fund that the UNFCCC would administer. In other words, the UN gets access to – and control over – big bucks.
It isn’t hard to see why UN bureaucrats think this is a great idea, but what about the views of ordinary working people who pay the taxes that may eventually end up in this UN bank account? When’s the last time they were asked how they felt about this arrangement – or whether they preferred an alternative one? When’s the last time the pros and cons were clearly explained to them?
For that matter, when have we ever had a serious discussion about how unaccountable the UN actually is? New York city, which hosts the UN’s headquarters, can’t even get UN personnel to pay their parking tickets. Over a recent five-year period they accumulated 150,000 unpaid tickets amounting to $18 million in fines.
It turns out that UN personnel from corrupt, undemocratic countries demonstrate the most contempt for parking laws and are the least likely to pay their tickets. In other words, many UN officials don’t come from nations that encourage them to behave in a circumspect manner. These people don’t believe they are answerable for their transgressions, or that the rules even apply to them.
Nevertheless we can be sure that some of these people will end up deciding the fate of billions of climate-related dollars. To get an idea of what the UN’s climate appropriations committee might look like, we need look no further than the makeup of the IPCC’s own bureau (click the Current Bureau link on this page).
These are the IPCC’s senior managers, the people responsible for coordinating its activities. At the moment, this 31-member bureau includes two representatives from Sudan – a basketcase of a country. Since seizing power in a military coup, the president of Sudan has been accused of orchestrating war crimes in Darfur. According to international observers, the 2010 Sudanese election was rigged. Life expectancy there is 55 years.
Undemocratic countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, and Malaysia also have seats on the IPCC bureau. In 2009 Iranian authorities horrified the world by brutalizing peaceful protesters. Observers from Amnesty International have not been allowed into Cuba since 1990. In Malaysia the government suspends newspapers and arrests bloggers.
The Maldives, a tiny island nation with a population of less than half a million, also has a seat on the IPCC bureau. In that country people are publicly flogged for engaging in extra-marital sex.
Madagascar, too, has IPCC bureau representation. In early 2009 its elected president was deposed by a military coup. The rule of law is so elastic in that nation that, following the coup, its highest court declared the new military ruler legitimate – despite the fact that he was only 34 years old and the law requires presidents to be at least 40.
Both the UNFCCC and the IPCC are children of the United Nations. The UN includes a number of unsavory countries run by violent, unaccountable governments.
We can avert our eyes and refuse to think about what this means. Or we can confront the unpleasant fact that IPCC reports are a link in a chain. That chain may see funds from taxpayers like you and me sent to UN bodies where nations such as these wield influence.